Law Enforcement Watchdogs Rally In West Texas

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At their West Texas press conference, citizen activists called for a Special Prosecutor to handle what they describe as “questionable” child pornography allegations against a criminal justice system watchdog. Plans for a related lawsuit against the City of Abilene, Texas were announced. The event also launched "Blind Justice Project" focusing on the Taylor County District Attorney's closed file policy.

My lawsuit essentially challenges the ability of police to seize the computers and files of citizen advocates monitoring criminal law enforcement.

A group of citizen activists gathered for a press conference in Abilene, Texas shortly after Father’s Day 2010.

The group was headed by George Stokes, Sr., president of the Texas State Client Council – Abilene Division (TSCCAD) and Advisory Board member for POPULAR, Inc. (POPULAR), a national legal reform organization. Joining Stokes from Indiana was POPULAR’s Executive Director, Zena Crenshaw-Logal, and representatives of the Texas Jail Project.

Stokes and Crenshaw-Logal called for a Special Prosecutor to handle recent child pornography allegations against POPULAR Advisory Board member Michayl Mellen. "Mellen categorically denies the allegations pending as State of Texas vs. Michayl Lamar Mellen, Unindicted Poss / Promotion of Child Pornography F3" says Stokes and Crenshaw-Logal.

Crenshaw-Logal announced plans for a related lawsuit against the City of Abilene which she says may eventually name the State of Texas and federal agents as defendants.

Both Stokes and Crenshaw-Logal attest, "Mellen has long been an outspoken critic of the criminal justice system directly serving Taylor County, Texas which includes Abilene. He is Corresponding Secretary for the TSCCAD."

Almost one (1) year ago according to its website, POPULAR complained to the U.S. Justice Department that Stokes, Mellen, and other Taylor County, Texas residents may be experiencing criminal violations of their federal rights. The posted fourteen (14) page, single-spaced complaint includes the Taylor County District Attorney’s office as a possible source of those alleged crimes.

An online supplement indicates “(t)horough investigation may confirm a concerted effort by local government officials to not only annoy, harass, and retaliate against Mr. Mellen – but also prompt his death.”

Stokes reports, "Mellen is nearly seventy (70) years old with a locally well-known history of carotid artery surgery; six (6) heart attacks; pace maker dependency; an open heart, triple bypass; and two (2) strokes."

Crenshaw-Logal adds, "in mid-April 2010, POPULAR’s complaints for Mellen and other Abilene residents became part of a U.N. submission for the Universal Periodic Review of America’s human rights record." She continues, "the recent search and seizure of Mellen’s computers and files subverts fundamental objectives of the Privacy Protection Act."

When the referenced press conference ended, Crenshaw-Logal filed a pro se federal lawsuit against the City of Abilene, Texas in the Northern District of Texas, Abilene Division, case number 1-10CV-132 C.

A former trial attorney and current member of the bar for the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Crenshaw-Logal alleges “(t)he search and seizure (of Mellen’s personal effects) unduly chills all criminal justice system watchdogs, particularly individuals and groups operating in the U.S. on a grassroots basis, their information gathering processes and corresponding informants.”

“The search and seizure theoretically if not actually provides unfettered access by law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges serving Taylor County, Texas to work product material of private citizens monitoring their conduct”. The lawsuit notes, “(n)either agent nor their agencies (bowed out of Mellen’s case) given the prospect of that . . . material implicating one (1) or more of them in unethical, illegal, and / or criminal conduct”.

Crenshaw-Logal explains, “my lawsuit essentially challenges the ability of law enforcement officers to seize the computer(s) and files of advocates engaged in monitoring their conduct when the files are mixed with child pornography. While a corresponding search and seizure is necessary and should definitely take place, law enforcement officers should not in the process get access to complaints against them and related, private communications.”

Stokes and Crenshaw-Logal claim the case against Mellen is difficult for them to believe. They report, "It appears child pornography was on a computer Mellen authorized outside repairmen to thoroughly check. Mellen was subsequently arrested, but not formally charged with possessing child pornography."

“Now we have a rap sheet from the prosecutor, referencing a 1989 arrest Mellen denies for seeking or offering child sex.” Crenshaw-Logal adds, “I cannot determine an outcome for the supposed arrest which Mellen says never happened. That section of the rap sheet for listing disposition of the arrest is left blank. Apparently there is no supporting arrest report or police log. So with very few details Mellen has been sullied by the same criminal justice system he regularly challenges. And our related complaints are conveniently discredited in the process.”    

Keeping focus on the Taylor County District Attorney’s office, Crenshaw-Logal announced POPULAR’s "Blind Justice Project" (BJP). "It will examine the prosecutor’s closed file policy through social science research, investigative journalism, and grassroots advocacy for two (2) years.

A rule of open file discovery gives criminal defense attorneys broad access to prosecution files. Whereas their examination is subject to significant limits and constraints through a prosecutor's closed file policy."

Webpages for BJP indicate it focuses on felony cases; that began any time in 2000 to 2010; against a Taylor County, Texas resident; who was prosecuted by the Taylor County District Attorney's office; and believes he or she did not receive enough investigation, disclosures, and / or discovery to adequately defend the charge(s) against him or her.

Crenshaw-Logal elaborated, "initially as many relevant claims as possible will be identified through self-reporting. Participants undergo preliminary screening by completing a questionnaire which prompts a pre-scheduled phone interview.

BJP will catalogue participant reports of inmate / prisoner abuse and neglect. This and other aspects of surveyed cases may be featured in West Texas Beat, a BJP publication, and POPULAR social justice initiatives.

As a navigation expert, BJP will be referring participants to people, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and private businesses for practical support."


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