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Posts published in “Day: February 5, 2013”

Sheriff holds all-county School Safety meeting

EAST HARRIS COUNTY – Sheriff Adrian Garcia called an all-county meeting last Thursday night, Jan. 24 to tell the public what his department is doing to provide enhanced school safety, to allow school districts to explain their safety procedures, and to hear comments and answer questions from parents and the public.

The meeting was held in the new Grant Fine Arts Center of San Jacinto Community College North. It was attended by several hundred interested parties, parents and the public.

In his opening welcome remarks, Sheriff Garcia said that this forum had originally been planned after the Newtown, Connecticut shooting at the elementary school, but that it was even more relevant because of the shooting at Lone Star College only two days before. He said the forum would attempt to answer the question for everyone, “what are we doing to keep our children safe? What more can we do?”

Sgt. Jimmy Cook, HCSO, showed the audience a training video used in many school and office jurisdictions, preparing people for a correct response when there is an “active shooter.” The message of the video was, take three steps: Run or Hide or Fight, depending upon the circumstances.

Dr. Steve Head, president of Lone Star College, updated the audience on the events of the shooting on his campus on Tuesday, and the subsequent arrests of two perpetrators.

Sheriff Garcia praised the response of his officers and other law enforcement. He said that within a few minutes, 150 of his deputies responded, and anoth-er 50 officers from other jurisdictions also arrived.

Next, several officers in charge of divisions of the Sheriff’s office spoke on their responsibilities. Capt. Cordova heads the SWAT team or High Risk Unit, with deputies on call 24 hours. Christina Garza heads the information division, and spoke about methods of reaching the public and the media, with social media, webpage, and the website hcso.hctx.net, as well as traditional email for press releases. Sgt. Franks and the Sheriff urged the public to use the website: www.iwatchharriscounty.com for tips that report criminal activity. Sheriff Garcia said this has been very effective, with over 2 dozen behind bars from these tips. Lt. Robert Henry spoke about the development of the Mental Health unit, a necessary corollary to arrest and incarceration.

The public wanted to know what they could do to help school safety. A representative of the Houston Ministers Against Crime said they walk the halls of schools in Channelview, with a calming effect. Dr. Head agreed that a similar situation occurs in their campus at Victory Center. Pastor Gilmore said “we need to bring God back into school.”

Constable Ken Jones explained how his department contracts with 6 school districts to provide officers in the schools as needed, in 33 schools. These officers get special training every year, paid for by the districts, for gangs, first responders, and updating on basic policing.

Chief Clements of Galena Park ISD said they have used campus based officers since 1996, and they make a positive relationship with students. Drills are conducted on a regular basis. Some of the problems officers deal with are drugs, assaults, and counterfeiting.

Houston ISD’s Sidney Zullinger said that Safe School are a marketing necessity, that parents want to send their children to a safe environment. He has 200 officers, and 261 schools. Every high school has a certified police officer.

Zullinger and most of the panelists spoke on the issue of guns for school personnel. The concensus was that armed police officers are okay in the schools, but not armed teachers. Dr. Head said that in a chaotic scene after a shooting, you cannot be sure who is a “good guy” after gunfire, if everyone has a gun.

When asked by an audience member whether more deputies are needed, Constable Jones related his experiences in Highlands, where they concentrate officers in high crime areas, and partner with the Sheriff on Task Forces for special situations. He noted that the County budget would allow him to hire 3 new officers this year, paid for by the three precincts his district covers. These comments were in general, not necessarily related to schools, he said.

Sheriff Garcia said that most schools are conducting Safety audits in cooperation with the Harris County Department of Education. He said that Harris County had authorized his office to hire more officers this year.

In closing, Garcia urged citizens to participate in the CPA or Citizens Police Academy to learn more about his department and crime fighting. He said that School Safety should be looked at as a County-wide strategy, not individual districts.

Charges have been dropped against 1 in Lone Star College shooting

According to the Harris County District Attorney, on Monday, January 28, prosecutors dropped charges against Carlton Berry, a 22-year-old man, who authorities initially believed was involved in a shooting that wounded him and two others at Lone Star College.

Carlton Berry was arrested soon after the Jan. 22 shootings at Lone Star College-North Harris and charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. But authorities later accused another man, Trey Foster, 22, of being the alleged shooter.

Foster has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault and faces a charge of resisting arrest in an earlier case. He was arrested Friday, January 25, in Plano, near Dallas.

Investigators say the shooting happened after 25-year-old Jody Neal bumped into Foster while Foster was walking with Berry. Foster and Neal argued but went their separate ways.

But when the two ran into each other 30 minutes later, they argued again and Foster allegedly fired at Neal, wounding him in the abdomen and leg. Berry also was shot and wounded, and a maintenance worker for the college, Bobby Cliburn, 55, was hit in the leg.

Authorities say at least 10 shots were fired, causing panic and leading to a campus lockdown.

Berry’s attorney, Robert A. Jones, said his client never should have been charged or jailed because the evidence showed he was a victim. Berry was shot in the left hip, which Jones said was an indication that Berry might have been facing away or running away from the shooter.

“He said that continually, whenever (authorities) talked to him, that he didn’t do anything. But that wasn’t enough. Then they started their investigation based upon his statement and they realized he didn’t do anything,” Jones said.

Prosecutor Alison Baimbridge said authorities dropped the charges in the interest of justice. She said that as with any investigation, the more witness interviews and evidence collecting that are done, authorities are “better able to determine who was where, what actually occurred.”

Charges were formally dropped during a court hearing Monday, January 28, and Berry was later released from jail.

Foster made his initial court appearance the same Monday. He is being held on bonds totaling $100,000, and if he posts them, a judge ordered him subject to GPS monitoring and a curfew.