By Jason Stanford -Huff Post Black Voices
WALLER COUNTY, TEXAS – On July 13, Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, was found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas, three days after being arrested over a traffic stop gone wrong. Sheriff Glenn Smith, who oversees the county jail and had been fired from a previous job after allegations of racism and police brutality, promised an all-access, top-to-bottom investigation to uncover what happened to Bland. He set up an “independent” commission to review the sheriff’s department. Smith tapped Paul Looney, a local criminal defense lawyer, to lead the probe and to pick the commission’s other members.
“The whole nation, the whole world is looking at us,” the sheriff said.
But from the beginning, Looney’s investigation was beset by a conflict of interest: His law firm had a financial relationship with Carbett “Trey” Duhon III, Waller County’s top elected official — and the man who’d likely have to write the Bland family a large check out of county funds if that inquiry turned up wrongdoing. (Duhon, who referred clients to Looney in exchange for a monthly retainer, has since severed that relationship.)
Now, despite Waller County officials’ vows, Looney says his panel isn’t looking for possible wrongdoing at all and is simply compiling recommendations that Smith can “throw in the trash” if he chooses.
“I am not looking forward to sharing this information with the Reed-Veal and Sandra Bland family at all,” Cannon Lambert, a Bland family attorney, said when told about Looney’s comments. “I am dreading this conversation. It’s stunning.”
Duhon, for his part, clearly recognizes the value to Waller County of a fair investigation by an untainted commission. “To avoid the appearance of impropriety,” he told The Huffington Post, he asked Looney to serve as a nonvoting member of the six-person panel. Duhon cited worries that “somehow I could influence the outcome of that investigation. That’s the insinuation that people have made.”
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