Monthly Archives: March 2019

Multiple people were killed in a shooting attackon the southern island of New Zealand on Friday when a gunman opened fire inside two mosques.

The gunman, who was dressed in tactical gear, appeared to livestream video of the shooting on social media, according to New Zealand police, documenting his trip from his vehicle and into the worship center in central Christchurch, New Zealand, where he opened fire indiscriminately.

“This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said in a press conference Friday afternoon.
Four people, three men and one woman, were taken into custody in the hours following the attack, but police have not released their identities.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said there were “significant” fatalities reported, but he declined to offer a specific rwason.

A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch….

The shooter also opened fire in the surrounding area outside of the mosques. Police said they recovered improvised explosive devices attached to vehicles in the area, but they were rendered safe.

“A serious and evolving situation is occurring in Christchurch with an active shooter. Police are responding with its full capability to manage the situation, but the risk environment remains extremely high,” New Zealand Police tweeted. “Police recommend that residents across Christchurch remain off the streets and indoors until further notice.”

A former border patrol agent from Texas will spend more than nine years behind bars for accepting bribes to help a drug trafficking organization, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Robert Hall, 45, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery in September, according to court documents unsealed Friday. U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. of the Southern District of Texas sentenced Hall to 114 months in prison, along with three years of supervised release. He also was instructed to pay a fine of $20,000.

Hall worked with multiple people between 2004 and 2014 to aid trafficking of illegal drugs like marijuana from Mexico into the United States, plea documents claim. Hall gave an individual associated with a drug trafficking organization the locations of U.S. Customs and Border Protection sensor locations, locations of unpatrolled roads by the U.S.-Mexico border, and information about border patrol agents working in a specific location. He also gave the drug trafficking group keys to Customs and Border Protection locks on various ranch fences.

HOUSTON (March 11, 2019) – The Ensemble Theatre gets lifted with laughter in playwright Joyce Sylvester’s church comedy, Freeda Peoples, directed by Eileen J. Morris; Opening Night and Media Reception, Thursday, January 24, 2019, 6:30 p.m. 3535 Main Street, Houston, Texas 77002.

Sylvester is the award-winning playwright, director, and actress who bought Houston audiences Women In the Pit, her play that led to a command performance during The Ensemble Theatre’s 2014-2015 season. Freeda Peoples won her the Audelco Award for Best Director in 2004.

“I like the subtle details in Joyce’s characters,” says Morris. “This play has a beautiful combination of day-to-day life truths, and explores the human condition of people working in service to the church.”

The Bible says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, there is a none righteous not even one (Romans 3:32). Therefore, the church is the perfect place for spiritual growth. Freeda Peoples deals with the relationships between the deacons, trustees, and the new pastor and how no one is who they really seem to be. This comedy/drama will have you rolling in the aisles.

Featured Cast members include: (REVEREND SCOTT) Jason Carmichael, (REBA SCOTT) Delali Potakey, (ELDER JONES) Roc Living, (DEACON BEASLEY) Byron Jacquet, (DEACON LEWIS) Shane Warren Jones, (SISTER ANN) Joyce Anastasia Murray, (FREEDA PEOPLES) Callina Situka.

Previews: March 16, 17, and 20, 2019
Show Runs: March 21 – April 14, 2019

Performance Days and Times: Thursdays: 7:30 p.m; Fridays: 8:00 p.m; Saturdays: 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m; and Sundays: 3:00 p.m.

Tickets Available Online: www.EnsembleHouston.com For Information Call: 713-520-0055

Ticket Prices: $23- $50

Charges have been filed against a suspect arrested in the death of a child at 8501 Broadway about 10:55 p.m. on Saturday (March 9).
The suspect, Andrea Webb (b/f, 21), is charged with injury to a child in the 209th State District Court for her role in the death of her daughter, Samantha Bell, 5, who was pronounced dead at the scene. The child’s cause of death is pending verification by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.
A booking photo of Webb is attached to this news release.
HPD Homicide Division Sergeant J. Horn and Detective B. Roberts reported:
Webb called 9-1-1 and initially stated her daughter had fallen from a second story balcony of their apartment at the above address. Officers observed Samantha to have visible injuries to her face, chest, abdomen, arms and back, which were not consistent with a fall.
Webb later admitted to HPD homicide investigators she fabricated the story regarding the fall. Webb then told officers she made Samantha sit against a wall in the home for multiple hours without support of a seat. When she failed to do so, Webb struck her with a belt.
The investigation is continuing. Charges have been filed against a suspect arrested in the death of a child at 8501 Broadway about 10:55 p.m. on Saturday (March 9).

The suspect, Andrea Webb (b/f, 21), is charged with injury to a child in the 209th State District Court for her role in the death of her daughter, Samantha Bell, 5, who was pronounced dead at the scene. The child’s cause of death is pending verification by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.

A booking photo of Webb is attached to this news release.

HPD Homicide Division Sergeant J. Horn and Detective B. Roberts reported:

Webb called 9-1-1 and initially stated her daughter had fallen from a second story balcony of their apartment at the above address. Officers observed Samantha to have visible injuries to her face, chest, abdomen, arms and back, which were not consistent with a fall.

Webb later admitted to HPD homicide investigators she fabricated the story regarding the fall. Webb then told officers she made Samantha sit against a wall in the home for multiple hours without support of a seat. When she failed to do so, Webb struck her with a belt.

The investigation is continuing.

The husband and stepdaughter of a woman they claimed was killed by a panhandler in Baltimore were arrested Sunday on murder charges in connection with her death, authorities said.

Jacquelyn Smith’s husband — who told police a panhandler had stabbed his wife to death — was arrested early Sunday with his daughter in Texas, said Acting Police Commissioner Michael Harrison.

Keith Smith, 52, and Valerie Smith, 28, were charged with first-degree murder, Harrison told reporters.
Jacquelyn Smith, an electrical engineer from Maryland’s Harford CountyBaltimore Police Department
Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement that it was a “double tragedy” to “now learn that family members staged” the killing.

Harrison declined to discuss a motive, saying “that’s for a trial,” but he added that “it was not a panhandler” who killed Jacquelyn Smith.

“The circumstances were very different,” he said.

After the Dec. 1 killing, relatives told authorities that Jacquelyn — an electrical engineer from Harford County, north of Baltimore — was knifed to death after she tried to give money to a young woman with an infant and a cardboard sign that read, “Please help me feed my baby.”
A man approached the car and tried to take her wallet, stabbing her to death in a struggle, the relatives said.

Jacquelyn’s 19-year-old son told the Associated Press at the time that Jacquelyn’s husband and stepdaughter were with her when she was killed.

In an interview with NBC affiliate WBAL after the killing, Keith said he planned to push for a law that would ban Baltimore’s “epidemic” of panhandlers.

“I’m gonna’ let the world know my wife didn’t die in vain,” he said, adding, “I see it everywhere I go. Sometimes people get violent when you don’t want to give.”

Pugh said Sunday at a news conference that Keith and Valerie “took advantage of a city already dealing with its own problems.”

“They were responsible for taking Jacquelyn’s life with unconscionable cruelty,” she said in her statement, “and contrived to do so in our city under the guise of random violence, exploiting the legitimate fears of our residents.”


As a result of thorough investigation by Harris County Precinct One deputies, charges have been filed against a 25 year old man in a case where two girls had been missing for more than two days.

Information obtained from the juveniles and suspect Oscar Alvarenga (DOB 3/12/93) led the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to file a felony charge against him for aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14 and a misdemeanor charge of harboring a runaway.

The investigation has revealed now that both girls are 12 years old and that
Alvarenga sexually assaulted at least one of them. They were returned home after disappearing Tuesday morning from a residence in the 8300 block of Wilcrest Drive.

Bond was set for Alvarenga at $75,000. You will find his mug shot below.

If anyone has information about Alvarenga related to this or any other case, please contact Precinct One at (713) 755-7618.

At this time there will be no further information released. This is an ongoing investigation.

*Due to the nature of the alleged crimes Precinct One will not longer be identifying the girls publicly. We ask that media also cease use of the pictures and names of the girls as previously released by another entity while they were missing.As a result of thorough investigation by Harris County Precinct One deputies, charges have been filed against a 25 year old man in a case where two girls had been missing for more than two days.

Information obtained from the juveniles and suspect Oscar Alvarenga (DOB 3/12/93) led the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to file a felony charge against him for aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14 and a misdemeanor charge of harboring a runaway.

The investigation has revealed now that both girls are 12 years old and that
Alvarenga sexually assaulted at least one of them. They were returned home after disappearing Tuesday morning from a residence in the 8300 block of Wilcrest Drive.

Bond was set for Alvarenga at $75,000. You will find his mug shot below.
If anyone has information about Alvarenga related to this or any other case, please contact Precinct One at (713) 755-7618.

At this time there will be no further information released. This is an ongoing investigation.

*Due to the nature of the alleged crimes Precinct One will not longer be identifying the girls publicly. We ask that media also cease use of the pictures and names of the girls as previously released by another entity while they were missing.

Mayor Turner’s open letter to Houston about Prop B and moving forward

Dear Fellow Houstonians,

Everyone loves firefighters, and everyone wants them to be paid commensurate to what other firefighters are making around the state. Prop.B goes even further, and links firefighters pay to that of Houston police officers even though the organizational structures and promotional requirements are vastly different. Prior to and after the passage of Prop B, the city’s finance department and the Controller’s Office said the costs would exceed $100 million a year.

Because no funding source was included in Prop B. and the City is required to balance its books by June 30th of each year, the implementation of the voter approved measure places the City in a dilemma; increase the firefighters’ pay by 29 percent which will invariably cause a reduction in personnel and services, seek a determination from the court on whether Prop B conflicts with state law which could only be done after voters approved it, and/or negotiate with the union to phase in the costs of Prop B over multiple years.

As mayor, I have made sure the city is pursuing all three paths. We have forwarded to the Union a proposal that would phase in the costs of Prop B over five years which would substantially eliminate the need to lay off or reduce services beyond the normal budgetary process. All pay raises would be retroactive to January 1, 2019. If there is an agreement, it would mitigate the continuation of any court action, and this entire matter would be behind us.

At the same time, the City, in the lawsuit filed by the Houston Police Officers Union (HPOU) in Nov. 2018, asked the court to rule on the legality of Prop. B. If the court rules as a matter of law, Prop B was preempted by state law, the HPOU lawsuit is terminated subject to appeal and Prop B is no longer before us.

However, until the court rules, the City is obligated to move forward in implementing Prop B with the effective date being January 1, 2019.

Since there have been some misstatements and confusion on the legal action the City has or has not taken surrounding Prop B, let me take a moment to lay out what we have done.

The Houston Police Officers’ Association sued the City of Houston and Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 341 on November 30, 2018. In the 2018 HPOU litigation, the court is asked to determine whether Prop B can stand, since it conflicts with state law. The City answered and appeared in the case as required and, later, also made an affirmative claim within the HPOU suit, seeking a declaration that Prop B conflicts with state law.

No new, separate lawsuit was filed by the City. No new parties were added in the 2018 HPOU lawsuit by the City. No money damages are sought by the City.

The Houston Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, Local 341, the firefighters’ union, sued the City of Houston in 2017 seeking a pay raise for fiscal year 2018 after the union, not the City, walked away from the collective bargaining table. The union ignored the City’s requests that it return to the table. The union sued the City and asked a state court judge to set (not negotiate) all employment terms.

The City is not mounting a broadside attack, constitutional or otherwise, on the Fire and Police Employee Relations Act (FPERA). In fact, the City wants the firefighters’ union to return to the bargaining table so that a Judge is not asked to set pay without reference to any standards.

In my 30 years of public service, I have supported collective bargaining. I fought for collective bargaining for firefighters in the Texas Legislature in 2005. To this day, I am committed to collective bargaining.

Lastly, if an agreement cannot be reached with the union to phase in the costs of Prop B over multiple years and if the court does not timely rule on the legality of Prop B, the City is already defining parity between police and fire, re-programming its systems and preparing for a reduction in force as needed to balance the budget.

On January 15, 2019, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 341 and Intervenor-Plaintiffs Patrick “Marty” Lancton, Gabriel Angel Dominguez, Roy Anthony Cormier, Brian Ray Wilcox, and Delance Shaw filed brand new claims in the 2018 HPOU litigation against new parties: Mayor Sylvester Turner, Finance Director Tantri Emo, Controller Chris Brown, and all elected city council members. The firefighters and their union seek the immediate implementation of Prop B.

None of the elected officials needed to be sued. Director Emo, who is not an elected official and does not “sit” at or on City Council, did not need to be sued. Although the process for radically restructuring the City’s Human Resource System and payroll methodology to accurately issue salary checks is difficult,
it is well underway and will be done. Moreover, the City plans to make payments under Prop B effective as of January 1, 2019.

The fact is that the City did not start any of the pending litigation involving the firefighters. Firefighters sued the city to destroy the City’s historic pension reform; not just the part relating to firefighters, but all the reforms for all municipal employees. That litigation could add hundreds of millions of dollars to the City’s costs, scuttle some or all the employee pension systems and financially ruin the City. Fire fighters sued the City in 2017 prior to Prop B, asking a court for a pay raise for the fiscal year 2018. They have not dropped that lawsuit. They caused Prop B to be enacted. Now, again, in the 2018 HPOU litigation, they have sought the immediate implementation of Prop B as a way to expedite the receipt of money from the taxpayers.

Prop B requires that the City substantially increase firefighter compensation. It was misrepresented to the public as bringing about pay “parity.” In fact, Prop B requires that firefighters benefit if police officers get benefits or raises, even though their working conditions are completely different, but police officers do not benefit from firefighter benefits or raises.

Citizen-driven charter amendments like Prop B are not always carefully-drafted, much less fully-vetted documents when they arrive at City Hall. When they are not, there is next to nothing a city can do to correct even the most glaring constitutional and legal errors in a citizen-driven charter amendment. A city’s only meaningful opportunity to save itself from unconstitutional additions to the City Charter, or obvious efforts like Prop B, comes after the proposed charter amendment passes. After an election, such determinations should be made by our courts.

The City contends that Section 24 to Article IX of the City Charter, approved by voters on November 6, 2018, as Proposition B (“Prop B”), is preempted by State law because:

1. Chapter 174, the State of Texas’ collective bargaining law, contains an express preemption clause that states, “(t)his chapter preempts all contrary local ordinances, executive orders, legislation, or rules adopted by the state or by a political subdivision or agent of the state, including a personnel board, civil service commission, or home-rule municipality” and Prop B is contrary to the provisions of Chapter 174;

2. If not expressly preempted, Prop B is impliedly preempted because it frustrates both the express policies of the State of Texas stated in LGC Section 174.002, and numerous other provisions of LGC Chapter 174 regarding compensation, bargaining, and conditions of employment; and

3. Prop B is void under art. XI, § 5 of the Texas Constitution because it is inconsistent with the general laws of the State of Texas.

In this case, the City has asked a court of law to have the final say. That is how our system of law should work.

Let me end where I started. We love and respect our firefighters and want them to be appropriately compensated. Having said that, I don’t believe the voters intended to place our City in financial turmoil, cause our credit rating to tumble and increase the costs of City debt.

As mayor, I have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the financial stability of this city and that includes presenting a balanced budget. Prop B threatens to erase all the financial gains of pension reform and place us in a financial crisis. As a city, we cannot let that happen.

We must work together to find a path forward no matter how bumpy the course or how hot the rhetoric.

There is just too much at stake.

Sincerely,

Sylvester Turner
Mayor

Senator Bettencourt Files Legislation To Restructure the Houston ISD Board of Trustees SB 1385 opens public dialogue about board governance by adding at-large representation!

Austin, Texas – Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) filed SB1385 to dramatically restructure the Houston Independent School District’s Board of Trustees. HISD’s current Board of Trustees is composed of nine singlemember districts. SB 1385 would reduce the number of single-member districts to five and create four at-large trustee positions.

This would give all HISD voters a greater say in who sits on the governing body of the largest independent school district in the state of Texas. “Over the years, during testimony from HISD, I have heard that some trustees won’t help with schools on the ‘Improvements Required’ list that TEA maintains. Thus, allowing Kashmere High School to stay on the state closure list for nine years and counting!”, remarked Senator Bettencourt. “This issue alone is enough to start a public policy debate on HISD board governance,” he added.

Multiple media reports have documented a fractured, dysfunctional Board of Trustees. At times, board factions hurl racial epitaphs at each other during board meetings. In one notable video, a TEA employee had to physically place himself between two board trustees during a confrontation in a board workshop. The persistent dysfunction of the Board has taken the focus away from educating the district’s 215,000 students and order must be restored.

The school board for the state’s largest school district must govern effectively and SB 1385 will make much needed reforms to restore good governance. “The HISD board of trustees must function. You can’t have elected officials acting this way. There has to be changes for the betterment of the students, parents, staff, and community . It’s not partisan. It’s not ideological. It’s not where you live, or what you look like, it’s about pure competence to lead the largest school district in the state,” said Bettencourt. SB 1385 specifies this change in board governance and will require elections to the new Board of Trustees in November 2020.

SB 1385 also authorizes the Houston ISD Board of Trustees, by a two-thirds vote, to adopt a resolution requiring a member of the Houston ISD Board of Trustees to resign from the board before running for another elected office. Senator Bettencourt plans to file additional legislation in the coming days on a wide range of issues.

Mayor Sylvester Turner approved a request from the University of Houston to turn the Houston City Hall and iconic bridge lights in the Montrose-area/over the Southwest Freeway Cougar Red in honor of the men’s basketball team.

The lights will be switched on today as we approach dusk in the city.

Mayor Turner authorized the light tribute at UH’s request to celebrate ESPN College GameDay coming to Houston for the first time. The show will broadcast live from the campus on March 2 before the men’s basketball game against Central Florida.

Three years ago, more than 100 people lined up outside the Tesla showroom in Lyndhurst to put $1,000 deposits on a car nobody had ever seen. That car was the Tesla Model 3, which offered the allure of an ultra cool brand combined with the environmental consciousness of an electric car for just $35,000.

After many starts and stops, three years later, Tesla is finally ready to fulfill those orders.

CEO Elon Musk announced Thursday the standard Model 3 is now available on Tesla.com starting at that promised price point of $35,000.

“Last month, I noted in my email that the fundamental issue Tesla must overcome is that our products remain too expensive for most people. We know there are many people who want to buy Model 3, but simply can’t afford to do so,” Musk wrote in a memo to employees obtained by CNBC. “This is a significant milestone for Tesla, the culmination of years of hard work by employees across the company.”

At the same time, Tesla announced it would be closing most of its stores in order to sell cars at those prices while remaining financially sustainable. The future of Tesla’s showroom in Lyndhurst, the only one in the Cleveland area, is unknown, however, The Plain Dealer reported last month the property is for sale.