Beyond Bars: Police Department Tour

Jessica Cuevas

There was no better way to kick off our newest LEAP Program, Beyond Bars, than with a back-stage tour of the Huntsville Police Department led by Corporal David Warner. Starting us off was Lieutenant Curt Landrum, who told us the stories behind the artifacts, photos, and mementos that can be found in the waiting area. These included photos of all the chiefs, equipment from back in the day, and the “honorary” shovel used for the groundbreaking.

We also learned more about the building itself, and the interesting features of the structure. These included but were not limited to bullet-resistant glass, interview rooms, a gym, a locker room and showers, and a relay room. All of these have proven to be helpful and beneficial for various reasons such as security, privacy, and in the case of an emergency or a court hearing for those that drive in for a shift accommodation.

We had the opportunity to see the officers’ offices, computer spaces, and interview rooms. In a bullpen area with lots of open space and computers, we met a rookie who was enjoying (or not) filling out paperwork.

The coolest thing in this room was the computer screen that informs everyone where each patrol officer is, whether they are on a call, and if so, how long they have been on the call and the nature of the call. Interestingly, one officer had been called to the State Park to address “six teenagers taunting an alligator,” a crime-in-progress that we did not expect to see.

Before eating dinner, we had the opportunity to see the evidence room, and a joke was made that I would likely fit in one of the evidence lockers because of my small stature, haha.

We also learned a bit of Huntsville trivia. Did you know that on April 15, 2021, one officer gave 99 citations in a single shift? It was the most tickets ever imposed in the City’s history, at least as far as known, and it was done by a motorcycle officer.

As the tour came to an end, we had the opportunity to dine in the Police Department’s lounge area with Corporal Warner, and little did we know of the activity that was awaiting us. On the menu, were delicious tacos al carbon: beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp, and or a choice of vegetarian, cheese, or pork pupusas from the local Salvadorian Restaurant, Carbonero’s.

Corporal Warner provided us with a demonstration of what is done during a sobriety test. In particular, he spun us around and then conducted a “nystagmus” test, which is one of the key indicators of sobriety or the lack thereof. Jazmin Palacios, a Ph.D. student at SHSU, was voluntold to participate, and she not only did this test, but also wore the “drunk goggles” provided while doing a field sobriety test.

Corporal Warner instructed her to take nine steps and walk in a straight line, with each step she took she had to keep her hands by her side and walk heel to toe while counting out loud. It was slightly amusing to watch, but it is less fun when you are the one doing the test! Morgan also got lucky and was asked to do a one-leg test, where she had to count to ten out loud while keeping her leg raised up about an inch from the floor. Somehow, she managed to successfully complete this task.

As the night came to an end, the officer who had been sent to the State Park returned, and inquiring minds wanted to know: what happened to the alligator-taunting teenagers? As it turned out, “there were no alligators, no teenagers, and no witnesses.” Some of us may have been disappointed in the way that turned out.

It was a fun and educational night, everyone had the opportunity to wear the goggles and experience what it is like to be on both sides of the law. Many thanks to Corporal Warner and to the entire police department for helping to keep our community safe.

The LEAP Center would like to thank the Annette Strauss Institute for Public Life and their “Texas Civic Ambassadors Program” for assisting with the costs of the program.

How to Get Into Law School–A Texas Tech Case Study!

McKenna Nonnenmann, October 29, 2022

This past week at the Pre-Law Society meeting, we welcomed Ms. Shawn Adams, the director for recruitment at Texas Tech School of Law.

Ms. Adams graduated from Texas Tech with a Master’s in Business Administration and a JD! We learned a lot from her educational background and experience as a practicing attorney.

On this evening, her goal was not only to recruit students to Texas Tech School of Law, but also to give us loads of advice regarding the law school application process and what to look for in law schools. She started by looking for three main things when choosing a law school. 

  1. Looking at what the cost of living will be at the school apart from tuition
  2. Bar passage rate
  3. Post-graduate employment rate

All three items can be located on the law school’s 509 reports!

Ms. Adams covered what is needed in a law school application: transcript, letter of recommendation, personal statement, LSAT score, and resume–and how those are weighted at Texas Tech.

We also learned more about what Texas Tech school of law offers and how beautiful and engaging their campus life is! In addition, they offer many great resources for students interested in criminal defense and even have a dual degree program.

As the meeting ended, Ms. Adams stressed that it is essential to go at our own pace, and it is okay if we do not make straight A’s in law school because of how rigorous it is. And she encouraged us, noting that if we continue to work hard and have our hearts in the studying, we can go far. 

Many thanks to Ms. Shawn Adams for her continual support of the LEAP Center and Pre-Law Society at Sam Houston State University.

Real Law in a Simulated Context

The LEAP Center typically invites Professor Val Ricks from the South Texas College of Law–Houston to campus in the spring, but we made it a fall event this year. And so it was that, last week, Professor Ricks spoke to 35 SHSU pre-law students who signed up for an educational event–without extra credit, a class assignment, or give-away prizes.

They came because they wanted to learn, and they were willing to do some dense reading beforehand. The reading involved a contract, and this was no accident. Professor Ricks is one of the leading experts in the country on contract law; in fact, some of our alumni who have gone on to law school have informed us that they were assigned his book in their classes!

Professor Ricks began the course by informing us of his goals for this and any class that he teaches: (1) Get the words of the law – law is words, (2) Set the words out in a workable way, (3) Practice applying them, and (4) Consider what is “right” – the law is a moral exercise.

He went about this through the Socratic method since everyone loves being called on and questioned until they cannot answer. At least, we will have to if we plan on practicing the law, especially, in the courtroom. Through his random number generator, he called on those people to answer his questions regarding the G.D. Holdings, INC v H.D.H. Land & Timber, L.P., 407 S.W.3d 856, 2013, after delivering the facts and procedures of this case.

Many of us believed we were prepared but we did not know what to expect, so were we really prepared for Professor Ricks to hit us with questions like, What is the legal issue being addressed? How did you draw this conclusion? What is the ruling of the Court? A few of us addressed this question with the trial court’s ruling which led Professor Ricks to ask us, Where did you read that? Why do you think that is the final ruling? In these instances he let us help each other out when the person he called on was stuck, which we later learned that in an actual law class he would have picked that individual’s brain until they provided the answer he was looking for.

We continued this process as we provided evidence that we thought best fit or would prove the three different clauses of Promissory Estoppel- the legal issue of the case – (a) a promise, (b)foreseeability of reliance by the promissor, and (c) substantial reliance by the promisee to his detriment. It was at this moment, that we felt the high pressure that lawyers feel in a courtroom the most. With us acting as lawyers and Professor Ricks as a judge, who questioned us to help fill in the gaps in the story and understand what we were thinking. This proved to be a lot harder than we thought since proving that a promise, the first part of Promissory Estoppel, had been made was difficult and some of us soon learned that in this context a promise was defined as a commitment.

Following the class, most of us were more certain than ever that we wanted to attend law school. This was a sentiment Professor Ricks encouraged, as we learned when he stayed after to encourage us, answer questions, and take photos.

Distinguished Alumni Gala: 2022

If it’s October at SHSU, there is probably a Distinguished Alumni Gala occurring at SHSU. Charlie Vienne, Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations, and his staff do a great job of recognizing many of SHSU’s distinguished graduates and also putting on a wonderful event. This year, with MC duties once again taken by Chris Tritico…

…Alumni Relations recognized Kelly Dehay and Mary Ellen Thornton for their service; named Constance Jones Simmons the “2022 Outstanding Young Alumni;” and designated Houston Police Chief Troy Finner, Kyle Lehne, and Jill Sharp Vaughn as the 2022 “Distinguished Alumni.”

Following the Color Guard and an outstanding musical performance of the National Anthem by Lucianna Astorga…

…Tritico led off with some jokes, including one directed at our advisor, Professor Mike Yawn.

Apparently, the two had spoke on the phone once while Yawn and his “long-suffering girlfriend,” Ms. Stephanie, were on vacation in Oklahoma, and Tritico thought this was hilarious. He introduced Yawn to the crowd, mentioned his favored “vacation spots, and then asked, rhetorically, “Who vacations in Oklahoma?”

When he got done with his funny business, we were free to eat and enjoy each other’s company. Two of us, Ingrid Cuero and Jessica Cuevas, sat at the LEAP Table, with Yawn, Stephanie, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, Mr. and Mrs. Holland, and Blake Roach. Two of us, Morgan Robertson and Ashlyn Parker, sat at a table with Mr. and Mrs. Frosch, Mac and Leanne Woodward, and Judge Danny Pierce and his wife, Cindy. And three of us sat at a table sponsored by Rick Hanna and Larry and Marsha Corley. We were fortunate to have people sponsor us, and we were fortunate to be at tables with great conversations and great conversationalists!

Of course, the real purpose of the evening was to showcase the alumni, and Tritico, President White…

…and Larry Larrison (President of the Alumni Association) did that very well.

They introduced each of the speakers, showed a brief bio of each, and then the honored guests spoke briefly. For us, as students, it was a great opportunity to see role models who had also spent time learning at SHSU. Whether it was the philanthropy of Kelly Dehay…

…or the innovative teaching of Mary Ellen Thornton…

…or amazing screen presence of Constance Jones Simmons…

…the public leadership of Troy Finner…

…the business acumen of Kyle Lehne…

…or the multi-faceted leadership of Jill Sharp Vaughn…

…there was a model (or several) for us.

Indeed, we had a diverse crew of students, with a POLS major, two HIST majors, three CRIJ majors, and a Public Health Major. We all had a chance to spend time with Mr. Tritico;

…we met and took photos with Chief Finner;

…Ashlyn Parker had a chance to meet her Dean, Dean Emily Roper; and we all had a chance to meet President White again.

And we all had an excellent time, learning from those who have been here before us…

…and in whose paths we hope to follow (and chart a few of our own)!