Mayor Turner, Houston Public Library, and Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs Announce Search for Houston’s Next Poet Laureate

Jan 14, 2021
(Left to right) MOCA Director Debbie McNulty, HPL Director Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, Houston’s 2019 – 2021 Poet Laureate Leslie Contreras Schwartz, and Mayor  Sylvester Turner at the Poet Laureate Reception on May 20, 2019. 
HOUSTON – Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Director of Houston Public Library (HPL), Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, are pleased to announce the search for the City of Houston’s next poet laureate. 

The Poet Laureate Program celebrates Houston’s rich culture and diversity through the work of a Houston poet who serves as the City’s ambassador for the literary arts. The Houston poet laureate’s role is to stimulate poetic impulse, foster appreciation of poetry in all its forms, and serve Houston residents and visitors with expressions of culture through words.

“Right now, perhaps more than ever, Houston needs the power of community offered through written or spoken word poetry,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We look forward to finding and announcing our City’s fifth poet laureate, whose words will bring us together in spirit and inspire us to be resilient in the coming years.” 

The City’s next poet laureate will serve from April 2021 through April 2023 and receive an honorarium of $20,000 from the City of Houston’s City Initiative Grant Program. The program is coordinated by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) and HPL. The Poet Laureate Program is funded through the Hotel Occupancy Tax that is dedicated to the arts. 
Deborah “D.E.E.P.” Mouton, Houston’s 2017-2019 Poet Laureate
“The Houston Public Library is so pleased to partner with the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs again to welcome Houston’s next poet laureate. We have so many Houstonians who are passionate about poetry and community, and we encourage them to submit their poetic works to support our effort in celebrating Houston’s diversity and elevating this art form,” said Dr. Lawson. “It’s a great opportunity, especially during these challenging times, to have this citywide platform for poets to share not only their invaluable talent, but also their voice.” 

During a two-year appointment, the poet laureate makes several guest appearances at special events and completes a feature project. Houston’s most recent poet laureate, Leslie Contreras Schwartz, created Bayou City Broadsides, which are one-page artistic displays of lines from poems of everyday Houstonians. Houston’s 2017-2019 Poet Laureate Deborah “D.E.E.P.” Mouton created community performance poetry videos highlighting various Houston neighborhoods. Houston’s 2015-2017 Poet Laureate Dr. Robin Davidson developed an anthology book of Houston residents’ favorite poetry, and Gwen Zepeda, Houston’s 2013-2015 poet laureate, created the Houston Poet Laureate’s social media platforms. 
Dr. Robin Davidson, Houston’s 2015-2017 Poet Laureate, reading “To Speak of Rivers, after Langston Hughes” for Mayor Turner (Photo credit: Tony Davidson), Sept 10, 2016
The Houston Poet Laureate Selection Committee, a diverse group of poets, scholars, literary experts, and community representatives, will assist in the selection process. The group includes all poets laureate emeritus Gwen Zepeda, Dr. Robin Davidson, Deborah “D.E.E.P.” Mouton, and Leslie Contreras Schwartz; Radu Barbuceanu of Visit Houston; Dr. Ginger Ko of Sam Houston State University; Jennifer Julian of Texas Southern University; Roderick Robinson of Public Poetry; and Harrison Guy of the Fifth Ward Cultural District. Non-voting members include Monique Mogilka of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) and Carmen Abrego of the Houston Public Library (HPL). 

The selection committee will interview finalists in March, and Mayor Turner will select the winner. The City will announce Houston’s next poet laureate in Apil to celebrate National Poetry Month.

The deadline to apply is midnight on February 25, 2021. Submissions are welcome from poets, authors, writers, and spoken word artists. 
Gwen Zepeda, Houston’s 2013-2015 poet laureate, at the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Conference XV in February 2020. 
The guidelines and application portal for the Houston Poet Laureate and term requirements can be found at
For more information about the Houston Public Library, visit, Twitter @houstonlibrary, or call 832.393.1313. 

For more information about the City’s Cultural Programs, visit or follow the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs on Facebook or Instagram @HoustonMOCA.
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Suspect Arrested, Charged in Fatal Crash at 8000 Antoine Drive

Jan 14, 2021
Charges have been filed against a suspect arrested in a fatal crash that occurred at 8000 Antoine about 8:20 p.m. on Monday (January 11).

The suspect, Lohortenes Sanders (b/f, 28), is charged with criminally negligent homicide in the 232nd State District Court.  A booking photo of Sanders is attached to this news release.

The female victim, 52,  was pronounced deceased at the scene.  Her identity is pending verification by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.

HPD Vehicular Crimes Division Sergeant P. Lee and Officer C. Song reported:

According to a witness, Sanders had an argument with someone in a nearby apartment complex.  When the passenger exited Sanders’ blue-colored Mercury Grand Marquis, Sanders drove erratically through the complex and then drove eastbound on West Gulf Bank Road.  A witness reported Sanders ran the red light at the Antoine intersection and was struck by a gold-colored Chevrolet Malibu traveling northbound at the above address.  The driver of the Malibu died at the scene.  Sanders was transported to an area hospital with minor injuries.

Sanders, also known as Lohortense Howard, was subsequently arrested and charged in the crash.
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Governor Murphy Directs U.S. and New Jersey Flags to Fly at Half-Staff in Honor of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick

Jan 9, 2021


TRENTON – Governor Phil Murphy today ordered that the U.S. and New Jersey flags be flown at half-staff at all state buildings and facilities on Monday, January 11, 2021, in honor of United States Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, a former resident of South River, who died following injuries sustained while defending the Capitol during the violent insurrection on January 6th. 

In a statement, Governor Murphy said: 

“United States Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick embodied the selfless spirit of his native state. Officer Sicknick was a product of South River and a graduate of the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools. 

“Before joining the Capitol Police, he was Staff Sergeant Sicknick with the New Jersey Air National Guard. He was a Fire Team Member and Leader with the 108th Security Force Squadron, 108th Wing, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and his six years of service included overseas deployments in support of Operation Southern Watch and Operation Enduring Freedom. 

“Tammy and I send our deepest condolences to Officer Sicknick’s family and friends, as well as to his United States Capitol Police colleagues and the Guardsmen and Guardswomen he served alongside. We thank him for his service to our nation. 

“Officer Sicknick gave his life protecting the United States Capitol, and by extension, our very democracy, from violent insurrection. His needless murder at the hands of a mob bent on overthrowing the Constitution he had dedicated his life to upholding is shocking. It is my fervent hope that the rioters whose actions directly contributed to his death are quickly identified and brought to justice.” 

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Two Suspects Arrested, One Sought in Man’s Death at 3925 Arlington Square

Dec 23, 2020
Two Suspects Arrested, One Sought in Man’s Death at 3925 Arlington Square
Charges have been filed against two suspects arrested in the death of a man at 3925 Arlington Square about 10 p.m. on October 24.  

The suspects, Eugene Mayes (b/m, 19) and Empress McIntosh (b/f, 18), are charged with murder in the 262nd State District Court for their roles in the death of Ramon Ramirez Medel, 36. 

Booking photos of both suspects are attached to this news release.  

HPD Homicide Division Detectives C. Sharp and E. May reported:  

On October 24, HPD patrol officers responded to a robbery call at the apartment complex at the above address.  Mr. Medel and witnesses saw three suspects stealing Medel’s pickup truck parked near his apartment.  In an attempt to stop the suspects, Medel grabbed on to the side of his pickup truck as a suspect drove away at a high rate of speed.  Medel was thrown from the truck and struck the ground.  Houston Fire Department paramedics responded to the scene and transported Medel to HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake hospital where he never regained consciousness. Doctors pronounced him deceased on November 3 from injuries sustained in the robbery.  

Further investigation identified Mayes and McIntosh as suspects in this case.  McIntosh was taken into custody on December 3 without incident and charged for her role in the robbery.  Mayes was taken into custody on Monday (December 21) and charged for his role in the incident.  At this time, one unidentified suspect remains at large.  

Anyone with information in this case or on the identity of the wanted suspect is urged to contact the HPD Homicide Division at 713-308-3600 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.  
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Mayor Turner launches Vision Zero Action Plan to eliminate traffic deaths in Houston by 2030

Dec 17, 2020
HOUSTON – Mayor Sylvester Turner today launched the Vision Zero Action Plan (VZAP) to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030 and improve street safety and equity for road users of all ages, abilities and modes of transportation.
The mayor was joined by representatives from the City of Houston Planning Department, Public Works, Mayor’s Office of Disabilities and the Houston Police Department.

More than 200 people die and nearly 1,000 people are seriously injured in crashes on Houston roadways every year. That means someone in Houston dies in a crash every other day and three people experience life-altering injuries each day. These are our family members and friends whose lives are forever changed by traffic violence.

In August 2019, the City of Houston committed to Vision Zero, a global network of cities with goals to end traffic deaths and serious injuries. After extensive data analysis, community engagement and multiagency collaboration, the City of Houston created the Vision Zero Action Plan.

 “We mapped out traffic deaths and serious injuries happening on Houston streets, and what we saw was unacceptable,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.  “So, we came up with a vision, a plan, and set the goal at zero, because zero is the only acceptable number of deaths. When you see folks crossing dangerous streets to walk their kids to school, or dodging traffic to get to the bus stop, or cyclists sharing road space with unyielding drivers, we have to make a hard left turn away from the mindset that Houston streets exist solely for cars. We need to expand our outlook on mobility to recognize that streets belong to everyone who walks, bikes, drives, uses a wheelchair, and takes public transit.”

Led by the City’s Planning and Development Department, the VZAP establishes four goals to reach zero: 1) create a safe, equitable, and accessible network of streets, 2) make walking, rolling, and biking safe, 3) make connecting to transit safe, and 4) make driving safe. The City will achieve each of these goals through measurable actions focused on communication, safe road systems, safe speeds, and programming. The plan outlines how and where to make proactive investments, prioritizing resources and action in vulnerable communities that have been disproportionately impacted by traffic deaths and serious injuries.

The VZAP draws input from multiple City departments and partner agencies including Houston Public Works, Health Department, Police, Fire, Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities as well as our partners at Harris County, METRO, social justice and multimodal transportation advocates, the private sector, and more. The VZAP also builds on existing plans and policies, including Plan HoustonResilient HoustonClimate Action PlanComplete Streets and Transportation Plan, and the Walkable Places and Transit-Oriented Development ordinances.

“The work we do – planning for Houston’s future – improves the quality of life for residents, but the Vision Zero Action Plan does more. It saves lives,” said Planning and Development Department Director Margaret Wallace Brown, AICP. “The City has laid out this plan, and we have already begun work on implementation, but we all have a shared responsibility to improve traffic safety.  We will continue to collaborate with our partners to achieve our goal of zero deaths.”  

Based on five years of crash data, the VZAP focuses safety improvements on streets that have the highest density of traffic deaths and serious injuries, known as the High Injury Network, and in communities who are more vulnerable to both natural and man-made crises. Research shows that:Nearly 60% of traffic deaths and serious injuries occur on only 6% of our streets.Of those 6% of streets, 52% are in vulnerable communities who are, among other social and physical factors, mostly minority, experiencing poverty, lacking access to transportation, and living with older adults, young children or persons with a disability.One-third of traffic deaths involve a pedestrian even though less than 2% of residents walk to work. 
To open the dialogue about Vision Zero in the community, the city’s team of transportation planners hosted virtual open houses and socially-distanced outreach at transit centers, and launched an interactive community engagement platform over the course of the summer and fall 2020. Nearly 1,500 Houstonians used our interactive map to drop a pin on streets and intersections where they have a traffic safety concern. Residents commented on the action plan, took our safety survey and signed the pledge.

The plan identifies 50 actions with 13 priority actions that will be the first for implementation. The value and effectiveness of the remaining 37 actions are dependent upon the success of our top 13 actions. These actions will be continually informed by data from reports and community members. Among our 13 Vision Zero priority actions are redesigning 10 high injury traffic locations and implementing construction within the following fiscal year. We also plan to construct at least 50 miles of sidewalks a year and at least 25 miles of high-comfort bicycle facilities each year.

Read the full list of 13 priority actions. Read and download the full Vision Zero Action Plan. Follow our progress at  and subscribe for Vision Zero updates and future events.
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Sexual Assault Suspect Charged, More Victims Sought

Nov 19, 2020
Charges have been filed against a suspect arrested following a months-long child sexual assault investigation involving multiple victims.  

The suspect, Jose Luis Pena (H/m, 58), is charged with three counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14 in the 338th State District Court. 

A booking photo of Pena is attached to this news release.  

Investigators believe the assaults occurred from June 1999 through 2003 in multiple areas of Texas, mostly in northwest area of Houston. However, it has also been reported Pena committed sexual assaults in the 1970s and 1980s.  The incidents occurred at the following dates and locations:  700 Villerreal Drive in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1970s or 1980s900 South Adams, Dallas, Texas in 1981 or 1982Near 3900 Ridge Canyon Road in Baytown, Texas, date unknown9600 Hannon Drive from June 20, 1999 to January 9, 2003
The age of the victims ranged from 3 years to 14 years of age.  Investigators made contact with numerous individuals who identified Pena as the suspect who sexually assaulted them or someone they knew.  

In November 2019, investigators in the HPD Special Victims Division opened an investigation into allegations made by two adult female victims of being sexually assaulted when they were children. An initial investigation developed information on the whereabouts of the victims and investigators took statements regarding the allegations.  In August 2020, further investigation and subsequent interviews with the victims and other witness statements positively identified Pena as the suspect in the sexual assaults.  In October, aggravated sexual assault charges were filed.  Pena was subsequently located and arrested on November 6, 2020.   

Anyone with additional information in these cases or who may have been in contact with Jose Luis Pena is urged to contact the HPD Crimes Against Children Unit at 713-830-3265 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.  

                           Jose Luis Pena
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Houston Health Department encourages limiting holiday gatherings to household members during COVID-19 pandemic

Nov 19, 2020
HOUSTON – The Houston Health Department encourages everyone to limit in-person holiday gatherings to household members to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent another surge this winter. People who attend a holiday gathering with people who don’t live in their home need to consider avoiding non-household members for 14-days before and after the event.

“We should all be thankful for our health this holiday season and remember those affected by the virus. I encourage everyone to make a few more sacrifices to keep our families and friends safe from the spread of COVID-19,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “This virus thrives on gatherings and will take advantage of holiday festivities to sicken our loved ones and further spread in our community. Although the holidays will look and feel different this year, making smart choices could save the lives of the people you love.”

Video calls family offer the opportunity to interact with friends and family during holiday events without the risk associated with in-person gatherings.

Participating in outdoor gatherings is safer than indoor events but attendees still need to practice social distancing and mask-wearing is needed for interactions with non-household members.

“While there isn’t a way to completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19, we can significantly reduce it,” said Dr. David Persse, chief medical officer for the City of Houston. “If you must gather, you and your group must plan ahead and commit to restricting contact with anyone outside your household for 14 days before and after the gathering.”

Shoppers should avoid crowded stores, including during busy Black Friday sales. Instead, consider online shopping, curbside pick-up, and home delivery. People can also plan shopping during less crowded times of day, and should wear a mask, social distance and bring hand sanitizer.

People who may have COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, new loss of taste or smell and diarrhea or were exposed to someone who tested positive must not spend any time with other people or leave their homes unless they need medical care.

The health department urges Houstonians to continue to mask up, social distance, wash hands and get tested to prevent the spread of COVID-19. People can visit or call 832-393-4220 to find a nearby free testing site.
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Suspects Arrested, Charged in Child’s Death at 10630 Beechnut Street

Oct 8, 2020
Charges have been filed against a man and woman arrested in the death of a child reported missing at 10630 Beechnut Street about 9:30 a.m. on August 22.

The suspects, Sahara Ervin (b/f, 20) and Travion Thompson (b/m, 21) are both charged with injury to a child with serious bodily injury and tampering with evidence (human corpse) in the 209th State District Court.  Both are accused in the death of two-year old Maliyah Rosalie Bass.  

Photos of both suspects are attached to this news release.

HPD Homicide Division A. Henderson and E. Rossow reported:

HPD patrol officers responded to a report of a missing child (Maliyah Bass) at an apartment complex at the above address.  Witnesses stated the child had been left unattended while playing on the playground area near her apartment.  Ervin, Maliyah’s mother, stated when she returned after five minutes, Maliyah was no longer there.  Officers searched the area, but the child was not located.  

Officers with the HPD Missing Persons Division responded to the scene, as well as Texas EquuSearch, and an AMBER Alert was issued for Maliyah.  

On August 23, at about 10:30 a.m., a female jogger discovered a child’s body in a southeast Houston bayou near 5200 Carrolton.  HPD patrol officers responded to the scene, as well as Houston Fire Department personnel and the child’s body was recovered from the bayou.  The child was pronounced deceased at the scene and was subsequently identified as the missing juvenile, Maliyah Bass.

On Monday (Oct. 5), suspects Ervin and Thompson (Ervin’s boyfriend) were questioned by HPD Homicide Division investigators after evidence of their involvement in the disappearance of Maliyah was discovered.  On Tuesday (Oct. 6), Ervin and Thompson were subsequently charged for their roles in Maliyah’s disappearance and death.  
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Mayor’s Task Force on Policing Reforms Releases Recommendations

Oct 1, 2020

 Mayor’s Task Force on Policing Reform Releases Recommendations
HOUSTON – The Mayor’s Task Force on Policing Reform today released a highly anticipated 153-page report with a list of recommendations proposed by the 45 member citizen group.Led by Chairman Larry Payne, the task force spent months listening to Houstonians and organizations about the type and kind of police department they desire and demand. The task force engaged in extensive research on issues and best practices around the country and received more than 7,000 responses from a community survey. 

“In the events of recent months, it is clear in Houston and across the nation that our community, mayor, city council, police chief, officers, and the union must all work together to protect and serve the constitutional rights of all citizens,” Chairman Payne wrote in the report’s introduction. The recommendations are divided into six categories: Community Policing, Independent Oversight, Power dynamics, Crisis Intervention, Field Readiness, and Clear Expectations.”We have worked hard on this being a document that is not going to sit on a shelf. It has actionable items that can be implemented,” Payne said. “We are also going to stay committed to the mayor. As a task force, we are not going away.”The 104 recommendations are available online. (Click the image below.)Mayor Turner said he plans to take time to thoroughly review the report before making decisions about implementing any or all of the task force’s recommendations.

“I know people in our community recognize the importance of our police officers, want good policing, accountability, and transparency within the Houston Police Department,” said Mayor Turner. “This is a transformational moment for our city as we seek to improve how policing is done in our community in a time when people are calling for reform and demanding we address racial and social injustices.
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Mayor’s Office of Adult Literacy Celebrates One Year Anniversary with a Book Distribution

Oct 1, 2020

HOUSTON – In recognition of National Literacy Month, the Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy (MOAL) celebrated one year by hosting a “Drive-Up 4 Literacy” book distribution. Mayor Turner joined Houston Public Library (HPL) Director, Dr. Rhea Lawson, CITGO Petroleum Corporation’s Thomas Coleman, MOAL Director, Federico Salas-Isnardi, and HPL employees to distribute 35,000 books. The Molina Foundation donated a Book Buddies grant to make the distribution possible.

 Literacy providers from Community Family Centers, Eastside University, the Chinese Community Center, and The Alliance received books for their learners. MOAL held the distribution in partnership with The Molina Foundation as part of its Families Learning Together campaign. The campaign is a national initiative to encourage literacy and reading skills during the summer and back-to-school season during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I want to congratulate the MOAL on its anniversary of advocating for equitable and fair access to literacy skills,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “This pandemic demonstrates that we need literate adults and families to tackle a health crisis affecting our communities. A City’s health and economic strength are determined by the resilience of its families and neighborhoods.” 

 Access to these books will help create word-rich communities in Houston that are healthy and complete. The event also served as a wonderful example of collaboration and support. The Houston Public Library, Houston Public Library Foundation, The Houston Food Bank, and CITGO Petroleum Corporation also partnered with MOAL in this endeavor. 

As the nation’s only mayoral office for literacy advocacy, MOAL serves as an example of economic impact through service. The National Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) recognized this innovative approach and its influence over the last year. In recognition of Adult Education and Family Literacy Week (AEFL Week), the organization awarded Mayor Turner with the 2020 Adult Education Leadership Award.
The demand has been great as more than 10,740 books have already been reserved across 21 providers around Houston! HPL (or MOAL) will distribute books on a first-come, first-served basis until the donation is exhausted. Literacy providers interested in receiving books should contact MOAL at 832-393-0308.

About Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy (MOAL)
On September 17, 2019, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner officially launched the Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy (MOAL.) MOAL focuses on enhancing adult literacy advocacy and promoting awareness about the impact of illiteracy on our economy, communities, families, and individuals. With one in three Houstonians unable to read, MOAL also promotes awareness, advocates, and helps build capacity for Adult Literacy and Adult Education causes and providers in the City of Houston.  The launch of the office was made possible by a generous grant from the CITGO Petroleum Corporation. For more information about the Mayor’s Office for Adult Literacy, visit You can also connect with the MOAL team via Facebook.
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