Trivial Pursuit

Should taxpayer dollars help prosecute a reporter with a big mouth and inoperable cancer?

After Wendt left the chambers, he says plainclothes Sergeant Rob Jackson, a newly installed head of the mayor's security detail, refused to let him re-enter the meeting. When he tried to open the door to the Council chambers, Wendt says Jackson and officer L. Gonzalez, a Council guard, slammed him against a wall and handcuffed him. He was jailed and bailed out early the next morning.

In his offense report, Jackson claimed that Wendt had "disrupted" the Council meeting. According to the officer's account, Wendt began shouting in the hallway and was arrested when he refused to quiet down.

"I really believe, and it will come out at trial," contends Wendt's attorney Polland, "that there's really something sinister at work here about silencing and intimidating the media, and I don't think there's any place for it in Houston or Texas or America.

"My position is, he didn't criminal trespass, he didn't disrupt, and there was no basis to do anything to him," says Polland. "I find it stupefying that this thing is continuing."

Prosecutor Noll is equally adamant that testimony will prove that while Wendt did not disturb the Council meeting, he was out of control in the lobby when the officers asked him to be quiet. "I asked Gary Polland to present to me one shred of evidence that this was a politically motivated case," says the prosecutor, "and I'd dump this case like a hot potato." Noll says there's no evidence that Brown or Boney had anything to do with the arrest. Although there are security cameras mounted in the hallway, the prosecutor says he's "unfortunately" received no videotape of the actual arrest.

"The facts that have been reported are not accurate," insists Noll of Wendt's account that he was targeted by the security guards for taking pictures of Brown and Boney. "Mr. Wendt is not being charged with disrupting a City Council meeting. He was not arrested in the City Council chambers. He was not arrested while performing any duties as a reporter."At least two witnesses, Allen Parkway Village activist Lenwood Johnson, whom Wendt was interviewing in the hallway, and a softball team manager, Don Roventini, say Wendt did not begin shouting in the hall until the officers arrested him. If the case goes to trial, Noll concedes that the contradictory testimony will make it difficult to get a conviction.

Noll, a cancer survivor himself, was quoted in a Chronicle story as saying Wendt's cancer did not justify a delay of the trial. Now, with Wendt's medical situation worsening, Noll has softened his position.

"I've been in a situation where the word around the courthouse was, I was dead," says Noll. "For gosh sake, I don't want people to write Ed off as a dead man just because of his diagnosis." According to Noll, if he is convinced Wendt is seriously ill, the case might be dismissed on humanitarian grounds.

Polland, however, shows no inclination to pursue that outcome.
"I think I've already presented adequate evidence of the factual nature of the case that calls for a dismissal," says the attorney. "I'm not going to go out of my way to ask them to dismiss it on medical grounds... My intention is to try the case, assuming Ed's in a condition to do so."

District Attorney Johnny Holmes, while noting that he would not interfere if Noll decides to dismiss the case, offers a cautionary example of what happens when one gets too sympathetic to cancer victims charged with a crime. Holmes prosecuted a schoolteacher who was charged with selling marijuana to students and who also had testicular cancer.

"I asked for confinement for life, in good faith, because I believed that's what the guy should have gotten," says Holmes. "The jury saw it completely differently and gave the guy probation because of some sympathetic concern about his testicular cancer.

"I happened to run into his lawyer just the other day and asked him whatever happened to that guy, and he said, 'Oh, he's doing fine.' " The moral of the tale: If you cut a criminal some slack because he has cancer, remission just might let him off the hook.

To the observation that Wendt's "crime" is hardly comparable to dealing dope to children, Holmes replies: "Depends on your perspective." Returning to the particulars of Wendt's case, the D.A. figures that "Ed wants his day in court. If he truly takes the position that he's been imposed upon like all of his followers think, then he'll prevail."

" I don't know whether they call it humanitarian grounds or whatever, I just want the case to go away so I can get well," responds Wendt. "It sure would help me fight this if I didn't have that two-bit little class B misdemeanor hanging over me."

It seems all that's lacking to close out this pathetic little legal episode is someone in the criminal justice system with a cup of common sense and a teaspoon of compassion. Any volunteers out there?

Know something The Insider ought to know? Call him at (713) 280-2483, fax him at (713) 280-2496 or e-mail him at insider@houstonpress.com.

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