News Roundup: State Agency Adds A Drone To Its Search And Rescue Arsenal

Our daily look at Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelFebruary 1, 2018 1:25 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

Texas game wardens have added a piece of high-flying equipment to their toolbox for search and rescue missions. On Wednesday, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced it now has a camera-equipped drone that can transmit a live HD video feed.

Grahame Jones is Colonel Game Warden with the department, and he says the drone will make search and rescue operations more efficient, especially during disasters like Hurricane Harvey.

“What the drone can do is go ahead and gather intel in a certain area that we know we’re going to be doing large scale operations or large scale evacuations or rescues,” Jones says.

Jones adds the drone will help identify obstructions that game wardens could encounter on the ground, like downed power lines. He points to one case during Harvey where a game warden navigating flooded streets in an airboat was injured because it was hard to tell what was in the water.

“The airboat hit an obstruction that they couldn’t see from their point of view until they were right on the obstruction,” Jones says. “And some of the game wardens were actually thrown from the vessel and that’s how our game warden was injured.” That game warden has yet to return to work, though he is expected to do so.

The drone was donated through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program which relies on private donations. Future drones will also be donated that way, at no cost to the state. A number of game wardens are already licensed to operate the drone and Jones says that officials across the state will be licensed to fly it. The drone will be housed in Temple but available statewide.

A grand jury will not bring charges against Dallas police officers responsible for the death of a gunman who killed five officers in July of 2016 during a rally downtown. The decision was announced Wednesday. Stephanie Kuo with KERA News reports the grand jury’s decision appears to conclude the investigation into the death of gunman, Micah Johnson.

Micah Johnson shot and killed four Dallas Police officers and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer at the end of a peaceful rally on July 7, 2016.

After hours of negotiations that night, Dallas police killed Johnson with a robot carrying explosives – which was an apparent first for any U.S. law enforcement agency. It sparked a debate about whether tactics like that are ethical.

The case was brought to a Dallas County grand jury more than a year after the ambush. The Dallas County District Attorney’s office says it presents all officer-involved shootings to a grand jury.

In a statement Wednesday, District Attorney Faith Johnson said all evidence has been returned to the Dallas police department. Johnson also praised law enforcement’s efforts the night of the ambush – efforts, she said, that protected the community.

Houston is home to a newly named National Treasure – the fourth in Texas. On January 20, the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded the designation to the one-time headquarters of a Latino Civil Rights organization.

The clubhouse, built in 1907, housed one of the most influential chapters of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). LULAC Council 60 was a major player in the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. (You can read more about the work of civil rights leaders who met at the clubhouse to plan how pivotal school desegregation lawsuits and create the framework for national programs here and here.)

Sehila Mota Casper, a field officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation based in Houston, explains the significance of this site.

“This clubhouse has such deep rights in the Latino Civil Rights Movement and so through this restoration project that we’ll be doing we’ll also be sharing a very unknown and overlooked part of our nation’s history and really just expanding the narrative of civil rights to include the Latino movement,” says Mota Casper.

The clubhouse is one of three sites to receive part of a $450,000 disaster recovery grant, funded by American Express, to pay for repairs after sustaining damage during Hurricane Harvey. Mota Casper says the LULAC Council 60 Clubhouse, which has been vacant since 2013, suffered additional damage during the historic storm. “It already had a lot of issues structurally. It was dilapidated and had a roof that had a massive hole and walls that were pulling on it, and Harvey, unfortunately, severely intensified the damages.”

Mota Casper adds the plan is to stabilize the building, rehabilitate it, and bring it back to the community as a functional space.