COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M University won’t create filters on Facebook that target animal rights activists under a lawsuit settlement that ends another court case surrounding the First Amendment in the age of social media.
Texas A&M, one of the nation’s largest public universities with more than 65,000 students, was sued in 2018 by People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals over claims the school used filters on Facebook to hide comments containing words such as “dog,” “abuse” and “testing.” For years, PETA has protested medical research on dogs at Texas A&M.
The school admitted no wrongdoing under the settlement that PETA announced Monday, but agreed to pay $75,000 in attorney’s fees and “not to exercise in viewpoint discrimination.” Texas A&M, however, still retains latitude to moderate Facebook comments for relevancy, meaning that PETA supporters could still find their posts removed if they’re deemed off topic.
“We believe that we have found a way to move forward to end this litigation that demonstrates our university’s strong commitment to the First Amendment. We hope this can be of use to other universities dealing with complexities of the social media landscape,” Texas A&M spokeswoman Amy Smith said in a statement.
Gabe Walters, a PETA attorney, said they will continue watching Texas A&M and that other public universities engaging users on social media “should do so within the bounds of the Constitution.”
Courts around the country have grappled with First Amendment freedoms on social media, none more high profile than President Donald Trump blocking his critics on Twitter. A court ruled last year that Trump violated the Constitution whenever he blocked a critic to silence a viewpoint. Trump has asked the court to reconsider.
BAYTOWN, Texas (AP) — A 630-gallon (2,385-liter) oil spill in a bay on the eastern outskirts of Houston has been contained and is being cleaned from the water, the U.S. Coast Guard said Monday.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Paige Hause said the mile-long (1.6-kilometer-long) spill occurred Saturday at Baytown from a wellhead that was closed and abandoned in 1980s, but it is unclear who the current owner is.
“That’s still part of the investigation ... to determine who the responsible party is,” Hause said.
Hause said the spill is not considered large, but the health and environmental impact has not been determined, with surveys of the area now underway. Hause said an absorbent material has been spread along the shoreline of the bay and oil is being vacuumed from the water.
The efforts seek to keep oil out of the Houston Ship Channel, which was closed nearly a year ago after flammable chemicals from a petrochemical storage facility seeped into what is one of America’s busiest shipping lanes.
Environmental officials with Harris County, the state of Texas and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not immediately return phone calls for comment.
COMMERCE, Texas (AP) — Two women were killed and a child was wounded in a shooting Monday morning at a university dormitory in Texas, officials said.
A recommendation for students and employees to shelter in place was lifted early Monday afternoon at Texas A&M University-Commerce, and police said there appeared to be no other threats. Officials have not identified the suspected shooter.
University police Chief Bryan Vaughn said officers responding to a call at about 10:17 a.m. found two dead women in a room at Pride Rock residence hall on the campus in Commerce, about 65 miles (105 kilometers) northeast of Dallas. He said a boy about 2 years old was also in the room and was taken to a hospital, where he was in stable condition.
Vaughn did not take questions after a news conference and did not say if the women were students. The university canceled classes after the shooting and later said classes will not resume until Thursday.
BRYAN, Texas (AP) — A third worker has died of injuries from a Central Texas oil well blowout, the company said Monday.
Chesapeake Energy spokesman Gordon Pennoyer said in a statement the company is “deeply saddened” by the worker’s death. Pennoyer did not say when the worker died.
The worker was injured in Wednesday’s blowout at a Chesapeake Energy well site near Deanville, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Austin.
One worker died at the scene while another three were airlifted on Wednesday to hospitals in Austin and Houston. A second worker died on Thursday.
The condition of the other injured worker was not immediately known.
No identities have been released, but Pennoyer said the four were employed by contractors who were replacing drilling hardware on the well.
A blowout is an eruption of oil or gas from the wellhead that can erupt in flames if there is an ignition source, such as a spark.
The cause of the incident remains under investigation, Pennoyer said.
HOUSTON (AP) — An electrical spark likely ignited a gas leak that led to a massive explosion in Houston last week, killing two workers, injuring 20 others and damaging hundreds of buildings, law enforcement officials said Friday.
Highly flammable propylene gas started leaking in the piping connected to a tank inside a warehouse at Watson Grinding and Manufacturing within about 24 hours of the predawn blast, said Fred Milanowski, the local special agent in charge for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Sensors could have detected a leak, Milanowski said, but it’s unclear whether sensors were in place, operating correctly or able to notify the company of a problem.
There is no evidence to indicate arson, vandalism or other criminal wrongdoing behind the Jan. 24 explosion, Milanowski said.
Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said the ATF’s finding is preliminary, and that determining a final cause could take up to two months.
DALLAS (AP) — More than a dozen Dallas police officers have been disciplined for making offensive statements on social media, including posts that were bigoted or made light of police violence.
The police department announced Thursday that 13 officers whose posts violated department policy would receive punishments ranging from a written reprimand to unpaid suspension.
Two more cases are still being reviewed and one officer resigned, the department said in a statement and memo on the disciplinary measures. The officers can appeal their punishments.
“It is imperative that we operate with the highest level of ethics and integrity to ensure that the public is confident in the legitimacy of who we are as a law enforcement agency,” Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall said.
The officer’s posts were among thousands identified by researchers with the Plain View Project as potentially undermining public confidence in police departments around the country.
Dallas police launched an internal review after the watchdog released its findings in June. Internal affairs investigators reviewed hundreds of posts dating back to 2010, but found 60 of the 169 Dallas officer identified by the Plain View Project were no longer with the department, according to the police statement.
Some of the remaining officers were found to have not violated department policy and others were given cultural awareness training, police said.