Victims' Wrongs: Injured parties in Harris County say plea bargains go on behind their backs

Some injured parties in Harris County say plea bargains go on behind their backs and without their approval.

Whitmire agrees that victims should be told about a plea before the deal is cemented and that victim impact statements should be read by judges before plea bargains are accepted. He concedes that the law as written may not be perfect.

"There's not ever anything we've done that can't be improved," he says. "I think people are generally respectful of victims' rights, but if someone isn't, we ought to speak out."

For Debbie Brooks, though, just voicing her concerns isn't enough. Since there is nothing she can legally do to get her rights enforced, she is trying to make an end run. On December 31, she filed a lawsuit against county prosecutor Lynne Parsons in small claims court. It is the first time a victim has ever sued a prosecutor in small claims court for damages stemming from victims' rights violations, advocates say.

Former U.S. Congressman Craig Washington initially claimed that he fired in self-defense, but later admitted to illegally shooting at the two teenagers.
Former U.S. Congressman Craig Washington initially claimed that he fired in self-defense, but later admitted to illegally shooting at the two teenagers.
Taylor Brooks was driving the car that Craig Washington fired upon.
Courtesy of Debbie Brooks
Taylor Brooks was driving the car that Craig Washington fired upon.

"Never heard of anything like this," says Howley. "I don't think they're likely to recover, but I'm glad they brought the action. This is the real-life impact when [prosecutors] fail to treat victims with fairness and respect."

It is true that the chances of Brooks winning are remote at best. Prosecutors are generally immune to being sued except under the rarest of circumstances. In response to the lawsuit, the DA's office, which is representing Parsons, claims that Brooks filed the lawsuit to harass Parsons and should pay for Parsons's legal expenses.

Brooks is livid.

"I have not harassed her one iota," she says. "We filed the lawsuit claiming mental anguish based on the fact that up until the day of the trial when the plea happened, Parsons told us we were going to trial. And if that was not her intention, then why put us through a year and a half of crap? We were subpoenaed, had to take time off of work, got our hopes up and had to emotionally gear up, for what? For nothing. And now they want me to pay their lawyers' fees? It just reinforces what I've thought all along about the DA's office. As long as no one fights back, they're just going to keep doing what they want, treating victims like afterthoughts. Nothing will ever change unless people stand up against the DA's office and are not afraid. I've told them I am not going away."

chris.vogel@houstonpress.com

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