Houston County Attorney Defends Old Glory

Case Update

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highes court for criminal cases, has granted the Houston County Attorney's Office request to review the State of Texas vs. Terence D. Johnson case, County Attorney Daphne Session reported on Wednesday, July 2.

The case pertains to the incident in which Terence D. Johnson of Bryan allegedly desecrated a United States flag posted outside a Lovelady business.

Session provided this update to Houston County media:
"Last year, the Court of Appeals in Tyler issued an opinion in our Destruction of Flag appeal. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Houston County Court at Law Judge Sarah Clark dismissing the case, but disagreed with Judge Clark's reasoning. In fact, the Court of Appeals found that Terence Johnson's behavior was not speech protected by the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals decided the Destruction of Flag statute is overbroad and therefore unconstitutional.

"The County Attorney's Office does not agree with the decision of the Court of Appeals. A Motion for Rehearing was submitted. The Court of Appeals granted the Motion for Rehearing. But, once again, the Tyler Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the case.

"The County Attorney's Office filed a request with Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review the case (formally called a Petition for Discretionary Review). The Court of Criminal Appeals is the state's highest court for criminal cases. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted our request and has decided to review the case for a decision.

"The Court of Criminal Appeals receives approximately 1,500 requests to review criminal cases each year, but only grants approximately 85 each year to review. Our flag case is included in this small percentage of cases that will be reviewed by the state's highest criminal court.

"In May, the County Attorney's Office submitted our brief to the Court of Criminal Appeals. Terrence Johnson's attorney submitted his brief this week. The Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed to hear oral arguments in the case, so now we wait for the argument to be set.

Holiday Charges Range From DWI To Assaulting Trooper

By Lynda Jones, Editor-in-Chief

Jessica Kimberly McDonald, 29, was stopped while driving southbound on US 287 at about 2:31 a.m. Saturday, July 5 for suspected drunk driving.

Jessica Kimberly McDonald (HCSO Photo)By the time her encounter with a DPS State Trooper was complete, she was charged with Driving While Intoxicated/Open Container (third or more offense, Felony, Class 3), Assault on a Public Servant (Felony, Class 3), Resist Arrest Search or Transport (Misdemeanor, Class A), Criminal Mischief >=$500 <$1,500 (Misdemeanor, Class A) and Driving While License Invalid With Previous or Alcohol Suspension (Misdemeanor, Class B).

According to the Arrest Affidavit signed by the arresting trooper, McDonald's 2008 black KIA four-door sedan was observed traveling in the left lane when not passing, and it was observed making a lane change without using its turn indicator, prior to the trooper stopping the vehicle.
Additionally, "Numerous signs of intoxication were observed and McDonald performed the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests poorly," the trooper alleges in the affidavit. The trooper then arrested McDonald for the DWI offense.

While in transport to the Houston County Jail, McDonald became belligerent and began kicking items in the patrol car, including the windshield, camera and radar equipment, according to the arrest affidavit.

The trooper further alleged McDonald assaulted him by kicking him a few times.
Bond was set as follows: $10,000, Assault Public Servant; $4,000, Criminal Mischief; $8,000, DWI (third or more); $4,000, Resisting Arrest; $3,000, DWLI .

Ashby Appointed To Select Committee On Economic Development Incentives

AUSTIN – State Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) has been appointed to the newly created Select Committee on Economic Development Incentives by Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.

Along with the other committee members, Ashby's role will be to assess the economic benefit provided by state and local incentive programs and make recommendations to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of those programs.

"I'm certainly honored to have been selected to serve on this particular committee, as it deals with an issue that I know is important to rural Texas," Ashby said. "Economic development and job creation has been, and continues to be a priority across our district. I'm excited because through this appointment I will be able to roll my sleeves up and dig into our state's economic incentive programs to see which programs and policies are working as intended."

The committee will determine the types of economic development projects that offer the most benefit to the state and suggest opportunities on meaningful reforms. It will also discuss how to make programs more efficient.

"While other states are working aggressively to ramp up their own economies, Texas has become the frontrunner in job creation," Ashby said. "My goal on this committee will be to continue that success, while promoting programs that value taxpayer dollars, and making sure that rural Texas does not get overlooked."

Straus, who has prioritized efficiency and transparency so far during the interim, said taxpayers deserve to have incentive programs looked at carefully.

"We owe it to taxpayers to take a detailed look at what has worked and what can be improved," Straus said. "Some incentive programs may need retooling and others may have outlived their usefulness. I'm confident that this committee can supply the answers that will help the full House prepare to address this issue in next year's session."

Ashby added that the state's ability to attract businesses cannot be tied to inefficient or unproductive incentives.

"Taxpayers in Texas deserve transparency and efficiency," Ashby said. "I think everyone agrees that we have to continue to grow our economy and present a viable and appealing business climate that attracts job creators and fosters economic opportunity. But there is no reason we cannot do those things while eliminating wasteful spending on incentives that no longer produce or eradicating policies that do not prove to be worthwhile for Texas taxpayers."

County’s Veterans Service Officer Available To Assist Those Who Need Help With VA System

By Lynda Jones

In a recent interview, Houston County Veterans Service Officer Fred Newtz said about 2,700, or 10% of the Houston County population, veterans live in Houston County.

Earlier this month, Waymon Vest expressed dismay about an incident involving a 94-year-old WWII veteran in Houston County, a Pearl Harbor survivor.
The Courier unsuccessfully attempted to contact the veteran's wife to confirm the visitor's account of the situation. The veteran passed away last weekend.

According to Vest, the veteran recently was hospitalized at the VA Hospital in Temple. He then was scheduled for an appointment the day after his discharge, requiring another trip to Temple and transportation arrangements.

Newtz was asked about this incident, and if he receives many complaints about the VA health system.

While he did not speak about the VA hospital in Temple nor the number of complaints he receives, Newtz did say that he works closely with the VA staff at the clinic in Lufkin. (It would be a violation of the HIPPA patient confidentiality law for Newtz or the VA Hospital to discuss a specific patient.)

Newtz said any problem he has addressed with the Lufkin facility has always been corrected within 24 hours.

He further said that many people do not understand that the VA functions similarly to a private HMO or PPO insurance plan.

Patients have primary care physicians, and if they require a specialist, the primary care physician makes the referral.

Houston County veterans may go to the Palestine VA Clinic for blood work, for example, which is sent elsewhere for testing, and then after about a week when the results are back, they are scheduled for another appointment.

He noted that the VA Hospital in Houston is a hub that sees thousands of veterans each year, and that there are a number of clinics and satellites that service veterans within its territory.
Newtz frequently takes Houston County veterans to out-of-county medical appointments. If a veteran needs assistance, he or she may contact him at the Houston County Courthouse Annex on Goliad Ave. His phone number is 936-544-3255, ext. 315.

According to a recent audit by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the average wait time for an established patient to see a primary care physician is 7.60 days, while the average wait time for a new patient is 49.86 days at the VA Hospital in Temple. (The audit is based on data from May 15.)

The average wait time for a specialty care appointment for a new patient in Temple (Those who have not been seen there in the previous 24 months) is 54.25 days and the average wait time for an established patient is 5.46 days.

For a new patient (one who has not been seen before in Temple in the previous 24 months), the average wait time for a mental health appointment is 35.89 days; for an established patient the wait is 2.97 days.

The audit also showed Temple had 458 appointments were scheduled between 91-120 days of the reference date (i.e.; create date for new patients and desired date for established patients) and 146 appointments were scheduled beyond 120 days. Three patients had been on the Electronic Wait List for Temple more than 120 days, according to the VHA audit.
By comparison, the VA Hospital in Houston had 103 appointments scheduled between 91-120 days and 110 appointments scheduled beyond 120 days. None had been on the Electronic Wait List for more than 120 days, according to the audit.

With its release of the audit results, the Veterans Administration stated that it already has begun contacting and scheduling all veterans who are waiting for care in VA clinics or arranging for veterans' access.

On Tuesday, June 10, at the American Medical Association (AMA) annual conference, Texas and Florida physicians urged immediate governmental action to enable American veterans to access health care they need outside of the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs system.

AMA's governing body passed the proposal.

According to a press release issued by the Texas Medical Association (TMA), "The resolution calls for "the President of the United States (to) take immediate action to provide timely access to health care for eligible veterans utilizing the health care sector outside the Veterans Administration" until (the) VA can provide health care in a timely fashion. The physicians also called for Congress to pass a bipartisan, long-term solution to ensure veterans can receive timely health care.

The AMA house also voted to "encourage all physicians to participate, when needed, in the health care of veterans."

"Our veterans have stepped up and served our country, so physicians want to be able to step in and serve them," said Austin I. King, MD, TMA's president. "It is tragic that our veterans have been forced to wait for the health care they need and deserve, so Texas physicians and our colleagues across the nation want to help care for them until the VA can right the ship."

Crockett Council Chooses Agency To Find Candidates For Administrator Position

By Lynda Jones

During a special called meeting on Wednesday, June 11, the Crockett City Council first selected Mayor Pro Tem and Pct. 2 Councilmember Robert Meadows to be the next mayor of Crockett.
As Meadows then assumed his new duties, the council took action towards filling the position of city administrator.

At the city council's regular meeting on June 2, council members discussed comprehensive proposals received from Dallas-based Waters & Company (W&C)and Keller-based Strategic Government Resources (SGR). A third proposal, one from Austin-based Ray Associates, Inc., was received the day of the meeting, so council members voted to table a decision on the issue until Wednesday's meeting to allow more time to study all three proposals.

After Wednesday's discussion, the council voted 3-2 in favor of contracting with Ray Associates, Inc. to lead the search for viable city administrator candidates.

Pct. 1 Councilmember Chris Gunnels and Pct. 5 Councilmember Mike Marsh voted "yes" while Pct. 3 Councilmember Larry Robbins and Precinct 4 Councilmember Muriel Williams voted "no".

Meadows cast the tie-breaking vote, in favor of Ray Associates.

The firm's professional fee will be $15,000 plus "reimbursement of necessary and reasonable expenses of the search". The firm expects the engagement to take three months to complete.
If the successful candidate for the position leaves the City of Crockett within 180 days of the date of hire, Ray Associates will reinitiate the search and selection process without additional professional fees.

References included the cities of Boerne, Bastrop, Granite Shoals and Highland Village.

Three Houston Juveniles , One Adult Allegedly Engage In High Speed Chase

On Friday, June 6, shortly before midnight, officers with the Crockett Police Department were notified of a high speed vehicle pursuit that was heading toward Crockett, reported CPD Sgt. Clayton Smith. Officers with the department positioned their patrol units to help divert the driver around the West Loop 304 away from the populated areas of the City of Crockett.

"Due to the driver's erratic driving he blew through the road block nearly striking an officer and continued to flee," Smith alleged. "The driver and his passengers were able to gain some ground on the officers pursuing and later stopped the vehicle and fled on foot. Additional units from the Crockett Police Department were notified and responded to the location."

Smith continued, "The area was flooded with officers from the Crockett Police Department, Houston County Sheriff's Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, Crockett Fire Department and Huntsville Police Department."
Approximately three hours later the suspects were located, after a concerned citizen called in reporting that two suspicious male subjects stopped him and asked, "Where are we at?"

That citizen called the HCSO to report the incident and that alerted officers to the suspect's location, Smith explained.

"Officers with the Crockett Police Department made contact with four black male subjects that were found hiding behind a residence in the 700 block of Terrell St. in Crockett," Smith said. The suspects later were identified as three male juveniles from Houston and one adult male (Derrick Patterson, 17, B/M) from Houston, according to Smith's statement.

Crockett Police Department detectives were called to the scene to interview the four suspects. After further investigation the three juvenile males were transported to the Anderson County Juvenile Detention Center in Palestine and Patterson was transported to the Houston County Jail.

Charges include Evading Arrest or Detention, Theft of Firearm, Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle and Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. The suspects also have charges pending out of Walker and Trinity Counties.