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Newsmonger: DPS under fire, Woman nabbed in murder-for-hire plot, Millions spent on school punishment in TX

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Anna Vasquez, 37, was released from prison Friday after serving more than 12 years of her 15-year sentence for sexually assaulting two young girls. Vasquez is one of four women (the other three still incarcerated) working with the Innocence Project of Texas to clear their names, saying the bizarre story presented to jurors was fabricated. One of the victims, now 25 years old, recently recanted saying the assault never happened. 

DPS under fire

Civil liberties groups, immigrant advocates and a group of Texas elected officials are outraged over a DPS helicopter sniper who fatally shot two Guatemalan men during a high speed chase on a rural border road late last month. An audio recording of the chase obtained last week by KRGV-TV reveals troopers did indeed believe the red pickup truck was carrying bundles of drugs, not immigrants, as it sped down the Hidalgo County road the afternoon of October 25. In the recording, a trooper warns those on the ground to keep their distance, before saying, "Going to try to shoot one of the tires out."

The DPS sniper instead shot Guatemalan immigrants Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar, 32, and Marcos Antonio Castro Estrada, 29, who lay in the truck bed. A third man who was shot survived and was taken to a local hospital.

Since the shooting, DPS's policy of allowing officers to fire on vehicles during pursuit has drawn heavy criticism. According to the agency's manual, troopers can shoot to disable a vehicle to defend themselves or others from death or serious injury. The policy sets Texas apart from other states where policies rarely, if ever, approve firing on vehicles. Last week the Express-News quoted Geoffrey Alpert of the University of North Carolina, who has studied police pursuits across the country, saying he'd "never heard of law enforcement agencies allowing officers to shoot at vehicles from helicopters. … It's not an efficient or effective polity to let officers shoot from vehicles, and certainly not from a helicopter."

Last week advocates with the ACLU of Texas gathered at an intersection near where the shooting occurred, about nine miles from the border, to demand justice for the two men killed. "There is an attitude that seems to signal no regard for human life," said ACLU of Texas executive director Terry T. Burke. "They shoot first and ask questions later. It is a mentality that has taken over the people who are sworn to uphold the law and protect us."

Since January 2010, 18 people have been killed by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the ACLU. Eight of those killed were allegedly throwing rocks at border officers; six were standing on the Mexico side of the border. Six were under 21 years old, and five were U.S. citizens, according to the ACLU.

Democratic state Reps Lon Burnam and Armando Walle, who sit on the House public safety committee overseeing DPS, have called for a hearing to examine DPS's policy of firing at fleeing vehicles. Hidalgo County district attorney Rene Guerra last week asked DPS to stop its practice of shooting from helicopters. And in addition to a Texas Rangers investigation into the incident, the state has asked the FBI and Department of Justice to conduct and independent investigation.

Citing those ongoing investigations, DPS officials have said little. Days after the shooting, the agency elaborated, saying the trooper fired on the truck of immigrants because it was speeding toward two elementary schools and a middle school, therefore posing "an immediate threat to the schoolchildren and motoring public." Still, troopers in the audio recording of the incident released last week never mention danger to schools or school children during the chase. In a statement last week, DPS director Steve McCraw said, "Although it is very tragic that two lives were lost, had the vehicle continued recklessly speeding through the school zone, any number of innocent bystanders or young lives could have been lost or suffered serious bodily injury."

Woman nabbed in murder-for-hire plot

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