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Aguirre Is Toast

The Chron is running a story today that is related to that bizarre weekend K-Mart parking lot raid. Apparently, Mark Aguirre oversaw a similar (but much smaller) bust at the Galleria-area James Coney Island on Saturday. The story is 100% critical of Aguirre, and neither Aguirre nor any supporters are given any column space to balance the story.

I think another Aguirre-led raid or two like this will probably surface in the next few days, and that Aguirre is toast. There should have been safeguards within the HPD command to ensure that shoddy, costly policework like this could not just be ramrodded by one man, and if there were, those safeguards failed miserably. I still suspect that Aguirre's enemies within the HPD command -- the entire top brass, really -- were more than happy to give Aguirre plenty of rope to hang himself, and that he will soon be fired or demoted (effectively fired). For a long time, Aguirre "got over" on the powers that be within the city because his policework pleased his constituents; that's no longer the case, and Captain Aguirre is about to hang (deservedly so, as far as I can tell).

And what about the jackass at James Coney Island who gave permission to Captain Aguirre to carry out the raids on his property?! This is lame:

"We were cooperative with the idea (of the raid), but are not necessarily happy with the execution," said Darrin Straughan, a vice president with the restaurant chain. "We are victims here, too. We never imagined that this is the way it would be handled or that legitimate customers would be arrested."

Straughan said Aguirre approached the company two weeks ago and told restaurant officials that illegal drag racing along Westheimer had caused several fatal accidents and prompted neighborhood complaints. Aguirre asked the company to post four no-trespassing signs in the parking lot and to sign paperwork allowing police to make the arrests on the restaurant's property.

Company officials went along with Aguirre's plan, Straughan said, thinking their actions would be part of a subdued enforcement of city trespassing ordinances.

No, Mr. Straughan, you are NOT a victim. Pardon the pun, but your PR comments here make you sound like a first-class weenie! Your signed complaint indirectly led to those arrests, with the help of a (possibly) renegade cop! You should pull your head out and THINK before signing anything. Personally, I think I'll be avoiding your (overpriced) hot dog stands, since I just can't be sure there isn't the potential to be arrested if I'm too slow leaving your parking lot.

(Update) Charles Kuffner, Ginger Stampley, and Larry Simon are all over Captain Aguirre's quest to take back the streets from Sonic and JCI hotdog lovers. That's a lot of Houston blogfirepower.

(08-28-02 Update) I've just spoken with Darrin Straughan, and I think I was overly harsh (understatement) with my comments above. Elaboration to follow shortly.

(08-28-02 Update 2) Earlier, I visited at some length (about 45 minutes) with Darrin Straughan, the Vice-President of James Coney Island (JCI) referenced in this earlier weblog entry. Mr. Straughan took exception to my comments about him and JCI in the earlier post, and asked for the opportunity to clarify some of the issues for me.

Mr. Straughan informs me that he similarly visited with the Chron and gave them all of the details, and that what was ultimately printed was a condensed and (because of the omissions) perhaps not entirely accurate reflection on him and James Coney Island.

According to Straughan, there have been two ongoing issues on Westheimer that have been generating complaints from the neighborhood for some time: illegal drag-racing by drivers in souped-up cars, and hot-rodding and dangerous/illegal "trick riding" by bikers on high-performance motorcycles (a group of which has made James Coney Island a regular gathering place). Apparently, HPD has put together a fair amount of documentary footage on these activities and trouble spots.

At some point, HPD began approaching some of the area businesses about the problems, including the James Coney Island location on Westheimer. HPD characterized some of the activities as dangerous, and asked for cooperation, including the signing of a trespass affidavit. After giving the matter some thought and considering the potential liability of James Coney Island not to mention the implications of not signing, Straughan says he made the decision to sign the affidavit.

Straughan emphasized repeatedly that his general understanding of trespass affidavits is that police officers will ascertain if people are patrons in the normal course of business, and that if it is determined they are not, they can be asked to leave the premises. If a person refuses to leave, then at that point he can be cited or arrested.

Straughan tells me that he was not briefed on the particulars of any planned raids, or the timing. Nonetheless, he says he instructed his staff at that store to begin educating the bikers about the trespass affidavit after he signed it, and the weekend before the raid patrons were informed about the trespass affidavit and that to be considered "patrons in the normal course of business," they should be sure to have a timely receipt from the store.

The following weekend, as local media have documented, some 25 people were arrested by HPD at the site. Contrary to some reports, Straughan claims that no patrons were arrested inside the store, and that he has video to back up that claim. Further, he says his staff estimates that there were at least 100 people total gathered at the store that night. He stresses that he is among many who want answers as to exactly why those 25 people were arrested -- but he also points out that it is entirely possible that those persons were asked to leave, and did not, therefore leading to arrests. At this point, he says, it's just unclear, and he says he is as eager as anyone to know exactly what happened.

I asked Straughan that if he knew that 25 possible patrons could potentially be arrested, would he sign another trespass affidavit. He said absolutely not. Furthermore, he says that he has rescinded the earlier trespass affidavit, and that he is using a couple of off-duty officers on the weekends to ensure crowd control.

Mr. Straughan was very gracious and friendly during our visit, and even jokingly referred to a number of my earlier, admittedly bombastic comments. And I conceded to him that those comments went a little overboard. I apologize for that, and this is my effort to set the record straight. In this day when everyone claims to be a victim, I still don't like the quote that JCI was the "victim" in this (that's a sensitive subject for me), but I think it's clear that Mr. Straughan is upset about what transpired at the store that night and, like many of us, wants some answers from HPD.

Mr. Straughan says he's answered countless emails and phone calls from concerned people, and I appreciate his taking the time to visit with me. He's also posted a number of comments to a message board frequented by the JCI SportBikes group, which I'm reproducing below (because their message boards are difficult to use and require registration) along with some biker comments. These are not the threads in their entirety, but an edited selection; there are also some much more belligerent posts from some bikers on the boards, which I have not reproduced.

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Offical Response From James Coney Island
darrin - 22 Aug - 03:04:30 PM
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This is Darrin Straughan, Vice President and Part Owner, of JCI. First of all, we are very sorry for what the police did to our customers Friday August 16th. We did NOT know that is was going to go down like that.

It has been a nice run for the Sport Bikers to hang out at JCI. What has happen is that the citizens surrounding the area have complained so much that the city decided to do something about it. This is not just about you guys. It is about the whole Westheimer strip. You all are aware of the other groups that gather on Westheimer. We at JCI just want a peaceful and safe enviroment for our customers to enjoy. I did not know about the deaths that have happened in front of JCI and saw videos of the trick riders. And it is scary! You know this. Yes, a few have probably ruined this for the whole. I am getting complaints about the noise. They are our customers too. I have read this forum's threads and some of you did not want this image. We just want to sell hot dogs and be nice. Thats what we do. We do not want to be an activist or caught in some political nightmare. All customers are welcome. We don't care what their mode of transportation is. Car, bike, bus or walk; all are welcome as customers. Ride your bike to JCI. Get something to eat. Visit for a little while, but you cannot hang out there anymore. Sorry. Last Friday night the police were suppose to ask if you were a customer and if not you would need to leave. Has some of you will remember, the previous weekend our District Manager for that store told over 200 bikers that this was going down. We tried to protect you. Give you advance notice not to come. Or if you were to come that you have to purchase something and not hang out. i.e. What our normal course of business customer does. We had no idea that they were going to arrest customers. We have a real problem with them over this. We would never have agreed to this. Darrin

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RE: Great Attitude
nimrod - 23 Aug - 05:42:58 PM
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Darrin - Some of us would like to just tell you that we tried to talk to some of these kids ( punks). I am in my forties and have enjoyed riding and bikes since the age of 9. That kid's statement [in an unreproduced post -- klw] by no way reflects the majority that have visited your place of business. I am very sorry for you guys and the problems that it has caused your company and how it all turned out this way. The older riders knew it was going to come to head sooner or later. There are a few like the punk that posted above that have ruined a nice outing for many in this city because of their wreckless behavior on city streets and most of all their stupid attitude. He will surely die at one point on his bike as I have watched many like him in the last two years lose their lives on the City of Houston streets pulling stupid stunts and breaking every traffic law known to mankind. I don't agree with the arrest- A trespass charge ? That was cheap shot by HPD to address a problem far from that. I believe HPD should have busted the punks like this one and left the law abiding people alone. All HPD had to do was ask a few. They never did that. Many of us have even talked to HPD about it as they sat in their car and watched them do it in front of your store not even attempting to pull a one over.

HPD violated the rights of many. Stunts and Wheelies, Speeding is enough to be arrested on and your bike impunded. Nazi tactics and false charges won't fly with youth or even myself. You have every right to protect your store and other customers. I am truley sorry that it all went down this way - Native Houstonian

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Unwelcome
popawalker - 25 Aug - 07:42:44 PM
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Just a question for Darrin.Are we now unwelcome as some seem to think?
Last night before I left at 1215 there were about 25-30 and most had gone inside to purchase products.Most then hung out outside along the sidewalk and porch in front.I don't know if anything happened after 1215,but it was peaceful up to then,even with 2 constables in the parking lot.

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RE: Unwelcome
darrin - 26 Aug - 10:49:56 AM
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We are not going to question our customers on their mode of transportation to the restaurant. But, you do have to be a customer in our normal course of business. This means come to the restaurant and purchase something. We can't have anymore just hanging out. Eat and stay a little while but then you will have to move on. Just like all our customers do. Everyone is welcome to do that. Thanks.

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[Posted at 06:47 CST on 08/22/02] [Link]

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