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Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Bad Side of the Texas Rangers

There was a time not so long ago when I would have described myself as a law n' order hang 'em high Republican who believed that law enforcement officers were always right and anybody indicted for a crime was guilty. That was before I moved to the Hill Country and retooled my law practice to represent people charged with crimes. I quickly learned that it is incredibly easy for anyone - even the innocent - to get caught up in the nightmare of a criminal investigation.

The worst cases seem to be those where someone is accused of sexually abusing a child. It seems to happen most in cases where there is a divorce and the wife (usually) uses the allegation to hammer the man. Whatever the motive, the system is set up to believe the child and there is no presumption of innocence. There is a whole meat grinder set up to convict. There are the social workers at CPS (Child Protective Services). There are the SANE nurses - nurses specially trained (indoctrinated?) to do the sexual assault exam. Then the child is taken in for a forensic interview by another social worker. In Kerrville, it's done at KAP - Kids' Advocacy Place. The very name tells you that they're not going to do an objective interview.

I also used to believe the Myth of the Texas Rangers, that they really were all John Wayne types, the lawmen in the white hats who could do no wrong. I now know that they are basically traffic cops (they all come out of DPS) with the connections to get into the small, exclusive fraternity that calls itself the Texas Rangers.

What got me thinking about these two topics were recent developments in two notorious cases involving allegations of sexual abuse of children, in which the same Ranger was center stage. Sgt. Phillip Kemp was the ramrod in the so-called Mineola Swingers child sex abuse case in East Texas. Michael Hall writes in Texas Monthly

"In fact, Wood County, where Mineola is located, did its own investigation, back in 2005, when just one child was talking about a sex club. Investigators (including an FBI agent), found absolutely no evidence to back up her accusations. This didn’t stop the criminal justice machinery of Smith County. A Texas Ranger got involved and before long he was helping interview the other kids. In 2007 arrests were made; the public was outraged that a sex kindergarten and a sex club would operate under their noses. Three of the adults went to trial in 2008 and their juries, made of good country people who want nothing more than to protect their children, found them guilty in a matter of minutes. A fourth defendant was found guilty last summer."

The problem was - it didn't happen. The prosecution was so baseless that the district attorney of Wood County, where the crimes supposedly occurred, wrote an amicus brief for the defendants when they appealed. 

Wood concludes "I usually believe in the ultimate good will of good people; justice will triumph. Of course, that only happens if people actually do something about injustice. In this case decent people turned away from doing anything about a terrible wrong. They’ve got a word for that, and the word is 'evil.'

In Smith County, the bad guys won.
Grits for Breakfast blogger Scott Henson neatly sums it all up - "I'll give this much to Ranger Kemp and the Wood County prosecutor who steered the case to Smith County: They knew exactly which jurisdiction they could take the case to where they could secure convictions (and life sentences) without any solid evidence....."
After Mineola, Kemp got transferred to San Angelo, where it didn't take him long to stir up another dubious investigation, the El Dorado FMLS sex abuse case. That one is falling apart too.
When I was investigating the corruption in Ron Sutton's office and Karl Prohl's misdeeds, I sent everything I had to the head of the Rangers. He assigned a captain out of Waco, a Sgt. Dendy, to respond. And the response was - nothing, except a letter telling me to mind my own business. Surely, I thought, the Rangers would investigate corruption of an entire five county judicial district. But no, they did nothing. 
The undercover thug cop Tom Cole who sent half the black population of Tulia to prison a few years ago was the son of a ranger, and two rangers testified as character witnesses when he got charged with perjury.  I guess it's like fraternities that take care of their 'legacy' pledges.