The Houston Chronicle went out of its way to praise Pat Lykos for “promising to investigate the suicide of a young boy whose parents claim he was the victim of intense bullying at his school”; the newspaper ignores the opportunity cost of fulfilling this publicity-happy promise.
Huh, what? asks the Chronicle’s editorial board. Opportunity cost?
This DA’s Office is not playing with unlimited resources. It is cutting corners where they shouldn’t be cut—denying comp time after it has been worked, ordering prosecutors to alter their timesheets to conceal the comp time, and firing prosecutors who refuse to comply (see Murray’s post here).
So—setting aside the issue of the elected DA ordering public servants to violate the law on pain of firing, which the Chronicle seems to think is not “news”—we can all certainly agree that when the DA’s Office is in such dire financial straits that it can’t even afford to pay prosecutors with comp time for the work they’ve done, Pat Lykos shouldn’t be launching yet another frivolous investigation intended only to make her look good in the press. Every minute spent determining why the child killed himself is a minute that could be spent actually prosecuting people.
There is no way a viable prosecution will be developed in an investigation of the students who may have bullied a kid to his death; such an investigation is frivolous.
There is, however, another angle of investigation from which a viable prosecution could arise. That prosecution might do some good, preventing future deaths by making an example of some of those responsible for the child’s death, but, because it wouldn’t be politically popular, it’s not one that Pat Lykos and company will ever pursue.
Texas Penal Code Section 46.13 provides:
A person commits an offense if a child gains access to a readily dischargeable firearm and the person with criminal negligence: (1) failed to secure the firearm; or (2) left the firearm in a place to which the person knew or should have known the child would gain access.
Pat Lykos, if she had wanted to investigate the suicide, could have had her investigators ask the child’s mom and stepdad one simple question: “before he got your gun from your closet, had you left it loaded?” If the answer is “yes,” the person who left the gun there has committed a class A misdemeanor (since the child discharged the gun and caused death).
If the answer is “no,” prosecution is a little more difficult. Here’s Texas Penal Code Section 22.041:
(c) A person commits an offense if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, by act or omission, engages in conduct that places a child younger than 15 years in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment.
That one is a felony charge. Whether the child’s parents placed the child in imminent danger of death by leaving an unsecured firearm in the closet presents an interesting legal question and some definite trial-lawyering challenges. But at least it’s a case that the law arguably permits.
Pat Lykos’s promise to investigate the causes of a child’s death is transparent pandering to the press and public opinion; she’s trying to ride a dead kid’s coffin a little closer to reelection.
In her tenure as District Attorney, Pat Lykos has done some really good things; she’s also done and said some really dumb stuff. Is it really so hard for the Chronicle not to confuse the latter with the former?