Since 1990, the Texas Civil Rights Project has fought for the human rights of hundreds of clients who have suffered a wide-ranging array of civil rights abuses in more than 900 lawsuits. Outside our specialized Prisoners’ Rights Program, Violence Against Women’s Act program, and Disability Rights Campaigns, TCRP has taken on most every type of civil rights violation imaginable on behalf of Texans who could not find a lawyer anywhere else.
TCRP’s legal program practices “impact litigation,” taking cases that will create systemic reform in addition to assisting individual clients. TCRP’s legal work has benefitted, directly or indirectly, thousands of Texans who may not even know how TCRP has helped them.
Free Speech and Press
In 2006, millions of students across the country walked out of class to support the rights of immigrants. The City of Round Rock arrested hundreds of these non-violent high school students and charged them with breaking a daytime curfew ordinance rather than respecting their First Amendment rights. TCRP represented 98 students who were arrested, organizing dozens of volunteer attorneys to handle the criminal cases and assist in filing a federal civil rights lawsuit. To settle the suit, the city dismissed all the prosecutions, set up a scholarship fund administered by TCRP, paid to have all the students’ records expunged and provided civil rights training to all the students.
Police prevented demonstrators protesting George W. Bush’s first return to Austin after the contentious 2000 election from accessing the traditional free speech area across from the Texas Governor’s Mansion. Officers ringed the demonstrators with motorcycles and horses, and prevented them from leaving a corner blocks away from the traditional protest location. After a five-year long legal battle, TCRP won a trial where the judge rebuked the city for denying citizens their free speech rights.
The mayor of Laredo was caught on videotape confiscating dozens of copies of the city’s independent newspaper, which had published critical articles and caricatures of him and his dog. TCRP filed suit on behalf of the newspaper, requiring the mayor to pay $15,000 and make a public apology for violating the media’s free press rights.
In 2005, the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated at Austin City Hall in support of Texas’ ban on same sex marriage. Thousands of counter-demonstrators filled the streets to protest the hate group’s presence in their city, but police prevented them from getting within 2 blocks of the hate group. The city also prohibited independent media from covering the event by denying them press credentials. TCRP sued on behalf of the demonstrators and independent media producers, requiring the city to establish reasonable perimeters for future demonstrations, and establish objective press credentialing criteria.
A hardware store manager used racial epithets while refusing service to an African American customer. The manager complained about African American victims of Hurricane Katrina, saying “all those Black sons of bitches should have drowned” and they “should have never came from Africa.” TCRP won a lawsuit forcing the manager to pay $15,000.
When a city leased city hall to the Ku Klux Klan, the Klan excluded African American residents from this public property. A TCRP lawsuit required the city to place language in all future leases prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin or disability.
When police responded to a report of a mentally-ill man sleeping at a bus station, an officer brutally beat him with a baton and filed a false report causing the man to spend ten weeks in jail. TCRP represented the man in a lawsuit requiring the city to pay him $50,000.
A police officer slammed an African American college student to the ground, knocking him unconscious, after the student complained the officer was treating an unrelated suspect too harshly. When an ambulance arrived to take the student to hospital, the officer took him out of the ambulance and sent him to jail instead. A TCRP lawsuit forced the city to pay $31,000.
A judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to accept a brief filed by lawyers to stop the execution of a man based on a Supreme Court decision from earlier the same day. The lawyers’ computers had crashed, and when they attempted to file the brief to stop the execution a few minutes after the court closed, the judge callously told them “we close at five.” The man was executed later that night. TCRP organized hundreds of lawyers to petition the court to accept electronic filing, which would have allowed the brief to be filed. The court changed its policy, ensuring the condemned have a fair opportunity to contest their death sentences.
In 2006, on behalf of Travis County voters, TCRP filed a lawsuit to require electronic voting machines to provide a paper “receipt” to ensure fair recounts and audits of the machines. Though many states now require some type of paper trial for all voting machines, Texas does not. The case is currently on appeal.
When counties placed polling places in locations inaccessible to people with disabilities, TCRP sued to ensure the disabled had an opportunity to vote. TCRP lawsuits have required polling places be wheelchair accessible, and that the blind and deaf have been able to use electronic voting machines.
In 2007, widespread physical and sexual abuse, as well as a myriad of other civil rights violations, were revealed at Texas Youth Commission facilities. In a system-wide lawsuit, TCRP represented four children who were seriously abused. TCRP won $625,000 for the clients, and TYC agreed to make extensive changes to facilities and policies outlined in a nine page document.
A principal in East Texas published a newsletter containing private information about African American students to his friends, in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. TCRP filed suit, winning compensation for the children and preventing further disclosures of confidential student information.
A county judge refused to allow an HIV+ man to participate in a DWI-diversion program, instead sending him to prison because of his HIV status. TCRP sued the county, winning damages for the client and preventing the county from considering HIV status in the future in decisions about the deferral program.
The City of Houston required police officers, firefighters and airport security workers to undergo pre-employment polygraphs before they could be hired for a job. TCRP represented the officers in a lawsuit, preventing the city from requiring polygraphs before making employment decisions.
In several suits against school districts, TCRP has required schools to provide equal athletic facilities to female students. TCRP lawsuits have required schools to upgrade or build playing fields and locker rooms, and hire coaches, for young women athletes around Texas.
A school district expelled a female high school student when she became pregnant. TCRP filed suit on her behalf, winning her re-instatement at the school, changes to district policy, and compensation for the client.
If you believe you are the victim of a civil rights violation, click here and follow TCRP’s intake policy to seek help.