Thursday, August 21, 2014

San Antonio Police Gain National Attention for Mental Health Efforts

While other high-profile stories making the headlines this week are depicting (unfairly or not . . . that is an entirely different matter and article topic) members of our law enforcement as being disconnected from the communities they serve, it was wonderful to see our very own San Antonio police force being commended for the steps it has taken to change the way officers approach those with mental illness. With criminal courts and prison cells being crowded with offenders who are struggling with one form or another of psychiatric issues, an alternative perspective is certainly welcome.

San Antonio has developed Crisis Intervention Training, which is a required program for every member of the police force. Additionally, some officers are given more in-depth training and become specialized in the conversations and tactics that must be employed when dealing with an individual who is not mentally well. Instead of shuffling criminals who are charged with misdemeanors in and out of the criminal justice system, law enforcement is working with community groups and medical professionals to place men and women in rehab facilities or counseling centers so that the root of the problem can be addressed.

National news outlets and criminal psychologists are taking note of this progressive initiative taking place in San Antonio and it is exciting to see this great city recognized and its efforts replicated.

There is no doubt that members of the San Antonio police department have made positive changes that will benefit all members of the greater community, from taxpayers who are responsible for the costs of every inmate to citizens concerned about crime levels to individuals who need psychiatric help instead of time behind bars. As partners in creating a legal system that provides justice with compassion for the people involved, Bertolino LLP is excited to see the continued positive outcomes of this outreach by San Antonio officers and the impact it will have on other police departments across the nation.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Houston Radio Personality’s Legal Battles with His Employer Come to an End

Photo: The Houston Chronicle
You are probably going to have a disagreement with your boss every now and again. Maybe it is over allotted vacation time or the way a project is being handled or your repeated and simple request for a copy machine that doesn’t jam paper multiple times a day. In most instances, you hopefully can manage to come to a resolution that satisfies both of you. Or, you just deal with it because you are not the boss and you need your job. There are times, however, that the dispute is one of greater significance and you need to seek legal assistance to defend your reputation and livelihood.

Michael Harris, a popular radio personality who had been with Houston station KCOH for nearly four decades, sued his boss, station president Jesse Dunn, on the basis that he had been given false information as a way of investing thousands of dollars into projects for the station. Harris filed a fraud lawsuit last fall and this month Harris County judges finished the paperwork that removed any liability from Mr. Harris for debts the radio station still owes.

This story seems to have a happy ending. Michael Harris was relieved of a large financial burden that he believes was created in a crooked fashion and last month he seems to have mended fences with his employer as he revived his popular talk show. Sometimes it does not end so neatly.

The glaring example of whistleblowers from the Veterans’ Administration testifying in Congress that their jobs were threatened because they spoke out about the cover ups concerning wait times shows all of us that employees need protection from a boss that is not completely honest or ethical. If you have found yourself threatened with a job loss or being passed over for a promotion because you refuse to participate in questionable activities at work, we can help.

Bertolino LLP has attorneys who specialize in issues of workplace discrimination and wrongful termination. If we can be of service to you, please contact us today.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Houston Dad Accused of Beating Daughter Who Danced with Black Friend

Most of us would hope that the days are behind us when children were told they could not attend school or play with or date those of a different race. And society certainly has come a long way in terms of integration and moving forward as a diverse group of people. However, we occasionally come across stories that remind us some individuals are still unwilling to let go of discriminatory attitudes. In a recent incident in Houston, one father allegedly reinforced his racist views with violence.

Aaron Aranza is said to have become upset after he learned that his fourteen-year-old daughter had picked an African American friend to be her dance partner as she practiced for her upcoming quinceanera party. Aranza immediately put a stop to the dance rehearsal and shoved the teenager with whom his daughter had chosen to dance. He then allegedly beat his daughter, pulled her inside the house and then beat her some more with a belt, telling her that she would no longer live with her mother but come and stay with him, assumedly so that he could more closely monitor her social decisions. When she tried to run from the house, he dragged his daughter across the yard. Then he left the premises.

Aranza is currently being held in jail, unable to make bail. Already not the custodial parent, he hopefully now will face even greater restrictions in getting to spend time with his daughter. In addition to the horrible abuse that is the greatest misgiving here, Aranza likely made his discriminatory worldview a regular part of his interaction with his child and hoped to pass on these beliefs.

Racism is taught. We learn it from our parents, other family members, those whom we value in our community. It not only has the sad effect of limiting who we can come to know and call a friend, but also surfaces as very real threats to job security in the workplace. If you feel that you were fired or passed over for a promotion due to your race, we can help. Please contact Bertolino LLP today and we will work diligently to make sure justice is served.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Drunk Driver Released from Custody before Facing Charges of Manslaughter

Photo Courtesy: The Houston Chronicle
A man was driving the wrong way on a major road in Houston, his blood alcohol at a level that is capable of killing some people. He crashed into the rear of a SUV with three adult occupants, one of whom died two days later from his injuries. The drunk driver also was hurt and had police monitoring him while he was treated at the hospital. You would think the next part of this true story would be the man was arrested as soon as he was released from medical care and will stand trial for charges of manslaughter and DWI any day now. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Florian Quintanilla-Riva had a blood alcohol content that was six times the legal limit and is responsible for the death of 79-year-old Steven James. However, for reasons they cannot, or choose not, to explain, the Houston Police Department released him from custody before any charges were made. Several days later, Quintanilla-Riva was charged with intoxication manslaughter and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Now if only the police could find out where he is.

The prevalent assumption is that the suspect has fled the country. How authorities will manage to find him now is unknown, especially as he has been missing for a month and a half. He may now be hiding in his home country of El Salvador. The James’ family can only hope that their opportunity for justice will come.

Drunk drivers are one of the biggest menaces on Texas roads. These men and women make an irresponsible decision to get behind the wheel of an automobile when their thinking and reflexes are severely impaired and the consequences are all too often horrific.

If you have been the victim of another driver’s choice to drink and drive, you deserve to be compensated for your pain and suffering, as well as medical bills and lost time from work. Let us work with you to get you all that you deserve. Bertolino LLP has attorneys who specialize in DWI accidents and they will be strong advocates on your behalf. Contact us today.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Woman Attends San Antonio High School under Pretense of Being Only Fifteen

Credit: KLTV (Gregg County Jail and Facebook)
It may sound like a reboot of the 1980s TV show 21 Jump Street, but in addition to Johnny Depp being nowhere around, Charity Anne Johnson was committing a crime instead of going undercover to solve one.

Ms. Johnson, who is thirty-one years old, has been attending New Life Christian School in San Antonio for the past eight months under the false pretense that she was only fifteen. She was enrolled in the school after befriending Tamica Lincoln and telling her that she was an abused and abandoned teen. Lincoln took her into her home and cared for Johnson as if she was her own child. When Lincoln learned that she had been scammed by Johnson, she contacted the school and the police.

Charity Johnson, who attended the school under the name Charity Stevens, is now facing charges of failure to identify and giving false information and is currently in jail and unable to make bail.

This is a sad story that appears to have several victims. Most obvious among them is Tamica Lincoln, who only wanted to offer care to someone who she thought was only a child. But I also wonder what circumstances led Charity Johnson to choose a path of deception. While her actions are in no way justified, I hope that this arrest will allow her to get whatever help she needs so that she no longer is compelled to assume the identity of a teenager. And let us not forget the staff and student body at New Life Christian School. I imagine it was a little disconcerting for the kids to learn a person who they thought was a peer was instead much older and not who she claimed to be.

Tamica Johnson should be applauded for her desire to open her home when she saw a need. Unfortunately, there are many instances in Texas when children who truly are too young to care for themselves have parents who cannot or will not assume the responsibility. In such cases, new guardianship must be determined by the court for the protection of the children.

If you need assistance navigating the legal steps for securing a safe home for children you know, please contact the family law attorneys at Bertolino LLP. We can explain your rights and work with you to determine the best course of action.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Houston’s Growth Brings Potential and Problems

The most recent census estimates tell us what those who live in the Houston area already know. The city is growing. In fact, the population grew last year more than any other region in the country. This draw that Houston apparently has to individuals looking to relocate and grow their families reflects a larger trend, as Texas’ population grew last year more than any other state in our country. With a booming economy and the jobs that go with it as well as a cost of living that is not as steep as other large metropolitan areas, the city of Houston and the state of Texas are an appealing place to call home.

With new faces comes exciting possibilities. New businesses will open and more ideas in science and arts and industry will be birthed as minds come together. But, the possible growth also has the potential to create or exacerbate certain problems. Roads are more congested, lending themselves to more car accidents and angry drivers. People from different regions and backgrounds are working side by side, which brings, unfortunately, more frequent misunderstandings. Maybe someone moves to the area for employment in the oil industry and gets injured during the physically grueling work.

The law offices of Bertolino LLP are available to help with a variety of legal problems that you may face. Whether you are seeking compensation following a painful motor vehicle accident or believe you were passed over for a promotion based on your sex or race or other protected designation or you came to Houston for work and got injured while on the job, we can help. Call our offices today and share your story with us. Then, we will let you know what we are going to do to provide you with the justice you deserve.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Drunk Driver Kills Two during SXSW Festival

South by Southwest has grown into Austin’s signature event over the nearly three decades since its humble beginnings nearly three decades ago. What started as an opportunity for unknown bands to find a new audience and try to make a name for themselves has become a multimedia event that attracts creators of music, movies, and technology from across the globe. Household names like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber and even Edward Snowden are making appearances (the last one by video, of course).

The festival, which is running this year from March 7 to March 16, is always an exciting time for our state’s capital to be on display as a creative center in our country.  Unfortunately, this year, SXSW also made headlines for foolish tragedy.

Rashad Charjaun Owens was arrested on the streets of Austin early on Thursday and now faces two charges of capital murder and twenty-three counts of aggravated assault. Owens was trying to evade police who suspected he was driving drunk by plowing his car through a street barricade and directly into the huge crowd still gathered after midnight for music. Even after hitting unsuspecting pedestrians with his vehicle, Owens continued his efforts to escape arrest by exiting his car and running. It finally took a stun gun to stop him and take him into custody.

While some shows at the venues by which the murders took place were cancelled, the festival moved forward, surely with thoughts of the victims on the minds of all performers and those in the audience.

The lives lost can never be returned and some with critical injuries now face a long road of rehabilitation and lives forever changed, all because one person made the horrible decision to turn the car ignition after a lot of drinking.

If someone you love has been hurt or killed by a drunk driver, you need to seek justice. You deserve to be compensated for injuries and grief and trauma. The automobile accident attorneys at Bertolino LLP can help. Please contact us today and let us get to work for you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Doctor and Nurse in San Antonio Honored for Saving Lives

The many wonderful medical professionals in the state of Texas are heroes every day as they save lives and educate the public about better health in our communities. Rarely, though, do these heroes get much media attention, so it’s nice to see an instance in which their knowledge and compassion are recognized.

The San Antonio Fire Department held a special ceremony this week to honor Dr. Dale Crockett and nurse Amber Myers for saving several lives with their quick thinking last month. When a family arrived at Methodist Hospital complaining of severe illness, Dr. Crockett identified their symptoms as being caused by high levels of carbon monoxide in their system. When Amber Myers learned that these patients lived in an apartment complex, she realized that others likely were in danger. She called the fire department and those who responded to the scene found multiple individuals affected by the poisonous levels of carbon monoxide in their system, including three who had to be hospitalized. If more time had passed, it is likely that at least some of the victims would have fallen asleep and died.

Yes, you could say that Dr. Crockett and Amber Myers simply were doing their job when diagnosing the presence of poison gas and treating the patients in front of them. But they also thought about the others back at that apartment complex who probably needed help, and their decision to reach beyond those hospital walls was one of life or death.

There is a reason that doctors, nurses and others in the medical field need to be licensed in order to work. When lives are at stake, we want to know the people taking care of us are qualified. Sometimes, the years these men and women study to earn their qualifications and then to build a professional reputation can be destroyed in no time at all by one person who thinks he has been wronged and complains to your licensing organization. If you are a doctor or nurse and a patient or peer is threatening your credentials, there are attorneys at Bertolino LLP who can help. We will protect your livelihood and affirm your good standing. Please contact us today. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Texas Town in the Spotlight Again for Racial Division

Photo Courtesy: The New York Times
For many people who live outside the area, the only association that they have with the town of Jasper, Texas is the brutal dragging death of a black man, James Byrd, Jr., by three white men in 1998. Unfortunately, publicity returned to this small east Texas town over the past couple of years and once again for reasons of racial division and distrust. 

In 2011, Rodney Pearson was chosen to be the first black police chief in Jasper’s history. Almost immediately, some protested that his appointment was racially motivated and that Pearson was put in the position over more qualified white candidates by a City Council on which four of the five members were black. When a new slate of City Council officials were elected the following year, the racial composition of the legislative body had been flipped on its head. And, one of the first acts of this new council was to fire Mr. Pearson for what they claim was his inadequate work as leader of the police force.

Pearson’s firing caught the interest of the Texas NAACP as well as the federal Department of Justice. The contentions now existed that Pearson had both been hired and fired due to his skin color. This week, Rodney Pearson was successful in arguing that his termination based on race and he was awarded more than $800,000 as a settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The sad reality is that discrimination still does occur in workplaces across the country. However, there are strong legal protections at the local, state and federal level that mean recourse is available if you think you’ve been fired, passed over for a promotion or just treated differently at work due to your race, religion, gender and other defining characteristics. If you have been the victim of workplace discrimination, please let the attorneys at Bertolino LLP help you achieve the justice you deserve.