GHCFJ Condolences Letter for Family of Deputy Darren Goforth
Greater Houston Coalition for Justice
August 28, 2015
By: Mr. Johnny Mata
GHCFJ denounce the senseless and cold blooded death of the Harris County deputy sheriff and extend our prayers to the family of the fallen Deputy Darren Goforth.
The Greater Houston Coalition for Justice (GHCFJ) members are sadden by the death of a Harris County deputy sheriff Darren Goforth who was fatally shot at a gas station in northwest Harris County this evening.
According to media reports, the deputy was in uniform and pumping gas when someone walked up and shot him repeatedly on West Road .
GHCFJ denounce this senseless and cold blooded death and extend our prayers to the family of the fallen officer.
Investigate the Houston Police Department
Mismanagement at the Houston Police Department necessitates an independent look.
Why is the Houston Police Department so prone to mismanagement? This is the question that City Hall needs to answer. It is time for a third-party investigator to take a look at HPD and determine exactly where management breaks down and provide solutions.
Years of controversy at HPD’s crime lab led to an independent report by forensics expert Michael Bromwich, which helped set the lab on the right track. The rest of HPD needs to take the same medicine.
It seems like a month can’t go by without HPD landing itself in another controversy. There were two HPD lieutenants who retired, with full benefits, amid allegations of sexual harassment. The crime lab faces an internal investigation after reports that a former employee did not follow proper procedures over the last two years. This comes on the tail of untested evidence, faked results, inaccurate fingerprinting and contaminated blood tests. We thought those days were over.
HPD has also yet to properly address a lauded two-part article by Texas Observer writer Emily DePrang documenting rampant and unpunished police brutality in Houston. Nor has HPD taken significant steps to address police shootings, even after a series of articles by Chronicle reporter James Pinkerton revealed that a quarter of civilians shot by HPD over the past five years had been unarmed.
Now we’re learning that the homicide division simply ignored stacks of cases and failed to keep track of documents. The problems go all the way to the top: City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a former police sergeant, kept homicide case files after leaving the force (“Council member imposes penalty on self,” Page A1, Thursday). Because of this incompetence, a man charged with murder now sits out of reach in Honduras. How many other murderers roam free because Houston’s police officers refused to do their jobs?
Neither Mayor Annise Parker nor District Attorney Devon Anderson should be satisfied with HPD’s performance. The department’s failures undermine its reliability in the courts and its trustworthiness in the hearts of citizens. All of Houston suffers when HPD falls down on the job, yet it seems like officers get off with a slap on the wrist.
Gonzalez is punishing himself with a self-imposed 5-day suspension without pay. This voluntary shaming is similar to the consequences faced by eight police officers implicated in the probe that found the homicide department had poorly investigated or totally ignored at least 24 cases. Still, it feels all too much like something you would read in a 1980s book on Japanese management styles. Houston doesn’t need self-pitying. We need answers.
Updated: April 10, 2014 9:29pm
2 HPD lieutenants in sex allegations allowed to retire Sun, Apr 6, 2014 2:28 pm James Pinkerton for Houston Chronicle
Two high-ranking police lieutenants who were relieved of duty last year for alleged sexual harassment of female employees under their command have quietly retired with full benefits from the Houston Police Department.
Both officers previously had been disciplined for serious violations that could have resulted in their dismissals but were allowed to keep their jobs, HPD personnel records show.
Lt. Carl Gaines, 50, whose retirement in January still allows him to get his $87,675 yearly paycheck, admitted to harassing a number of women, both officers and civilians, at his post at the city dispatch center. One civilian employee was subjected to various physical contacts, and Gaines made a lewd gesture to a female police officer, city records show.
Gaines, the son of a former HPD deputy chief, was suspended for 10 days in 1997 for filing false police reports in six drug cases. Gaines, then a narcotics officer, was found to have lied and fabricated events and statements in drug cases developed by a confidential informant he had given a large amount of HPD money to buy drugs, according to HPD records.
Lt. Laurence Lakind, 55, who gets $85,121 a year in retirement pay, was accused of workplace harassment of a fellow HPD supervisor by making lewd comments and sending emails of a sexual nature, sources said. Lakind previously was suspended for misconduct that included retaliation against an officer in his traffic command who reported fraudulent overtime payments being claimed by a superior officer.
Neither lieutenant responded to several requests for comment.
Sally Ring, a staff attorney with the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said Gaines “accepted responsibility for the misconduct.”
Lakind’s attorney, J. Scott Siscoe, said the lieutenant denies the sexual harassment allegations.
Police Chief Charles McClelland issued a departmentwide circular last October reminding employees that he would not tolerate sexual harassment, and other prohibited conduct, in the workplace.
“There is nothing that I can do to prevent a breakdown in someone’s morals and ethics” who then violate police policy or state law “because of just intentional misconduct,” the chief said Friday.
“One incident of sexual harassment is unacceptable, intolerable, but there are no systemic sexual harassment issues … that have been brought to my attention that cause me concern” within HPD, McClelland said.
Kim Ogg, a private attorney who has defended a number of HPD officers in employment cases, said the police department has trouble policing its own.
“There appears to be a pattern in the police department of firing some officers for insignificant violations, while allowing others with serious violations to remain on the force until they retire quietly,” said Ogg, who is running for Harris County district attorney. “It’s disturbing because it indicates that discipline may be contingent upon how well an officer is liked, as opposed to his behavior.”
‘Swift action is taken’
Ray Hunt, president of the police officers’ union, said retirement isn’t a concession of guilt. It could just mean the employee is tired of fighting the internal affairs’ process, he said.
“I do not believe there is any type of widespread or even isolated cases of sexual harassment that aren’t swiftly dealt with” at HPD, Hunt said. “Swift action is taken every time on sexual harassment. It’s not tolerated.”
The HPD personnel records released to the Houston Chronicle show one lieutenant retired before his internal affairs investigation was concluded. The other lieutenant admitted he violated a number of city rules of police conduct, then accepted a deal for a month off work without pay and was allowed to retire.
“The sad thing about this whole operation with cops is they’re so well-protected they certainly don’t suffer the consequences of their actions — [consequences] that people in the private sector would suffer for what they do,” said attorney Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin. “If you have pervasive sexual harassment, you need to have the same punishment as in the private sector … and that is to get canned.”
Mark W. Stephens, a private investigator who spent 17 years at HPD, said it is unusual for the department to investigate misconduct in the higher ranks.
“Historically, HPD has not always included management in internal investigations unless it was a specific complaint against a manager,” said Stephens. “If it was a departmental or divisional problem, they would look at the hired help so to speak.”
Stephens, who left HPD in 1999, said the management problems at HPD stem from the promotion of supervisors who did not have much experience on the streets.
“The real problem with the promotion process is they don’t promote based on experience or performance, it’s based on testing and political correctness,” said Stephens.
After his recent internal affairs investigation, Gaines admitted to a number of infractions including repeated sexual harassment of a female civilian worker and disruptive behavior during a two-year period from August 2010 through November 2012, records show. In June 2013, HPD received an anonymous complaint accusing Gaines of inappropriate behavior over a period of several years to a “number of subordinate female employees” at the Houston Emergency Center, where 911 calls are answered, according to his letter of suspension from McClelland.
“It was alleged he made comments, gestures and actions of a sexually oriented nature,” to the women, including a woman sergeant, according to the suspension letter. “On another occasion, Lt. Gaines walked up to her and made a pelvic thrust stating ‘you know you want me.'”
Ring, the staff attorney with the police union, confirmed HPD made Gaines a deal for a 30-day unpaid suspension and retirement, in exchange for not being fired by the chief.
“He accepted responsibility for the misconduct that was alleged in the discipline letter … he did not choose to challenge the allegations,” Ring said.
She said the investigation into misconduct of two lieutenants with female subordinates was “an unfortunate coincidence,” but insisted other employers, such as schools, have a much larger problem with sexual harassment than HPD.
“When you look at size and totality of the department, it’s not that inflammatory,” said Ring. “And if you look at other career paths that other people have chosen, there are lots more people in positions of authority who have taken advantage of subordinates than at the police department. Like I said, every day there’s a teacher getting down with a 13-year-old.”
Not first suspension
The suspension against Gaines was not his first, records show.
In 1997, then HPD Chief C.O. Bradford suspended Gaines for 10 days without pay for being untruthful and inaccurate in preparing six drug cases while he was assigned to narcotics. The letter did not say whether any of the cases resulted in false arrests, and Bradford said he could not recall the matter.
The suspension also said Gaines turned over an undisclosed amount of HPD money to a confidential informant, and failed to “maintain adequate accountability” of the money.
Gaines, in February and March 1997, failed to list all those involved in criminal offenses, made up events that he later admitted did not occur, and included statements or activities of others that “were confirmed to be inaccurately portrayed” by him, according to the suspension letter.
Charges of tampering with a record were brought against Gaines in March 1997, but a grand jury declined to indict the officer and the case was disposed of, according to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and district court records.
Lakind left HPD while he was under investigation for sexual harassment of a police officer who was his subordinate, his attorney confirmed
Siscoe, himself a former Houston police lieutenant, said Lakind decided to retire because he had been relieved of duty and was required to stay at home during working hours. Siscoe said the sexual harassment complaint filed against Lakind by a female sergeant was the result of the lieutenant taking steps to correct a subordinate’s work performance.
“He has always adamantly denied anything improper at all, as far as any sexual harassment,” Siscoe said. “They worked together as a team. … she got some negative work performance issues, and Larry tries to address those issues, and then a complaint gets dropped against him.”
Lakind is contesting the less-than-honorable discharge issued by McClelland that by law is sent to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which could affect his future employment as a police officer at another department.
A hearing on his appeal has been scheduled for this summer, a commission official confirmed.
In 2006, Lakind agreed to a 21-day suspension to avoid being fired for revealing the name of an officer who had anonymously reported wrongdoing by a sergeant. In addition, Lakind had his subordinate officers tell others in the division he was not pleased that a supervisor had been reported.
“Based on these comments, there was a perception that they were being criticized for doing what was right when reporting improper behavior by a police supervisor,” Lakind’s suspension letter stated.
Larry Lakind is the older brother of HPD homicide Lt. Rory Lakind, 43, who was disciplined by McClelland on Friday for not adequately supervising homicide investigators. ___
(c)2014 the Houston Chronicle
Profile of GHCFJ member
Lawyer-artist is an original
GHCFJ welcomes The Texas Civil Rights Project
In the last 22 years, we have handled more than 3,000 cases for poor and low-income clients around the state, developed a vigorous VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) “Circuit Rider” legal program for abused immigrant women in rural Texas, and created a pro bono network with private attorneys to expand our civil rights cases (especially with Houston firms like Vinson and Elkins, King and Spalding, Weil, Gotshal and Manges, Baker Botts, Winston and Strawn, DLA Piper and YetterColeman — see the complete list here). We have sued over all kinds of police misconduct in every area of Texas, including Houston. Because of our work, jails now do more to prevent inmate suicide, protect vulnerable inmates from sexual assault and administer HIV medications. TCRP set the national trend in ballot access for blind voters and has led more than 50 regional compliance campaigns under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a result, businesses, churches, sports venues and courthouses in Texas and Houston are much more accessible to elderly folks and people with disabilities. Disability rights will be a major focus of our work in Houston. Our Title IX efforts against sexual harassment and unequal sport opportunities have helped make schools more hospitable for young women and opened up college athletic scholarships for them. We want to replicate in Houston our Safe Schools anti-bullying programs for students. We have fought discrimination against African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans in banks, restaurants and hotels. We assisted South Asian, Muslim and Arab citizens and students who fell victim to post 9/11 discrimination. We have worked closely with the NAACP and litigated cases with the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund and the American Jewish Congress. We just settled a major case against Harris County that implemented a comprehensive interpreter policy for domestic violence survivors and others who have represented themselves in family court matters. Now these people will have interpreters appointed if they don’t speak English. This policy is now a model for other counties. Not too long ago, we sued the city of Tomball for renting its civil center to the Ku Klux Klan, which then excluded African-Americans from its meetings. The settlement precludes future rentals if attendance will be the equivalent of illegal class discrimination. We won a federal case awhile back, severely restricting privacy-intrusive pre-employment polygraphing of potential Houston police officers and firefighters. We’re currently co-counsel in two federal suits against police. One involves two young fathers rendered disabled by a car that crashed into them because Houston officers set up a night-time roadblock across I-10 at a limited-sight location. The other is a wrongful death case about a Stafford officer who shot and killed a mentally-ill teenager in his house, in front of his parents. This is the kind of civil rights work that TCRP will continue to do in the Houston area. We hope our new stronger presence in Houston will help strengthen civil liberty and human rights in the local community. That is our goal, and our commitment. Harrington is director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, and Alehashem is its Houston regional director.
|Donate Today Support TCRP: Working for Excellence in Civil Rights Law across Texas Texas Civil Rights Project|
TCRP – HoustonProtests in Houston after police shoot unarmed man in wheelchair at home for the mentally illTom Dart in Houston guardian.co.ukCivil rights activists staged a protest in Houston on Tuesday, after an unarmed man in a wheelchair was shot dead by police at a care home for the mentally ill.Members of the National Black United Front marched in front of city hall and joined with other local pressure groups in demanding an independent investigation into the shooting.At around 2am on Saturday, police were called to the Healing Hands Assisted Home Care house, about a mile south-east of downtown Houston, after a resident became agitated because he was refused cigarettes and soda.According to a police statement, Brian Claunch grew violent and threatened to kill two patrolmen and others in the home. He “waved a shiny object in his hand in their direction” and attempted to stab one of the officers, at which point the other officer, Matthew Marin, shot Claunch. The shiny object proved to be a ballpoint pen.Claunch was reportedly killed by a single shot to the head. The 45-year-old was a schizophrenic who had lost most of his right leg and his entire right arm when he was hit by a train, the Houston Chronicle reported. He had a criminal record, including drug convictions.Marin, who became an officer in 2007, also killed a suspect when on duty in 2009, when he fired on a man who had stabbed his neighbor to death and who refused to drop the knife. John Garcia owns the personal care home in Houston where police say an officer shot and killed a man in a wheelchair. Photograph: Cody Duty/APShootings by police appear to be on the rise in the US’s fourth-largest city. The Houston Chronicle reported that in the first seven months of this year, the city’s police had been involved in 14 shooting incidents, killing seven people – almost double the number of shootings compared with the same period last year. Twenty-one people were shot in the whole of 2011, nine fatally.The Greater Houston Coalition for Justice had previously called for the US Attorney General to investigate alleged civil-rights violations by Houston police. After the latest incident, it will ask for an acceleration of the request.
“This occurs quite often,” Johnny Mata, a member of the Coalition, told the Guardian. “This is an horrendous death that could have been handled differently.”
Mata also pointed to the case of Rufino Lara, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who was shot dead by a police officer who stated that Lara ignored repeated orders to stop and show his hands. The officer said she had believed that Lara may have had a weapon, since he turned to face her with one of his hands tucked under his shirt. A search showed that there was a beer can in his waistband and two witnesses claim that he had his hands against a wall both before and as he turned.
Amin Alehashem, staff attorney at the Houston office of the Texas Civil Rights Project, told the Guardian that Claunch’s death was “absolutely disturbing. A lot of people are very upset.” He described the killing as “particularly egregious”, given the circumstances, and “in cold blood. I don’t understand why the officer didn’t shoot a Taser or something else.”
Alehashem said that in the wider context Claunch’s death was indicative of a “systemic failure” that puts officers in situations they are ill-equipped to handle.
“With all the budget cuts in social services you’re seeing police being put in the role of social worker and it’s not a role they’re really trained to play,” he said.
“We are demanding a full, prompt, and open investigation into the shooting and a proper explanation to the people of Houston why this officer gunned down a double-amputee in a wheelchair in cold blood at his group home,” TCRP Houston Director and Attorney Amin Alehashem stated publicly. . . Read the full press release at our TCRP blog
Charles McClelland, the Houston chief of police, said he had asked the local FBI office to investigate the incident.
“The Houston Police Department places the highest value on human life and events like these are tragic and unfortunate for everyone involved,” he said in a statement. “All Houston Police Officers receive mandatory crisis intervention training specifically dealing with persons experiencing mental crisis.
“As we do in all instances of this nature, the Houston Police Department’s Homicide and Internal Affairs Divisions, and the Harris County District Attorneys Office, Civil Rights Division, are investigating this incident.”
TCRP 22nd Annual Bill of Rights Dinner featuring Equal-Pay Plaintiff Lilly Ledbetter, Oct. 27, 2012, UT Alumni Center, Austin. Click here for program info and tickets
FBI joins probe into HPD shooting of amputee
By James Pinkerton
Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland has asked the FBI to investigate the fatal weekend shooting by a patrolman of a double-amputee in a wheelchair who threatened officers with a silver pen.
The chief contacted FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Morris early Saturday morning and notified him of the shooting involving someone he described as a “violent person,” confirmed FBI spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap.
McClelland asked the FBI to monitor HPD’s internal inquiry and conduct a parallel investigation into the incident.
“As I have done throughout my tenure as police chief, to the extent I can, the Houston Police Department will be open and transparent in all aspects of our response to this tragic event,” McClelland said in a press statement.
Meanwhile, two separate civil rights groups demanded independent investigations into Saturday’s shooting of Brian C. Claunch, 45, who was unarmed and mentally ill.
The Texas Civil Rights Project-Houston said the public is entitled to a “full and open” review of the circumstances of the shooting.
“There needs to be a serious investigation into why a Houston police officer is shooting a double-amputee in a wheelchair down in cold blood,” said staff attorney Wayne Krause Yang. “TCRP is very concerned about what policies and training led two fully armed police officers to lose control of a situation with a man with one arm, one leg, one felt tip pen that should have been routinely handled.”
‘Where is the training?’
The shooting also prompted members of the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice to ask U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to accelerate the group’s earlier request to launch an investigation into “patterns and practices” of civil rights violations by HPD against minorities and others, according to a statement from activist Johnny Mata.
“These cases occur so often, and they are treated so indifferently at all levels of law enforcement, this review is necessary to get the attention of the public and public officials,” Mata said. “Where is the training? There could have been another way this case could have been handled. There were two officers at the scene, and they couldn’t find a way to apprehend this person?”
Calls to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department for comment on the group’s request were not returned.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker on Monday offered condolences to Claunch’s family and friends, adding she expects the police to discipline any officers if their finding warrants punishment.
“There is a process in place to determine if the officer acted appropriately,” Parker said. “Until the facts are in place, it is premature to draw any conclusions. I have utmost respect for the very difficult job of our Houston Police Department. However, if there were mistakes made, I know the police chief will take appropriate action.”
‘Waved a shiny object’
Police say officer Matthew J. Marin was protecting his partner when he shot Claunch in the head. Staff members called police early Saturday morning to the Healing Hands Assisted Home Care facility at 4309 Polk in the East End after Claunch became upset because his caregivers would not provide him with a cigarette or soda.
“The suspect was agitated and began to yell at the officers and threatened to kill them and the other residents of the home,” according to an HPD statement released Monday. “As he yelled at the officers, he waved a shiny object in his hand in their direction. The suspect refused the officers’ verbal commands to drop the object and advanced in a threatening manner toward one of the officers.
Brian Claunch in 2006, left, and in 2007 (Credit KHOU)
“As the suspect backed one of the officers into a corner, he attempted to stab the officer with the object,” the statement said. “Officer Marin, fearing for his partner’s life, and his own safety, discharged his duty weapon one time, striking the suspect. The object was discovered to be a shiny, ball point pen.”
Saturday’s shooting was the third call officers have made to the small facility in the past 14 months. On July 6, officers were dispatched to the home to investigate an assault between two residents after a incident involving spilled ammonia. And on March 2, 2011, police were called to the home after a resident claimed to be suicidal, HPD confirmed.
HPD officials said all officers are equipped with Tasers. HPD spokeswoman Jodi Silva, however, would not confirm if Marin had or used a stun device, saying this would be part of an investigation by HPD’s homicide and internal affairs departments. Marin shot and killed a knife-wielding man in October 2008, after the suspect killed a neighbor and injured his girlfriend during an attack.
Was ward of state
Claunch has been a ward of the state since February 2003, after a probate court judge ruled that he had become incapacitated by mental illness and could no longer care for himself, according to court records. He was placed at Helping Hands facility in May of last year, left for a time, and returned in March, said Estella Olguin, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Guardianship Program.
Claunch lost an arm and a leg after he was hit by a train.
“Obviously we’re saddened and shocked by the shooting death of Brian Claunch,” Olquin said. “We are working closely with authorities and their investigation in providing information.”
All police shootings in the county also are reviewed by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, whose staff then presents its findings to a grand jury to determine if criminal charges are warranted. A statement issued by Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said her office is “carefully reviewing the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Brian Claunch.”
Donate TodaySupport TCRP: Working for Excellence in Civil Rights Law across TexasTexas Civil Rights Project
A commitment to strengthening civil rights in Houston
Friday, September 21, 2012 | Updated: Friday, September 21, 2012 8:43pm
Page 1 of 1
The Texas Civil Rights Project recently opened a Houston regional office. We’ve come to town because Houston is in need of a vigorous, community-based civil rights organization. We litigated a number of cases in Houston over the years, but always long distance. The time came for an actual presence here.
TCRP first opened its doors in 1990, and since then has been a tireless advocate for racial, social and economic justice across Texas, through education and litigation programs. Houston is our fifth office. The civil rights work we have done in our other offices is what we expect to accomplish in the Houston area.
Our philosophy is to work with community groups on civil rights issues of importance to them. This helps strengthen their organizing efforts and assures implementation of changes obtained through litigation and advocacy. We already have begun meeting with community groups throughout Houston, especially representatives of its minority communities.
In the last 22 years, we have handled more than 3,000 cases for poor and low-income clients around the state, developed a vigorous VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) “Circuit Rider” legal program for abused immigrant women in rural Texas, and created a pro bono network with private attorneys to expand our civil rights cases (especially with Houston firms like Vinson and Elkins, King and Spalding, Weil, Gotshal and Manges, Baker Botts, Winston and Strawn, DLA Piper and YetterColeman).
We have sued over all kinds of police misconduct in every area of Texas, including Houston. Because of our work, jails now do more to prevent inmate suicide, protect vulnerable inmates from sexual assault and administer HIV medications.
TCRP set the national trend in ballot access for blind voters and has led more than 50 regional compliance campaigns under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a result, businesses, churches, sports venues and courthouses in Texas and Houston are much more accessible to elderly folks and people with disabilities. Disability rights will be a major focus of our work in Houston.
Our Title IX efforts against sexual harassment and unequal sport opportunities have helped make schools more hospitable for young women and opened up college athletic scholarships for them. We want to replicate in Houston our Safe Schools anti-bullying programs for students.
We have fought discrimination against African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans in banks, restaurants and hotels. We assisted South Asian, Muslim and Arab citizens and students who fell victim to post 9/11 discrimination. We have worked closely with the NAACP and litigated cases with the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund and the American Jewish Congress.
We just settled a major case against Harris County that implemented a comprehensive interpreter policy for domestic violence survivors and others who have represented themselves in family court matters. Now these people will have interpreters appointed if they don’t speak English. This policy is now a model for other counties.
Not too long ago, we sued the city of Tomball for renting its civil center to the Ku Klux Klan, which then excluded African-Americans from its meetings. The settlement precludes future rentals if attendance will be the equivalent of illegal class discrimination.
We won a federal case awhile back, severely restricting privacy-intrusive pre-employment polygraphing of potential Houston police officers and firefighters. We’re currently co-counsel in two federal suits against police. One involves two young fathers rendered disabled by a car that crashed into them because Houston officers set up a night-time roadblock across I-10 at a limited-sight location. The other is a wrongful death case about a Stafford officer who shot and killed a mentally-ill teenager in his house, in front of his parents.
This is the kind of civil rights work that TCRP will continue to do in the Houston area. We hope our new stronger presence in Houston will help strengthen civil liberty and human rights in the local community. That is our goal, and our commitment.
Harrington is director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, and Alehashem is its Houston regional director.
July 22, 2012
Dear Greater Houston Coalition for Justice Members and readers,
Re: Setting the record straight and giving credit where credit is due.
I received calls of concerns and support from many of you when news broke that sixteen people were issued citations and arrested during a protest on behalf of janitors on strike in downtown Houston on Tuesday Jul 17, 2012, they heard media reports that I was one of the persons arrested and were suprised that I was elsewhere. The actual persons arrested were Dave Atwood and his lovely wife Priscilla. This happen as a results of a media quote I provided to a union representative, “The struggle for economic justice by janitors in Houston, Texas is deplorable”, said Johnny N. Mata, with the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice, “especially when they have to resource to civil disobedience to reach the conscious of the corporate executives in their bargaining contracts.”
Somewhere along the way the message change, several media source had this transmission;
[“The struggle for economic justice led by janitors in Houston is deplorable,” said Johnny N. Mata, who represented Greater Houston Coalition for Justice. “especially when we have to engage in civil disobedience just to reach the conscience of the corporate executives.” Mata was among the protestors who were arrested.]
The actual persons that deserve to be commended for their courage to stand up for justice are Dave Atwood and his lovely wife with the Houston Peace and Justice Center. Dave Atwood and his lovely wife Priscilla, are in their early seventy’s and are advocates for Fairness
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=PqU3yk9-7B0#t=24sand Justice. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqU3yk9-7B0&feature=youtu.be
The Peace and Justice Center is a member of the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker is also to be commended for calling on the contracting companies to go back to the negotiating table and for supporting the union janitors.
The Greater Houston Coalition for Justice adopted a resolution supporting the Janitors during the organization’s monthly meeting on July 14, 2012.
Greater Houston Coalition for Justice
Houston Needs a Raise Resolution
WHEREAS, the mission of the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice (GHCFJ) is to pursue greater human rights awareness and legal safeguards, and
WHEREAS, Houston has been named the nation’s “# 1 Millionaire City” for annual growth for millionaires; yet about 1 in 5 people working in Houston make less than $10 an hour, and Texas is tied with Mississippi for the highest proportion of minimum wage jobs in the nation, and
WHEREAS, for the last month, more than 3,000 janitors of the Service Employees International Union Local 1 have been working without a contract after asking for an hourly wage increase from $8.35 to $10 phased in over four years; however, employers offered a raise of just 50 cents an hour over five years, and
WHEREAS, no one who lives and works in a city as wealthy as Houston should have to struggle to survive or raise their children in poverty, and
WHEREAS, by supporting good jobs for Houston’s janitors, community leaders will help grow our economy, rebuild the middle class and make Houston a first-class city.
THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED that, by a overwhelming majority vote of those present at its July 14, 2012 meeting, the GHCFJ Board voted to request Houston’s business leaders, faith leaders and politicians to support the janitors’ request for improved wages and benefits.
Approved this 14th day of July 2012
Johnny N. Mata On Behalf of the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice (GHCFJ)
Mayor says janitors have ‘no choice’ but civil disobedience
Chris Moran and L.M. Sixe, Houston Chronicle By Chris Moran and L.M. Sixel Friday, July 20, 2012
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Houston Mayor Annise Parker on Friday took the side of union janitors who clean large office buildings, suggesting that the union’s acts of civil disobedience were appropriate in an ongoing contract dispute.
Fifteen demonstrators engaged in such an act Wednesday, when they sat in a downtown intersection with the stated intention of being arrested, which they were. No one arrested is a janitor, and at least half are residents of other cities. Another person also was arrested Wednesday, and previous demonstrations had resulted in two arrests.
The Service Employees International Union‘s contract with seven companies that clean large office buildings expired May 31. It is demanding an increase in hourly wages from $8.35 to $10 for the 3,200 janitors it represents in the dispute.
The union and contractors both say the union ended negotiations in mid-May when talks reached an impasse. But the mayor directed her comments at the companies in urging resumed bargaining.
“I am calling on the contracting companies to go back to the negotiating table. Their unwillingness to talk has left the union with no other choice but civil disobedience,” Parker said in a statement. “That is not good for the City of Houston or our economy and it is not how we do business in Houston. We work hard, we work together and we treat each other fairly. The union has made good-faith offers. Now it’s time for the janitorial contractors to sit back down at the table to work out an agreement that is fair and just.”
Her office said she would not elaborate on the statement. The city uses a non-union company to clean its offices, with a minimum hourly wage of $8.10, according to the contract.
The union and a negotiator for the contractors issued statements saying they were willing to talk. Neither side indicated a return to the bargaining table is imminent.
Union activists ramp up protests for higher janitor pay July 19, 2012|L.M. Sixel, Houston Chronicle Page 1 of 1
After a few weeks of staging one-day walkouts and occasional protests seeking higher pay for Houston janitors, the Service Employees International Union is kicking it up a notch.
The union, which represents 3,200 janitors who clean Houston’s big office buildings, is adding more workers each day to impromptu strikes, picketing in other cities and tying up traffic with big
On Wednesday, the union organized a sit-down in the middle of the intersection of Smith and Bell downtown. The 15 protesters — none of whom is a janitor — were arrested after they linked arms and refused police orders to move.
Lisa Fithian, a longtime labor activist, also was arrested, union officials said, but they had no details.
She was not part of the sit-down protest, which was planned with the intention that participants would be arrested, SEIU spokeswoman Paloma Martinez said.
Houston Police Lt. T.T. Nguyen said the 15 who sat in the intersection were charged with obstructing a roadway, a Class B misdemeanor. He said all the protesters were warned they would be arrested if they continued to block the street and were offered a chance to leave.
Police barricaded surrounding streets and rerouted traffic as they made the arrests.
The demonstration began when about 250 protesters carried flags, signs and brooms and beat on pails as they marched about three blocks from a staging location to the intersection. The lunchtime protest drew the attention of downtown workers who stopped to watch.
Martinez described the civil disobedience as a “major escalation” in its efforts to get a new contract for the janitors.
What the union characterizes as “street heat” is designed to get the attention of business property owners, city officials and property management firms to raise the janitors’ wages to $10 an hour. The top wage for most of the part-time workforce now is $8.35 an hour, and the contract with seven cleaning companies expired at the end of May.
The sides aren’t negotiating now.
More than half of the sit-down protesters who were arrested Wednesday are from out of state, according to the union, which distributed news releases about 30 minutes before the demonstration listing the names and affiliations of those who would be arrested. Protesters included residents of Ohio, Georgia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
“People are watching what’s happening in Houston, because it is so central to the much bigger fight for an economy that builds the middle class and makes our country stronger,” according to a statement from Jevne Diaz, a labor activist from Maryland who was among those arrested Wednesday.
Among Texans arrested were Elsa Caballero, state director for Texas for SEIU Local 1, and Resha Thomas, leader with the Texas Organizing Project, the union said.
Martinez said the janitor strike has now spread to 43 buildings with 450 workers on strike.
Eric Berman, a spokesman for the Houston Area Contractors Association, which includes ABM Janitorial Services, GCA Services and ISS Facility Services, declined to comment. The three firms are among the largest with which SEIU is seeking a new contract.
Police have made two arrests at previous demonstrations on behalf of the janitors, one downtown and one in the Galleria area.
Posted: Jul 18, 2012 4:53 PM EDT By Alexander Supgul, Web Producer
Sixteen people were issued citations and arrested during a protest on behalf of janitors on strike in downtown Houston, a spokesman for the Houston Police Department has confirmed.
The protestors were standing on Bell Street near Smith Street in front of the building once occupied by Enron Corporation.
The people who were arrested were cited with obstructing a roadway, a Class C misdemeanor offense.
“The struggle for economic justice led by janitors in Houston is deplorable,” said Johnny N. Mata, who represented Greater Houston Coalition for Justice. “Especially when we have to engage in civil disobedience just to reach the conscience of the corporate executives.”
Mata was among the protestors who were arrested.
The janitors group is on strike and protesting what is being referred to as unfair labor practices.
“The janitors’ struggle is an example of what’s wrong with our economy and a road map in miniature of what we need to change. Unless we fight back, and fight hard, the middle class will be the great disappearing act of the 21st century,” said Elsa Caballero, state director for Service Employees International Union Local 1. “We’ve faced worse crises in this country and overcame them, but we can’t rebuild the middle class unless the business elite do their part to raise standards for low-wage workers.”
Caballero was also arrested.
large office buildings expired May 31. The union ended negotiations in mid-May when talks reached an impasse.
By L.M. Sixel Updated 10:52 p.m., Friday, July 20, 2012
As it tries to ramp up public pressure against cleaning companies, the union seeking a new contract for 3,200 Houston janitors is meeting impediments it didn’t face six years ago when it won its first contract.
The Service Employees International Union has expanded impromptu strikes at the large office buildings its janitors clean. It also has disrupted meetings and has conducted traffic-blocking demonstrations that have led to 18 arrests as it seeks to increase what it calls “street heat” against business owners and cleaning contractors.
For several reasons, however, the janitors aren’t much closer to wage increases and other benefits than they were when the union left the bargaining table in mid-May, two weeks before its contract expired.
Union contractors don’t control as much of the cleaning market as they did in 2006, for one thing. And despite escalating walkouts, buildings are still getting cleaned. SEIU also faces distractions in Chicago, where city officials are considering awarding cleaning duties to a nonunion contractor at O’Hare International Airport.
“I don’t sense the same kind of pressure” as in 2006, said management lawyer Bill Bux of the firm Locke Lord. That year, he said, some clients were “scared to death” about such job actions as picketing and disruptions in buildings.
“Now they’re realizing SEIU is a paper tiger,” said Bux, who isn’t involved in the negotiations.
And, he said, it’s harder for the union members to win sympathy in an economy where many people work full time at lower wages than the union janitors.
In 2006, five union companies controlled 72 percent of the local market for cleaning offices larger than 100,000 square feet.
Today, union companies control 67 percent of that market, according to SEIU spokeswoman Renee Asher.
Six years ago SEIU was negotiating on behalf of 5,300 cleaners, compared with the 3,200 today. And the SEIU counts 40 percent of those as members.
Asher believes the strike will be settled when the big building owners – who want to be perceived as good corporate citizens -tell the contractors to pay higher wages. It will take pressure from the community, she said.
“If you’re doing a sit-down and you are not having the rank and file participate, that’s a bad sign,” said Getman, referring to this week’s arrests in Houston of several out-of-state protesters – none of whom were janitors.
“It’s like ‘Hamlet’ without Hamlet if you don’t have your members committed to the union and willing to struggle on its behalf,” said Getman, author of “Restoring the Power of Unions: It takes a Movement.”
In a recent letter to its customers, the Houston Area Contractors Association said strike participation has been limited to a handful of one-day actions at selected sites and that the work is still getting done.
“Although the SEIU has been touting high participation, we estimate that some 98 percent of available staff have ignored the purported ‘city-wide strike,'” according to the letter.
Asher disputed the notion that janitor participation is weak.
“Building owners always say that,” she said.
At least 400 Houston janitors are on strike, said Asher, adding that even replacement workers have walked out.
The janitors, who earn a top wage of $8.35 an hour, are seeking $10 an hour. While the contractors and janitors were far apart on the wage issue, another point is a deal-breaker.
Union officials object to contractors’ interpretation that a clause in the previous contract, which contractors want included in a new one, would allow them to pay less-than-union wages if they were bidding for a job against a non-union contractor.
“Contractors could bid non-union anytime and anywhere,” said Asher. “It would lower standards tremendously.”
The janitors are represented by SEIU Local 1, which is based in Chicago. Tom Balanoff is the president of the local and the chief negotiator for the janitors in Houston.
He and Local 1 have had their hands full in Chicago, however, as the city is weighing whether to accept a cheaper bid from a non-union cleaning company at O’Hare Airport. The move would mean the loss of jobs for union janitors.
Houston Chronicle By L.M. Sixe, L.M. Sixel Wednesday, July 11, 2012
About 250 janitors represented by the Service Employees International Union walked off the job at nine buildings this week in a continuing dispute over renewal of a contract that expired in May.
Renee Asher, assistant director of communications for the union in Washington, said the walkouts took place Tuesday night at buildings the janitors clean downtown and in Greenway Plaza.
“They’re not going back until they go back to the table,” said Asher, referring to negotiations between the janitors and building contractors.
Asher also said Vice President Joe Biden is expected to meet with four janitors Thursday in Houston.
The vice president is to speak to the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The janitors will have a few minutes to talk to Biden about their concerns, she said.
Biden’s office did not return a call seeking confirmation of the meeting.
The janitors’ contract expired May 31. There have been no negotiations since then on behalf of the 3,200 janitors who are represented by SEIU, the union said.
The janitors are seeking a raise from $8.35 to $10 an hour. Union officials have said the companies have proposed a contract that would raise hourly pay to $8.85 by 2016.
Officials of cleaning companies could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but a spokesman for some of them has said previously that their proposal includes additional employer contributions for health insurance.
In Harris County, a guilty plea often the best choice
By Patricia Kilday Hart chron.com
Updated 11:49 p.m., Sunday, April 22, 2012
I’ve come to think of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center as Grand Central Station for Houston‘s misery, an opinion that was only hardened when I recently spent a few mornings observing our courts handle jail inmates charged with misdemeanors. Read more…
Officers claim retaliation by HPD
- “It is unfortunate these former employees continue to make such accusations. The Houston Police Department does not engage in discriminatory practices against its employees or the public. If HPD employees or members of the public believe they have been victims of discriminatory conduct by an HPD employee, they should immediately file a written complaint with our Internal Affairs Division so a formal investigation can be conducted.” — Chief Charles A. McClelland, Jr.
February 18, 2011
by: Pat Hernandez
Harris sheriff keeps pace of firing misbehaving officers
James Pinker to, Houston Chronicle
By James Pinkerton
Saturday, May 5, 2012
Sanjuana Gonzales Aguilar, right, was groped in May 2011 by a deputy at the Harris County Jail. “I was furious,” said her husband, Frank Aguilar, left, “They should have only women working on that floor.”
Photo: James Nielsen / © Houston Chronicle 2012
During the first three months of this year, Sheriff Adrian Garcia fired nine deputies, detention officers and clerks after they committed a number of criminal acts or violated department regulations.
Garcia also reprimanded 30 employees and suspended another 31. Their offenses included causing 34 wrecks, associating with convicted felons, sleeping on the job, leaving the doors to a jail facility open, and one case where an armed deputy got into a drunken bar fight.
Since taking office in January 2009, Garcia has increased the number of disciplinary actions compared to his predecessor. He has fired approximately 95 employees and handed down around 830 reprimands and suspensions without pay to others in the department, according to Sheriff’s Office disciplinary records.
Longtime community activist Johnny Mata credited Garcia with beefing up his internal affairs division, which allowed the large backlog of internal investigations left by his predecessor to be reduced. However, the civil rights activist was critical of discipline he said in some cases was too lenient.
“The punishment does not fit the crime,” Mata said. “In some of those serious cases, the disciplinary action needs to be harsher punishment. We need to start taking these actions very seriously. It shouldn’t just be suspensions. In some cases they should be terminated.”
Some of those Garcia fired or disciplined had plenty of past offenses.
‘It’s messed up’
Deputy Tony G. Richards, 48, who worked in the laundry unit, was fired Feb. 22 after his indictment for allegedly having sex with a jail inmate. In November, the 21-year department veteran was suspended for 10 days after supervisors photographed him sleeping in the jail laundry.
“We’re still in the investigative stages and waiting for more information to be turned over,” said Carson Joachim, general counsel for the Harris County Deputies Organization, who is defending Richards. “He’s pled not guilty, and he’s denying all the allegations.”
Richards was one of four employees punished for having inappropriate relationships with female inmates, including unwanted physical advances.
One of the victims was inmate Sanjuana Gonzales Aguilar, 37, who was serving time for failure to pay child support.
Veteran jailer Guillermo Martinez Jr. was suspended without pay for 15 days for placing his hand on her buttocks while she was waiting in the jail on Feb. 1. Martinez was suspended without pay for three days in 2005 for inappropriate conduct with another female inmate, the suspension order noted.
The former inmate and her husband were outraged the jailer didn’t lose his job. “He should be nowhere near these females, period!” said Gonzales Aguilar.
“She told me about it and I mean, I was furious,” said Frank Aguilar, 40. “I could have done something about it, but I decided to go about it the legal way. It’s messed up. If there are women there, they should have only women working on that floor.”
Several of the jailers were sanctioned for violations that compromised safety in the county jail.
One detention officer was given three days off from work without pay for leaving the control room open and unmanned for 18 minutes on Oct. 30. The jailer left the center to hand out razors to inmates. His suspension order noted he racked up nine other violations in the previous 24 months.
A nearly identical security breach was committed Nov. 20 by another jailer who left the control room open three times. He was then seen sleeping twice on the same early morning shift. He was suspended for three days without pay.
Some of the discipline related to employees’ after-hour activities.
Deputy Dustin Ballew was suspended for three days for getting drunk and fighting at the Rookies Sports Bar & Grill in Montgomery County after he, a former jailer and another man were asked to leave. As they left, Ballew got in a fight with club bouncers.
He admitted to a Montgomery County sheriff’s sergeant, called to the August 2010 fracas, that he had consumed several pitchers of beer.
“I am completely drunk,” said Ballew, who had a handgun in his back pocket. “I am not driving. I’m just hanging out.”
Ballew was arrested at the bar and charged with making a terroristic threat, but that charge was dismissed in January.
One deputy was fired for giving cocaine to his girlfriend and later stalking her.
A records clerk was terminated after his arrest for possession of marijuana in March.
And the sheriff fired a female jailer who married a convicted felon last November but did not inform her superiors.
Patrol Sgt. Gary S. Rodgers was reprimanded for creating a hostile work environment for the deputies assigned to him in northwest patrol district, using profanity in criticisms of him in person and on his Facebook page.
“Taking a break from reading these frigging offense reports. Aren’t they teaching anyone how to write in school anymore?” the exasperated sergeant wrote on his Facebook page.
Detention officer Nadeem Aslam and another jailer were reprimanded for making false entries in September 2011 on the doors of segregation cells to ensure high-risk inmates were checked on every 30 minutes. Failure to check the cells has allowed inmates on suicide watch to kill themselves in the county and city jails.
‘Tough and fair
Garcia outlined steps he has taken, including sexual harassment training and upgrading supervisors, that he said have restored public faith in his office.
“Inmates in the jail include murderers, rapists, robbers and world-class manipulators from the darker side of society,” Garcia said. “We work hard to provide the training and supervision that our front-line employees need to minimize incidents that result in disciplinary action as our personnel react to those challenges. The fact that you have records on disciplinary cases shows my dedication to dealing with problems in a tough and fair way.”
Galena Park PD the focus of racism, discrimination allegations
by Jeremy Rogalski / Investigative Reporter khou.com Updated Tuesday, May 8 at 12:21 PM
HOUSTON — The I-Team discovered troubling evidence at the Galena Park Police Department, including racist photos, secret tape recordings, and even allegations of a cover-up. Read more…
Related:Galena Park dispatcher fired for distributing racist photo
Greater Houston Coalition for Justice
Immediate Release: May 17, 2012
Justice continues to be elusive to the community of color in Harris County, by former HPD officer Andrew Blomberg not Guilty-Verdict
May 16, 2012 a white police officer is accused of stomping a black teen in a videotaped beating – and a Harris County jury find s no laws were broken.
The Greater Houston Coalition for Justice criticizes Former HPD officer Andrew Blomberg not Guilty-Verdict. The verdict once again places the community of color in despair toward the Harris County Criminal Justice System. The community must call on the US Department of Justice to intervene in this case to restore faint in the system.
Looking back 10 years to Sunday, January 20, 2002, shocking Baytown car video captured the beating death of legal immigrant Luis Torres by Baytown PD in late January. The department released the video to the public after open records requests by the Baytown Sun and other Houston media.
Luis Torres offered no resistance, had no illegal drugs or alcohol in his system, did not run and carried no weapon, the Harris County coroner called death by “mechanical asphyxiation with blunt impact trauma.” Results; A Harris County grand jury declined to indict four Baytown officers for the death of Luis Torres, a Mexican national who died in police custody, after a videotaped beating that left him dead.
Until legislative and police changes occur and a Regional Police Review Board is created, things will continue to remain the same. We understand the disturbing and despair the community is feeling, but we urge the community for restrain while we work toward institutional change.
Justice continues to be elusive to the community of color in Harris County;
Former HPD officer Andrew Blomberg not Guilty-Verdict.
Justice continues to be elusive to the community of color in Harris County, by former HPD officer Andrew Blomberg not Guilty-Verdict. Read more…
Mayor upset with Houston Fire Department investigation
Mayor Annise Parker expressed frustration over how the Fire Department and Houston police responded to the incident February 19, 2010
By James Pinkerton and Terri Langford
The Houston Chronicle
HOUSTON — Whoever scrawled sexist and racist graffiti in the sleeping quarters of two female firefighters last summer may never be brought to justice, Mayor Annise Parker said Wednesday, expressing frustration over how the Fire Department and Houston police responded to the incident.
“There were decisions made in the Fire Department, and in the investigation and how it proceeded that can’t be undone. … There were decisions at the beginning of the investigation that made it very difficult to reach a conclusion,” Parker said. “There are many firefighters that are unjustly under a cloud because it does not appear at this time that there will be a clear resolution of who actually perpetrated the incident.”
On July 7, firefighters Paula Keyes and Jane Draycott discovered racist and sexist graffiti on their dormitory walls inside Fire Station 54. The incident occurred after the two had complained for months about their treatment at the north Houston station.
“My frustration has to do with the fact that this situation was allowed to fester for months,” the mayor said. “… We’re dealing with the problems and are moving forward to a resolution for the city, perhaps not a resolution to the particular incident that precipitated this.”
Station 54 confrontation
Keyes is back on duty, but at a different station. Draycott tried to return to Station 54 on Jan. 13 but was confronted by officers there who said they did not want her back.
Present during the confrontation was Fire Chief Phil Boriskie, who stepped down shortly after the mayor criticized his handling of Draycott’s return.
Parker said her main goal is to get Draycott back to work at Fire Station 54 and restore harmony among the firefighters while improving HFD’s recruitment of women.
The mayor also criticized the decision by then-Police Chief Harold Hurtt to refer the case to the FBI.
“It’s not a new investigation by the FBI,” Parker said. “It is simply a review of the existing investigation, one, which in my opinion, will add time to the process and not help us reach a resolution.”
She would rather have seen the FBI or Justice Department called in for it’s own full-blown investigation after completion of the probe by the city’s Office of Inspector General, mayoral spokeswoman Janice Evans said.
From the start, the attorney for Draycott and Keyes has said the OIG should not be handling the inquiry.
“I agree with the mayor,” attorney Joe Ahmad said. “It seemed abundantly clear you didn’t want a city agency investigating a city agency.”
Now, as the investigation enters its eighth month, there is no resolution, and the mayor says there may not be one.
“The sad part is the message they’re sending is: You’re better off not complaining because they’re not going to find out who did it,” Ahmad said.
Search for a chief
Parker said the selection process is being conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum, a national law enforcement research nonprofit.
“The process is moving as rapidly as can be expected,” the mayor said. “I’m very happy the way it’s going. … Certainly, sometime in March we will be naming a police chief.”
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All Rights Reserved
HFD Racism Presser
HFD Hit Yet Again With Harassment Complaint, This Time by a Hispanic Firefighter
Just a week after the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sided with a Houston firefighter’s chargesshe was harassed, HFD was hit with another embarrassing allegation of firehouse misconduct.
In a press conference today, a Hispanic activist group said a firefighter had found his equipment tied in a noose, a note saying, “Learn your (expletive deleted) job, Mexican. You should be glad that you don’t live in Arizona” and another note referring to him as a “beaner.”
KPRC had the story initially about the incidents, which are alleged to have occurred at Station 42 in far east Houston.
The city attorney’s office issued an official, and boilerplate, message:
“We take any allegation of racial harassment very seriously. This matter has been under investigation by the OIG and it is my understanding that the investigation is near completion. Nothing further can be said until the investigation is complete,” city attorney David Feldman said.
The firefighter involved in the complaint, Joseph Salcido, did not attend the press conference and did not contact the groups holding it, said Johnny Mata of LULAC and the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice.
The groups are calling for a federal investigation into the complaints.