I thought of titling this story Heroes and Crooks, but the word “hero” is used too often and misses the real story of a guy like Houston police officer James Irby. He was a husband, a father, and a proud grandson, who wore his retired police officer grandfather’s badge number 189 with pride. According to his widow, he was also "...kind, he was generous -- generous to a fault. He was the kind of man that if your car broke down in the middle of the night in Galveston and he had to drive from Conroe to Galveston, he would do it. He cared a lot about what he did," James Irby would be a proud parent also, if he were still with us. His son carries on the tradition by serving as a police officer.
Officer Irby was murdered by Carl Wayne Buntion in June of 1990. It was a brutal murder that occurred after the officer stopped a car in which Buntion was a passenger. The long-time criminal stepped from the car and shot the officer without warning. Buntion still sits on death row after two trials, each resulting in a sentence of death.But what of the other cops referred to in the title? Johnny Thornton and Dale Dugger were also Houston officers. In April of 1971, they too were shot, while executing a search warrant with a multitude of other officers. Officer Thornton was struck in the arm and Dugger in a main artery, nearly causing his death. A citizen paramedic saved his life and he still carries the scar of that encounter.
Kenneth Buntion shot Thornton and Dugger. He was the twin brother of officer Irby’s murderer. But Kenneth’s justice was much swifter. Dugger’s partner, Doug Steffenhaeur, with the help of the wounded Thornton, meted out swift and sure justice on the scene. The sorry life of Kenneth Buntion was over in a hail of gunfire.According to one report, every sibling of the Buntion twins had criminal records. Carl was reported (article in the Houston Police Officers Union newsletter) to have been paroled a total of nine times prior to the shooting of officer Irby. His offenses were mostly that of a petty criminal and included theft, burglary, drug possession, and one case not so petty, a sexual assault. He was obviously a failure, even in a life of crime, as evidenced by his many trips to prison.
At the time of his twin’s well-deserved death, Carl was a resident of the Texas Prison System and threatened to kill the officers who brought Kenneth to justice. Carl and younger brother Bobby, who was also an inmate of the prison system, were allowed to attend the funeral of Kenneth.The Buntion brothers’ lives might be compared to pornography. There was and is no social redeeming quality to their existence. But it’s easy to vent frustration and anger at these two miscreants and miss a larger question.
What kind of criminal justice system allows the ninth “second chance” for a man like Carl Buntion? Why was he paroled just weeks before murdering Officer James Irby? Is Texas really tough on crime or do we just pay lip service to long prison sentences with revolving door realities?