Justice Department Called to Investigate Bland Case After Revelation That Review Board Has Close Ties to Local Politicians
After the death of Sandra Bland, an Illinois woman who died in a Texas jail, Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith promised an “independent” investigation. But according to The Huffington Post, the investigation is already running into problems because of conflicting interests.
Paul Looney, a local criminal defense attorney, was picked to head a commission that was going to review the sheriff’s department. However, Looney has a close relationship with Carbett “Trey” Duhon III, the county’s top elected official. Duhon used to be “of counsel” to Looney’s law firm and was paid to refer clients.
Duhon is a “judge” in Waller County, but that is not a judicial position. Duhon heads an elected commission of judges who oversee county business. He reviews the jail and the sheriff’s department budgets and would be responsible for writing a settlement check to the Bland family. Looney said he was not looking for wrongdoing, but wanted to simply make recommendations.
“We’re not trying to do an exposé,” Looney told the Huffington Post. “It’s more in the nature of a consultant report for the sheriff to use as he wants.”
Bland family attorney Cannon Lambert said he was shocked by the comments.
“I am not looking forward to sharing this information with the Reed-Veal and Sandra Bland family at all,” said Lambert in a Huffington Post interview. “I am dreading this conversation. It’s stunning.”
However, Duhon insists the investigation will be fair. He has asked Looney to serve as a non-voting member of the review board and insists he is not trying to protect anyone.
“I am not about sheltering elected officials or anyone else,” he said. “If people need to be responsible for their actions, they need to be responsible for their actions. I am not about to sacrifice my integrity for another elected official.”
Critics are calling for the U.S. Justice Department to conduct an external investigation, which Duhon welcomes.
“Waller County has been open to that since day one,” said Duhon. “We are OK with the Justice Department. We have never been opposed to that.”