Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Police in San Antonio apparently missed the last decade or so and have busted some volunteers conducting a needle exchange program in their town. This despite the fact that health policy activists in Bexar County had swapped clean needles for dirty ones for years in San Antonio's poor neighborhoods. And despite recent legislation that said they could.

Police Officer Oscar Flores said in his report that he spotted a 2003 Chevrolet van parked at South Hamilton Avenue and Vera Cruz Street just before 4 p.m. Jan. 5, "with several known prostitutes and drug addicts next to the vehicle."

One of the activist, Flores wrote, showed him a typical syringe kit, and said he was "swapping syringes" with people on the street. He produced business cards of a sergeant working in the chief's office and Deputy Chief Ruben Garcia with the Bexar County Sheriff's Office, "stating he was given permission" to exchange syringes.

Bill Day, a co-founder of the nonprofit group Bexar Area Harm Reduction Coalition, and board members Mary Casey and Melissa Lujan were busted by the zealous Texas constables.

Day said, "Our volunteers regard their involvement as a Christian ministry work intended to alleviate egregious suffering and improve the lives of the least among us. The statement and actions of the district attorney have brought all needle exchange activities to a halt. As a result, we can expect transmission of hepatitis and HIV to increase."

Originally the charges were possession of drug paraphernalia which is a class C misdomenaor, but now the DA Susan Reed (pictured here wearing a swell hat) wants to make it a slightly different charge which is a more serious Class A misdemeanor, distribution of paraphernalia, which carries a punishment of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

The blog Grits for Breakfast says looming over it all is a larger legal question, one that doesn't directly involve Day or his group.

Legislation passed last year authorized local health officials to organize a pilot syringe exchange program in Bexar County. It would be the first legally sanctioned program in Texas.

The program is stalled since the district attorney - Susan Reed again - declared her view that the legislation authorizing it is faulty. Speaking about needle exchange last August Reed told the San Antonio Express-News, “I’m telling [local officials], and I’m telling the police chief, I don’t think they have any kind of criminal immunity. That’s the bottom line. It has nothing to do with whether they do it or don’t do it – other than if you do it you might find yourself in jail.”

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio and chair of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee commented on Reed's thoughts (if that is what they are). “This prosecutorial interpretation of the new law would create an absurd result,” Wentworth wrote, “in that it suggests the Legislature enacted the pilot program with the intent or awareness that it would place persons associated with the program in the position of committing a criminal offense under the [Texas CSA]."

Did I mention this guy is a Republican?

Both sides await an opinion from the attorney general's office.

Assistant Police Chief David Head said the legislation — if it survives the legal challenge — authorizes only Bexar County's health authority to run a syringe exchange program, not a privately run group like Day's.

Is there no real crime taking place in San Antonio or what?

In 2006 Texas spent more than $24 million toward caring for individuals with hepatitis C; in 2005, the state spent more than $86 million treating people with HIV/AIDS. In 2005, there were approximately 300,000 Texans living with hepatitis C.

But why do anything to try and help out seems to be the position of DA Reed.

By the way, you may have heard of DA Reed before. She played a key role in the controversial execution of a fellow named Ruben Cantu. The 1985 conviction and 1993 execution of Ruben Cantu became the subject of a series of investigative articles by Houston Chronicle reporter Lise Olsen in 2005 and 2006. In those articles, Olsen uncovered evidence that undermined the Cantu conviction. According to Olsen's articles, the jury Forewoman, the then-District Attorney, the trial Judge, the co-defendant, and the surviving victim have all expressed misgivings about the outcome of the Cantu case. The only evidence linking Cantu to the crime was the testimony of Juan Moreno, the surviving victim, but he has since recanted his testimony, claiming he had felt threatened by police.

As the current District Attorney, Susan Reed investigated the claims of wrongful conviction in the Cantu case and concluded that Cantu was justifiably executed in 1993 and that no credible evidence existed to support witnesses' innocence claims. Susan Reed was also the judge who rejected Cantu's appeal in 1988, and set his execution date in 1993.

Where do they find people like her?

The following is from the Houston Chronicle.

San Antonio needle-swap activists facing charges

Police said they will seek drug paraphernalia charges punishable by up to a year in jail for three activists who were caught handing out clean syringes in exchange for dirty ones.

The members of the nonprofit group Bexar Area Harm Reduction Coalition were cited Jan. 5 when a police officer saw them parked at a corner "with several known prostitutes and drug addicts next to the vehicle."

The police confiscated containers of clean syringe kits, while leaving them with the used syringes they'd collected.

An officer cited the three with possession of drug paraphernalia, a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500. But police now say they will refile the case this week with District Attorney Susan Reed as a Class A misdemeanor, distribution of paraphernalia, which carries a punishment of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

The defendants are Bill Day, 73, a co-founder of the nonprofit group, and two board members, Mary Casey, 67, and Melissa Lujan, 39.

"These are enormously decent, charitable people, and what's happening with them smacks of persecution," said Neel Lane, an attorney with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which is representing the coalition at no cost.

The citations come as Bexar County health officials wait for a state attorney general's opinion on legislation passed last year authorizing the county to pilot a syringe exchange program.

Reed has warned local officials that the legislation doesn't shield participants from drug paraphernalia laws.

Texas is the only state that doesn't allow syringe exchange programs, which are meant to curb the spread of diseases like hepatitis and HIV among intravenous drug users.

Assistant Police Chief David Head said if the pilot program moves forward, the law would allow only Bexar County's health authority to run a syringe exchange program, and not a private group such as Bexar Area Harm Reduction Coalition.

Head denied Day's claim that he had been given permission by police to exchange syringes.

Day has been open about his group's work. He said the dirty needles are disposed of with the Metropolitan Health District.

The volunteers who work with the needle exchange program see it as a Christian ministry, intended to "improve the lives of the least among us," Day said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

DA SUSAN REED and Another Cantu Case gone very wrong.

Bryce Seton Vandergrift 2010 and Ruben M Cantu have a Common Threads.... SUSAN D REED