‘Can’t be trusted’: Calls for Harris County judge to step down following discriminatory remarks against young black men

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HOUSTON — The ACLU of Texas is calling on the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct to open an investigation of Harris County District Judge Michael McSpadden following comments he made to the Houston Chronicle openly admitting racial bias against young Black male defendants who appear before his court.

Pending the outcome of the investigation, the ACLU of Texas is also calling for McSpadden’s recusal from any case involving a Black defendant until that investigation is concluded.

[WATCH LIVE: Group holds news conference demanding resignation of Harris County Judge Michael McSpadden]

“If there remained any doubt that the deck is stacked against people of color in our criminal justice system, Michael McSpadden just dispelled it,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “When a sitting judge feels comfortable enough to admit openly and on the record that he uses bail orders to jail Black defendants on the assumption they can’t be trusted, it’s time to take action. This kind of flagrant racism has no place in our justice system. The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct needs to take the first step toward rooting it out, and Judge McSpadden should voluntarily step down.”

[WATCH LIVE: Local activists urge Harris County commissioners to settle bail lawsuit claiming current system discriminates against poor]

In his comments to the Chronicle, McSpadden admitted that he instructed hearing officers to deny personal recognizance bonds to young Black male defendants because they are “tainted” and “not good risks.” He went on to say that Black defendants do not “[get] good advice from their parents,” but rather bad advice from “rag-tag organizations like Black Lives Matter.”

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Such practices are in violation of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and the ACLU says may constitute grounds for his removal from office.

“Judge McSpadden’s remarks are inexcusable, but not at all surprising for those of us who know the justice system well,” said Anthony Graves, smart justice initiatives manager for the ACLU of Texas and author of the recently released Infinite Hope: How Wrongful Conviction, Solitary Confinement, and 12 Years on Death Row Failed to Kill My Soul.

“Black men have always been overwhelmingly and disproportionately targeted for punishment by the police and the courts for no reason other than the color of our skin. If our justice system ever hopes to live up to the ideals that are supposed to guide it, we have to stamp out everywhere this sort of unfairness, injustice and inequality that Black defendants face in courtrooms like Judge McSpadden’s.

Graves was exonerated after spending 18 ½ years in prison and 12 ½ on death row.

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