PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

March 14, 2014

District Attorney, U.S. Attorney create task force to combat public corruption, gang violence

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

BEAUMONT — At a time when he finds the violent crime rate in Port Arthur “unacceptably” high, and two Beaumont ISD employees were recently indicted for embezzling district funds, acting Jefferson County District Attorney Cory Crenshaw has combined resources  with John M. Bales, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, to form a multi-jurisdictional Task Force for investigating and prosecuting major crimes.

When Bales became U.S. Attorney in 2009, he approached then-District Attorney Tom Maness about forming a similar task force to address what he perceived to be an unacceptable level of gang violence in Port Arthur. Through grant opportunities, the two offices were able to pay a full-time salary for an Assistant District Attorney who could focus solely on cases of that nature. In doing so, they were able to conduct numerous indictments.

“What we discovered is that some of the things they routinely did in terms of negotiation and plea processes, if we tweaked it a bit, it gave us an extra opportunity to leverage violent criminals in the investigations,” Bales said. “We looked at the idea that two heads could be better than one.”

When it looked like Crenshaw would be appointed the county’s acting DA after Maness retired, Bales broached the subject with him to see if he was interested. He was.

“With the government right now, we have limited resources and budgets that are restrained, so we’ve got to get together and fight as one on as many fronts as possible,” Crenshaw said.

The task force — led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher Tortorice and Joseph Batte, former ADA Luke Nichols, who is rejoining the office this month, and ADAs Koby Hoffpauir and Logan Campbell —  will evaluate cases that fall under both state and federal prosecutorial jurisdictions. They will determine the final prosecutorial jurisdiction on a case by case basis.

Crenshaw said that the public has been very vocal about its desire to see more action regarding gang violence and public corruption. The task force will take preemptive action as well, he said.

The acting DA said that he hopes to implement civil gang injunctions — a court-issued restraining order that prohibits gang members from participating in certain activities, operating under the basis that gang activity constitutes a public nuisance. Crenshaw was part of a successful gang injunction as a state prosecutor in Bryan.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times law enforcement is built around more reactionary programs,” Crenshaw said. “I think, in our effort to be smart on crime, we need to look at more proactive tools.”

Bales said that he expects the two offices to multiply their efforts in the areas of public corruption and gang violence.

“I hope what law enforcement will see is we indeed will be able to move more quickly and creatively to come up with excellent solutions,” he said.

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA