Hero or heroin?
Given the number of deaths related to heroin withdrawal that have occurred inside the Bexar County jail in the past couple of years, it’s tempting to root for 48-year-old Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Falcon, arrested last Friday on suspicion of trying to deliver narcotics to detainees on the inside.
While we’d never outright cheer the pushers of the world, it would be somewhat comforting to know that the possibility of self-medication existed for the newly arrested who are forced to cold-turkey a serious drug withdrawal alone.
As titillating as the bust was, the whole ordeal distracted from the Big Issue in Bexar County lockup: a scalding assessment of the jail administration’s failures to follow procedures intended to reduce inmate suicides. You may recall the jail’s record-breaking five hanging deaths last year (about three times the national average). `See “Hang time,” January 20.` Following a three-day investigation, nationally recognized suicide-prevention expert Lindsey Hayes documented a long list of failures on the part of the administration (and University Health Systems, which provides mental-health professionals and medical staff at the jail) in recognizing at-risk inmates and preventing needless deaths.
For starters, Hayes said the jail has “an unexplained tolerance for potentially suicidal behavior” and called the Suicide Prevention Unit “a misnomer.” Not only is the 10-cell unit only “occasionally” used for those on suicide watch, but it is still equipped with the sort of air vents and bunk beds that provide “anchor” points that could facilitate a hanging.
And yet, the most disturbing findings have to do with the jail failing to follow its own written procedures. While in most instances jailers are not supposed to take away potentially suicidal inmates’ personal items or limit their access to the general population or family, those placed under suicide watch in Bexar County are stripped, put in green “safety smocks” — known as “pickle suits” — with no undergarments, and isolated for 24-hour stretches.
“Confining a suicidal inmate to their cell for 24 hours a day only enhances isolation and is anti-therapeutic,” Hayes writes. “Under these conditions, it is also difficult, if not impossible, to accurately gauge the source of an inmate’s suicidal ideation.” It’s no wonder that most of those inmates disavow their suicidal thoughts within 24 hours, much quicker than those in any other facility Hayes has investigated.
In an emailed response to a list of questions from the Current, Jail Administrator Roger Dovalina said several of Hayes’s recommendations will be put into practice this year. He is getting cost estimates to see what it would take to make the cells in the Suicide Prevention Unit and Mental Health Unit suicide resistant. Jailers will receive annual suicide-prevention training, and some detention staff will also be attending Crisis Intervention Training and learning skills that help officers calm those with mental illness who may be experiencing intense stress.
Officials are also discussing the potential implementation of a “mental-health shift report” to log all inmates who may pose a risk to themselves. “I do believe that it is a good idea,” Dovalina wrote, “but we need to find a method that will work for both UHS and the Sheriff’s Office.” Dovalina was noncommittal on the issue of smocks and isolation, saying they “have some concerns about this recommendation.”
Party or partisan?
Brring, brrrring!! Hello, Texas Democratic Party? It’s Bexar County calling. Time for a little he-said/she-said distraction from the Fall ’10 elections.
Last week Tuesday, as a dwindling supply of precinct chairs shivered under the fluorescent lights and industrial-grade A/C at VFW Post 9186, Party Chair Dan Ramos was wrapping up the County Executive Committee’s meeting. Do we have any more new business? he asked, once, twice, three times. Just as he was about to close out the gathering, a low, arrhythmic chant rumbled up from the tables: Gina! Gina! Gina!
Precinct Chair Sterling Camp rose, cutting the room’s palpable tension — the prepared resolution he was about to read was no surprise to many of the attendees.
Republican Congressional candidate Francisco Canseco had paid Democratic consultant and Ramos ally Gina Castañeda $18,000 last year for consulting services in his primary race to challenge Ciro Rodriguez this fall, Camp reminded the crowd. Party rules call for the removal of Party officials who support Republican politicians. Party staff should be held to the same standard, he said, and moved that Castañeda, who Ramos has named executive director, be barred from the Bexar County Democratic Party’s offices and records, at least through the November elections.
The object of the ouster stood at the back of the room as Camp read, but moved slowly toward the front during the heated debate that followed. A man tried to speak in her defense, but was shouted down with cries of “He’s not a member of the CEC!” If Ramos was concerned that his right hand was about to be severed, he didn’t show it, saying only that “Anyone who volunteers knows that it’s a thankless job,” and “I can’t really pinpoint anything serious that Gina has access to.”
A suggestion to let Castañeda speak went unheeded and Ramos called for a vote to end the discussion. After the resolution was re-read, and the vote under way, Castañeda shouted for a roll-call vote from the floor, shook her head bitterly, and walked back to the rear of the room, where she stood with her hands in her pockets.
“They don’t understand the word ‘party,’” a visibly upset Castañeda said after the resolution passed easily. “What is the Democratic Party becoming? I didn’t know we were going to become a so-called pure party.”
Ramos’s relative élan may have been premeditated. “I don’t think it’s binding,” he told the QueQue Thursday. “I’ve done some research on it, and I feel Gina has been denied her due process as a Democratic Party member. My position is that I need to have her in the office to conduct everyday business.”
Castañeda told the QueQue that she had no intention of following the CEC’s wishes. “First of all, let me say that I have been in touch with the state party. A resolution is just a resolution, and it cannot be enforced,” she said. “They have to take me to court.”
Ramos told the QueQue that the state party was not getting involved — echoing TDP’s response to the Current, that the resolution is a local party matter that doesn’t need state-party approval. The state party hasn’t seen the resolution, a spokeperson said, and they’d prefer not to comment.
Robert Bretz, co-chair of the Bexar Dems Rules Committee, responded by email: “According to the Texas Election Code and the Rules of the Texas Democratic Party, the County Executive Committee, consisting of the County Chair and Precinct Chairs, is the governing authority of the County Party. If Mr. Ramos considers himself to be a unitary executive, if he begins to administer the party by fiat, if his advisors tell him that he may circumvent the laws of this state and the rules of the Texas Democratic Party as he chooses, then democracy has died in the Bexar County Democratic Party.”
Ramos is casting a wide net for advisors.
“I have heard from prominent state-level type-Democrats, party chairmen in other areas of Texas, and they’ve assured me that the chair has a lot of discretion in running the party,” Ramos added. If folks don’t like his leadership, he suggested, they can vote him out in two years. “Until then, unless I get caught doing something terrible, there’s no way they can hurt me.”
And it was going so well.
Several precinct chairs the QueQue spoke with Wednesday were very enthusiastic about Ramos’s handling of the CEC meeting. Critics of the combative style Ramos has brought to the chairmanship since his March election were able to address several contentious issues `see the QueQue, May 12`. Ramos, who had removed everyone but himself as a signatory on the party’s bank account agreed publicly to add the secretary and a treasurer, as soon as a new one is elected. The CEC affirmed the Party’s continuing rules, elected Deputy Chairs and Budget and Finance Committee members, and Ramos — who had previously suggested to the press that all of the above might be illegitimate — recognized their authority. The CEC also passed a motion to take the address of the much-loathed temporary Westside offices off of the party’s website, a prelude to plans to move the offices at the July meeting.
“I think it went pretty good,” Ramos said of the meeting. “I’ve been getting compliments from the strangest sources. … I don’t know if they’re just trying to be cynical or not, but I’ve been getting calls about how well the meeting went. Maybe they’re referring to their issues that got passed.”
We note he said passed, not implemented.
Water wise, dirt foolish
If the Edwards Aquifer Authority survives its fourth round before the Texas Supreme Court `see “Rule of Fracture,” June 9, 2010`, that won’t be the end of its fight to protect the sea of near-pristine water beneath us. The Authority must still do battle with the developers and planners whose attraction to the rolling hills and trickling creeks of Northwest Bexar threaten to continue contaminating the city’s primary drinking-water source.
Toward that end, the Authority has prepared a “concept memorandum” examining whether increasing the amount of land made off-limits to development could help decrease contamination. Authority officials are also considering setting, for the first time, defined water-quality standards, EAA spokesperson Roland Ruiz told the QueQue.
While the contaminants traced so far have registered well below any federal drinking-water standards, some scientists express concerns about the cumulative impact of ingesting low-levels of pesticides like atrazine, hydrocarbons from diesel spills and automotive runoff, and the variety of pharmaceuticals that have started to show up in waterways across the country.
“When we find pesticides or chlorinated solvents in the water, we know they’re coming from human activity,” George Rice, a groundwater hydrologist and EAA board member, said at a recent presentation. “Just as with surface water, groundwater degradation is tied to urbanization.”
Impermeable roadways and rooftops help flush rainwater down the aquifer chute, carrying along with it our dribbled gasoline, antifreeze, metallic brakepad “fluff,” pet waste, etc. By examining research from the U.S. Geological Survey, Rice and others have determined there is a “strong correlation” between impermeable surfaces and water contamination; it appears to hit a threshold between 10- and 20-percent impervious cover, after which the amount of contamination increases exponentially.
And yet the needed debate over whether San Antonians wants to ramp up regulation to protect our water supply versus a future of multi-million dollar bond elections for the construction of water-treatment plants quite picked up yet.
Rice’s prescription? “We need to stop urbanizing the vulnerable parts of the aquifer.” What the rest of the city thinks should become obvious by the fall when the EAA rolls out its proposed new rules. Some fault lines may become apparent earlier, however, as the city continues unveiling its master plan for North San Anto, including Camp Bullis and a large chunk of Edwards Recharge. The second public meeting on the plan was wrapping up as this paper was rolling off the presses, but you can catch the show again June 26 at the Igo Public Library. Check northsectorplan.com for details.
This one’s for the ladies
The QueQue has so much fun at Cornyation’s ribald roman à clef each year — even when we’re not King Anchovy — that we sometimes forget the program’s good works: a half-million dollars raised for organizations that fight AIDS and support kids since its eat-humble-pie beginnings. This year, the organization that has done more to legitimize drag as an art form than any other SA institution is giving $45, 000 to Black Effort Against the Threat of AIDS, the majority of which will go to its Newly Empowered Women program.
Yesterday’s check-delivery ceremony doubled as a ribbon-cutting for the Eastside facility, which will eventually house 24 women for six months to two years while they take classes on topics such as parenting, budgeting, cognitive problem-solving, and ethnic and gender pride. NEW is designed for women who are HIV-positive or directly impacted by AIDS, and who are dealing with other complicating factors, including homelessness, mental illness, addiction recovery, and/or recent incarceration.
BEAT AIDS Executive Director Michele Durham said the program was developed in response to similar facilities in Texas and other states, as well as interviews with their day-service clients, and depended heavily on the input of a diverse 15-member committee, which included individuals who have personal experience overcoming some of the challenges NEW is designed to address. Participants will be drawn from treatment facilities, substance-abuse programs, prisons, and jails, among other places, with a special focus on San Antonio residents.
“We are especially pleased, glad, and excited that we’re going to have a facility right here in San Antonio where women can come back home,” Durham said.
The program will prioritize working with women of color because those populations are disproportionately affected by the AIDS epidemic — African-American women are 10 times more likely to become HIV positive than their white counterparts, and five times more likely than Latinas — who in turn are eight times more likely to become HIV positive than white women.
The facility, which will also work with offsite clients, will operate 24/7, providing three full meals and snacks each day. A key part of NEW’s programming reunites mothers with children through onsite visits, without the pressures of running a household while they’re rebuilding their lives and relationships.
Durham expects NEW to increase BEAT AIDS’ annual $2.5-million budget by another $500,000. The first two residents will move in in July, and the participants will grow exponentially from there until they reach 24 by the end of the first year of operation.
The many talented artists who performed in, and the raucous Fiesta crowds who attended Cornyation 2010 are also enriching these coffers: the Robert Rehm Scholarship Fund ($4,000), SOLI Chamber Ensemble ($2,500), Help, Action, Care ($25,000), and the San Antonio AIDS Foundation ($35,000). You can watch for opportunities to participate in and attend Cornyation 2011 at cornyation.org. •
This week at Council:
No cocks! Noisy ones, anyway. Near as we can tell from the proposed changes to the Animals code, which come before Council Thursday, roosters who don’t disturb your neighbors won’t raise any hackles, but the ladies’ coop will need to be at least 50 feet from any occupied dwelling or business, and you’re still limited to three fowl unless you get a special permit. Animal Care Services says they don’t mean owners’ houses, and Council can clarify the language if it wants to. Also up for enactment: restrictions on tethering females in heat and any animals in extreme weather, criminal penalties for animal cruelty, increased fees for repeat impoundments, rabbit quotas, and a crackdown on stray and “nuisance” cats.
City and bikers in tandem! Moderately exciting provisions for the San Antonio BikeShare program and facilities located at HemisFair, built with federal stimulus funds.
Plus: SAWS has figured out how to balance the books on the backs of the city’s most incorrigible water hogs with a total 6.5-percent rate increase; Chumbley (aka the Man in The Tree) has struck a deal for legal residency inside the recently renamed Phil Hardberger Park for $100 a month and a cut of his homemade acorn empanadas; anticipating the demise of air travel, the Council is expected to assign $1.5 million Obamabucks for a solar array and electric-car charging stations at the San Antonio International Airport (to be renamed SA International Carport).
And so much more: 9 a.m. Thursday, June 17, Municipal Plaza Building, 114 W. Commerce. Get the agenda, supporting docs, and meeting details at sanantonio.gov.
Public meeting of the week:
VIA’s Smart Way SA meeting, 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 16, Central Library, 600 Soledad. Get an update on VIA’s long-term public-transpo plans, including proposed corridors, aligments, and modes, and register your input. More info at smartwaysa.com.