News

Statistics drive commissioners to mull traffic-stop records

By Lora-Marie Bernard

A RACIAL profiling report shows that the county’s sheriff’s deputies are several times more likely to stop a white driver than one from a minority group.
But county sheriff Henry Trochesset says that’s because large swathes of the county contain far more white people among their population than Native Indians, African-Americans or Hispanics.
And the report does not break down the racial profiles of the drivers subjected to a search or arrest during traffic stops.
County commissioner Joe Giusti cited the report, which records statistics for last year, during a commissioners’ court meeting to discuss and applaud the sheriff’s deputies for using proper traffic-stop techniques when on patrol.
Trochesset said the results have much to do with the county’s residential population.
“I think the makeup of the unincorporated parts of the county is why the numbers look like they do”, he said.
Giusti pulled the annual report from the commissioners’ February 14 meeting consent agenda in order to applaud Trochesset and his deputies.
“I want to commend the sheriff and have him say a few words if he would”, Giusti said, adding: “Looks like Galveston County sheriff’s department has done a heck of a job of not profiling people”.
He said he wanted Trochesset to discuss the results because, as reported in The Post on February 22, the sheriff’s department had requested to enter into a new partnership with ICE, the US immigration and customs enforcement agency.
The ICE partnership, if begun, would allow deputies to identify suspected illegal aliens and subject them to extensive background vetting after they have been booked into the county jail. On February 14, the county commissioners approved the first step in that process and allowed ICE to begin an assessment of the sheriff’s department.
Racial profiling reports document the number of minorities and whites who are stopped for traffic violations in any given year.
According to the 2016 report, deputies stopped 185 drivers from racial minorities, including 102 African-Americans, 20 Asians, 62 Latinos and one Native Indian, while 1,144 white drivers were stopped.
The stops, the report states, resulted in a total of 157 searches, of which 56 were conducted without consent, and 102 arrests. It does not contain any figures for the racial makeup of the searches and arrests.
However, commissioner Stephen Holmes said he wanted to know the racial breakdown of the searches and arrests, telling Trochesset that, if he had that information, he’d like to see it.
Trochesset said he would research whether information is available.
In a letter to the commissioners, the sheriff said he had received no complaints for racial profiling during 2016.
“Since this type of reporting began nearly 16 years ago, this agency has never received any valid complaint or discovered any indications of racial profiling, a fact that speaks volumes of the high level of professionalism displayed by the men and women of the Galveston County sheriff’s office,” he wrote.

Sheriff touts feds’ new interrogation service

By Lora-Marie Bernard

THE COUNTY has agreed to let the federal government begin an assessment that could lead to increased screening of the state’s jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally.
County sheriff Henry Trochesset told the county commissioners last week that ICE, the US immigration and customs enforcement agency, is attempting to forge partnerships with every county sheriff throughout Texas to see if such a program could work.
“Once a day to once a week we have someone who comes through our jail who is determined not to be in this country legally”, he told the county commissioners during their meeting on Tuesday last week.
He said that, about two weeks earlier, he had met with ICE representatives to discuss the program and how a partnership would work with the county.
“They are going to be working with every county sheriff in Texas to move it forward,” he said.
Trochesset told the commissioners the program mirrors some that the sheriff’s department has with the FBI and US marshals service.
Essentially, it will undertake a heavy background check on suspect inmates, he said, adding: “It is going to make our jobs easier.
“Every time someone is arrested and it is determined that they are in this country illegally – and this only occurs in the jail facility – we move forward with contacting ICE to determine who these individuals are.”
Trochesset said that, at present, the county jail has to work with the staff of 57 overseas-government consulates. The proposed program would streamline that process, he said.
At present, he said, sheriff’s deputies begin an arduous questioning process when they suspect an inmate might be an illegal alien.
“It’s a much longer process to ask 1,001 questions to figure out who they are”, he said.
The sheriff said that early questions include where an inmate’s nearest family members live. When the inmate can’t answer a lot of those questions, deputies begin a probe for more in-depth information.
“If they don’t have any social-security numbers, are they hiding something?” Trochesset said, adding that such suspicions lead deputies to question whether the inmate might be deliberately avoiding answers.
“Are they a criminal in another area and that’s why they aren’t wanting to give us information?” he said. “Why don’t they have that information for us to move forward?”
He said that, if the new ICE program is started, a deputy would enter the information the inmate did provide and the agency’s database would fill in the blanks. From there, the deputies could use the information returned to them to identify the inmate and his residency.
Commissioner Stephen Holmes cast the single dissenting vote against ICE’s request to begin the assessment, questioning the lack of a clear timeline or framework for the program or the partnership.
“We don’t have a document to commit ourselves”, he said, adding that he also wanted to be sure the county would not bear legal responsibility for the program.
Trochesset said his understanding was that ICE would shoulder any legal burdens. ICE would also bear all costs for training deputies, including travel and accommodation.
Commissioner Joe Giusti said that an agreement with ICE is not necessary yet.
He said: “This is just an agreement for a needs assessment. From there, we move into a contractual agreement.”

By Lora-Marie Bernard

THREE COUNTY residents who have each ushered in eras of local-government achievement have been honored for their work.
The county commissioners’ court celebrated Linda Packard, whose long career in the district clerk’s office stretched from the 1980s, William Johnson, whose agricultural-service leadership spans 35 years, and Louis Pauls, whose financial advice guided many significant county investments.
Each was presented with a resolution honoring their achievements during the court’s meeting last week.
District clerk John Kinard recognized Packard for a career that began in 1983. She was instrumental in heralding the age of computers and is credited with the creation of a case-management system. She retired in 1992 but returned to the office in 2008. Now, she is retiring again.
“Most importantly, for the past four years, she has been my family supervisor in the district clerk’s office”, Kinnard said.
“This is one of the most critical and sensitive jobs. It handles adoptions, divorces, juveniles, CPS and many other matters. I don’t know how we are going to make it without her but we will force ourselves.”
Johnson, who writes The Post’s Wednesday column Beautiful Gardens, received the county’s distinguished career superior service award. The horticulturist is the Agrilife County Extension Service agent and coordinator of the county’s master-gardener program.
Each year, he manages more than 31,000 volunteer hours to benefit county residents. He produces dozens of horticulture programs at the Extension Service office in Carbide Park, La Marque, and maintains an award-winning program, which he began with nine volunteers and has more than 200 now.
“I appreciate the recognition but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I have to extend my appreciation to all the master gardeners and coworkers and friends who helped make that journey possible”, he said from the podium.
County commissioner Ken Clark said Johnson has been a valuable member of the county government. Clark noted that the leader shepherds the master gardeners’ popular annual fruit-tree sales and maintains high awareness of their programs through his newspaper columns.
“He’s been a great resource for the community – his efforts with master gardeners is something to be really applauded”, Clark said.
Pauls was the county’s financial adviser during the capital campaign that saw the redesign and construction of most of today’s county buildings. He handled the bond investment and management for the program.
The resolution in his honor commended him for “being a pillar of strength for Galveston County”.

We conclude Lora-Marie Bernard’s exclusive coverage of the presidential weekend in Washington as she meets the county’s excited GOP ranks who filed into the nation’s capital for the inauguration and talks to the county’s US representative

DOZENS of Galveston County residents converged on the US capitol in Washington on Friday morning to watch Donald Trump become the 45th president of the United States.
For many, it was their first time to attend a presidential inauguration or even to visit the nation’s capital. For others, it was a routine trip or at least one they’d experienced before.
Former La Marque mayor Geraldine Sam arrived at US congressman Randy Weber’s office to pick up her inauguration and presidential-ball tickets on Thursday afternoon.
She has attended every inauguration since Bill Clinton became president. The routine was so comfortable for her that she spent more time talking about her projects back home in the county than the impending Trump administration.
“I don’t even know who I’m going to take to the ball yet”, she said.
Texas City justice of the peace Alison Cox was more excited to see the sites and enjoy the experience with her husband Lonnie, Galveston’s 56th district court judge, and their friends.
As a young woman, she had been among the musicians who played at Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.
“I was working”, she said about her time in Washington with Houston Pops, an orchestra she was not even sure still existed.
“I didn’t really have a chance to see anything. It was very interesting watching the Secret Service work. They checked everything.”
This time, she called herself a bona fide tourist. She was among a group that created a jam-packed schedule of museum trips, ghost tours and dinners at famous restaurants.
“I’m really enjoying myself this time”, she said.
Galvestonian Rusty Carnes said he had attended one of the Bush inaugurations although he was not exactly sure which one. Regardless, he said, the Trump ceremonies were the best for one reason – the weather.
He said: “It is usually so cold, wet and windy. It’s just miserable. This time, the weather is great. It is so much milder than I ever expected. It’s great.”

Blown away by three little words

MAKING THE rounds on the internet during the presidential inauguration was a photo of a Galveston resident trying in vain to take a selfie with about-to-be-president Donald Trump.
Rusty Carnes, an unapologetic Trump supporter, was having dinner on the Wednesday before the inauguration with a group of hometown friends in the Trump International hotel.
Nestled in a secluded restaurant in a gallery loft above the hotel lobby, he was with about 20 other Galveston islanders. Close by sat Rudy Giuliani, dining with other Republican-party powerhouses.
“As it was, Trump decided to stop by his hotel,” Carnes said as he recalled an extraordinary week in his life. “Everybody had gone wild and all that.”
His daughter-in-law, Courtney, was making her way to the restaurant when she reached an escalator in the lobby, he remembered. He could see her from the restaurant as she turned and was met by the president-elect.
“She met him at the bottom of the stairs and was able to shake his hand,” he said.
Trump ascended the escalator and Carnes said he rushed to take a selfie video with all his friends and family rushing to capture the moment too.
The funeral-home owner said he was the only one bold enough to speak directly to the incoming president.
“I said, ‘Mr Trump, I’m Rusty Carnes and I want to personally thank you for what you are doing for America’,”, he recalled.
At that moment, Trump slapped his new acquaintance’s shoulder.
“He said, ‘Thank you, Rusty’, which blew me away because it meant he had listened to me”, the islander said.
“For him to repeat my name, you know, I couldn’t remember anybody’s name. But he repeated my name to me and I thought, ‘He actually listened to what I said’.  It was pretty awesome.”
The interaction brought memories of an old friend rushing back to Carnes. Lewis Oliver had a strong shoulder slap like Trump and had an uncanny way of acknowledging and relating to people.
Trump’s slap on his shoulder felt like an Oliver gesture and Carnes said it made him wonder if his deceased friend had guided the evening
for him.
“That was kind of spooky and it’s just a strange nuance that I’m sharing”, he said.
Later that night, another video that showed Carnes trying to film his Trump selfie went viral on social media. A photo that he took of the back of Trump’s head also made the rounds.
Judge Lonnie Cox, who was among the dining party, found his own social-media profiles receiving a lot of traffic after he was tagged in some of the incident’s photos.
It was a night of happenstance, Cox said about
the incident.
“People were cheering and everybody just mobbed the scene”, he said.
In the days that followed, Carnes moved from Trump fan to a media favorite. His prolific social-media posts oftentimes proclaimed the love Trump had for America. When a friend passed on his cell-phone number to Headline News and CNN, he gave lengthy interviews to each.
His remarks reflected a staunch conservatism. When asked about the protests, he said the protesters were self-serving and had done nothing to change the country.
He told the interviewers: “The only persons who benefit is them. Everyone else is just mad at them.”
After returning to the county, Carnes said he expects the president to deliver on his promises and that he thinks the rhetoric that marked Trump’s election campaign will subside, saying: “He delivered the wake-up calls. He doesn’t say much but what he does say I think he will do.”

Weber: The Dems broke health care – we will fix it

THE DAY before Donald Trump’s inauguration as America’s new president, the county’s Texas 14th-district US congressman was excited about the weather.
Across the street from his office in Washington’s Longworth building, Republican Randy Weber could see the ceremony decorations hanging from the US capitol underneath clear skies and a bright glow of sunlight.
“This is my hope”, the member of the US house of representatives said. “We just got through a contentious election and we are tired of the politics.”
Weber, left, had a crowd of family members with him during the inauguration weekend and was also planning to move into a Washington condominium. The second-home purchase was on his mind as his office staff flurried to give constituents tickets to the ceremony and one of the three coveted inaugural balls.
“Dodd-Frank has put a stifle on this economy”, he said as he reflected on his personal experience with the banking-reform legislation. “Buying this condo has shown me that”.
Weber had been a staunch critic of outgoing president Barack Obama. During previous legislative sessions, the congressman’s public statements had been inflammatory about every Democratic-party bill or presidential executive order. The federal house of representatives is more conservative than the senate and Weber’s rhetoric had often echoed throughout the chamber.
Going into 2017 with Trump, Weber was welcoming the opportunity to replace the Affordable Health Care act, known as Obamacare. He downplayed the Democrats who are stumping that
no plan is in place for a timely replacement.
“I know that makes for good politics”, he said, adding that the Republicans are essentially considering at least two plans that were on the table before the act came along.
“My dissatisfaction with Obamacare is that it is job stifling”, he said.
“This not a long-term good healthcare plan”.
He said his vision for a national healthcare program is to replace Obamacare with a patient-centered market-based program.
“I know that all the Democrats are saying that, if we break it, we own it”, he said. “I’d like to argue, you broke it; now we are going to fix it”.
That was all the congressman wanted to say about Trump’s promise to repeal Obamacare and his support for the cause.
It was Thursday afternoon, his granddaughter was with him and other family members were around. A new president was about to take office and the congressman wanted to celebrate with them.

Security keeps thousands from witnessing oath of office as pro- and anti-Trump protesters vie for recognition

By Lora-Marie Bernard – the county’s only reporter covering the presidential inauguration

HOURS BEFORE Donald Trump took his presidential oath on Friday morning, thousands of people made the walk to Washington’s Mall lined by protesters who at times concentrated on protesting each other.
While viewers at home were watching the television and live-stream broadcasts, hundreds of thousands stood in line at various entry points along the inauguration area’s perimeter where handfuls of demonstrations occurred.
Many who wanted to witness the inauguration from the Mall did not make it inside the entry points. Security guards filled tents where they inspected every bag that each person carried. At the time Trump took office, many thousands were still outside, relegated to watching a jumbo screen through chain-link fences around the perimeter of the Washington Monument.
At the monument, a few passers-by chanted protests and vulgarities to Trump but most did not approach those watching the protest. Sometimes, however, opposing groups chose
to protest each other.
At the city’s L’Enfant Plaza metro stop, hundreds were in line watching protesters hoisting 10-foot signs into the air. The discontented proclaimed the need to seek forgiveness from Jesus, resist homosexuality and stop immigration. One sign read that Christ has a pressure-cooker for Muslims, a slogan that incensed another protester. “You are crazy for saying God has a pressure cooker”, screamed Will Menta of Michigan, a protester who walked with the crowd as he handed out election reform materials. “That is no God I want anything to do with.”
The challenge began a rebuke from other protesters, who said Menta needed to repent of his sins. He said after the exchange that he had traveled to Washington to protest the election system and to promote the need for social reform.
“This country is unhappy with the choices we had”, he said, referring to Trump and his presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“Most American were not happy but these were the only two choices we were given”.
Menta said he wanted to spark a conversation about adding a third major political party. He advocated for the kinds of reform made in Maine that pave the way for a more integrated party system.
The line of inauguration watchers walked past the protesters while Menta stopped to talk to them about his reform ideas. As they reached the federal aviation building, they walked on the lawn and jumped over barricades to make their way to the court of the James Forrestal building, where an organized group of Standing Rock protestors held a rally titled It Takes Roots.
Spokesperson Dallas Goldtooth rallied a small group of onlookers with a reminder that they would fight for the nation’s national resources and the end of pollution. He also advocated for closing tax loopholes that allow big business advantages.
He said the stresses of Standing Rock and the fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline had created post traumatic stress disorders but the fight to stop national political influences will not end.
“We are on the front line of the destitute”, he said. “But we are also on the front line of solutions”.
After his rally speech, Goldtooth said the It Takes Roots effort has become a national movement and that he hopes it will build momentum when it forges a collaboration with Black Lives Matter, Food Justice and other social-
reform organizations.
“What you will see is mobility across the board to make sure they do not do further damage to our communities”, he said.
“On critical points, like community projects, we will take action”.
As the crowd moved to Independence Avenue, a calmness filled the air as thousands of people waited patiently to enter the general admission checkpoint into the Mall. Protesters were ignored by many of the people in line.
Two Long Island teens silently held a six-foot Trump flag while protesters walked past them with signs that sent a death wish to the incoming president. The teens, who gave only their first names, said they had entered a contest at the island’s Longwood high school to win a chance to attend the Inauguration and were two of 40 students chosen.
Brendan, 17, said “I have been supporting him since he first ran”, while Jared, also 17, said he had thrown his support behind Trump after Libertarian-party rival Gary Johnson dropped out of the presidential election race.
• Read about the county connection with the inauguration in more on-the-ground reports by Lora-Marie Bernard in Sunday’s edition.

Top, the US Capitol from the National Mall shortly after the inauguration; above, a DC bus is used as a barrier to prevent free public access to the Mall – Photos by Lora-Marie Bernard