Crimes Unpunished

At the Houston Police Department, a lax discipline system keeps negligent cops on the streets.
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This story is the first in a two-part investigation into lack of accountability within the Houston Police Department. Read part two, “The Horror Every Day.” 

On the morning of June 2, 2011, a man broke into Indira Paz’s house in southeast Houston, bound her with zip ties and raped her in front of her 4-year-old daughter. Then he loaded her car with electronics, jewelry and cash, and drove away.

Paz never got to testify against her attacker because he was never caught. But nearly eight months later, she was asked to testify about the behavior of Houston police officer Alan Sweatt, who responded to the call that day.

Indira Paz
Michael Stravato
Indira Paz

Sweatt was the officer in charge, one of three officers at the Paz residence. When Sweatt arrived on the scene, another officer had already relayed a description of the vehicle and suspect to a dispatcher. Sweatt says he walked through the house looking for evidence and then interviewed Paz for several minutes as they sat together on a sofa.

Meanwhile, the third officer requested a team of investigators from Robbery Division. He was told no robbery investigators were immediately available and that someone should secure the scene until they could arrive. A few minutes later, one officer was called to help with a nearby car accident. Sweatt told the other officer to go along.

“Officer Sweatt again confirmed that he had the crime scene under control and released” both officers, according to the police department’s official account. “Officer Sweatt then left the scene.”

As soon as no other officers were present, Sweatt left Paz. He left her 4-year-old daughter-made-witness, left the cousin who’d found and untied Paz, left the dresser drawers her rapist had emptied, the window he broke, the plastic ties he used to restrain her, the clothes she wore before and after the attack, a sliver of wrapper from his condom, and a crumpled tissue he used to clean himself afterward. Sweatt did so believing that no other officer or investigative team was coming to collect evidence or to notice his absence.

Sweatt left the Paz residence and went to a convenience store. There, he wrote a report stating that no evidence existed at the crime scene.

Sweatt’s departure wouldn’t have been discovered if Sergeant Charles King, a robbery investigator, hadn’t become frustrated that he couldn’t get any officers at the Paz house to answer their phones. King went to the scene himself. He found the family alone, cleaning up their ransacked home and potentially destroying valuable evidence.

Appalled, King had a dispatcher page Sweatt immediately. “Officer Sweatt explained to Sgt. King that he had left the scene because he was under the impression that no investigators were coming and that he needed to complete his report by the end of the shift because no paid overtime was available,” according to a department report on the incident.

Sweatt was fired for negligence and disregard for a victim. But, like many disciplined officers, he appealed. At an arbitration hearing, Paz was brought in, questioned and sent out. She testified before the arbitrator that Sweatt was at the scene only briefly, didn’t seem to care about her or her family and spent most of his time talking and joking with a neighbor. She never heard his defense.

The Houston Police Officers’ Union represented Sweatt at his appeal. “Perhaps the Appellant should have removed all of the clothing and other items from the floor to search for possible evidence,” reads a summary of the union’s argument, “but his failure to do so does not amount to gross negligence.”

The union contended Paz hadn’t been mistreated but only thought she had. “Mrs. Paz simply was not a credible witness,” the union officials argued to the arbitrator. “Her testimony should be discounted, as it is clear that her perception of what occurred was inaccurate. On the other hand, the [officer’s] description of his interaction with Mrs. Paz was corroborated by Officer Carter, who observed much of it.”

One of the details the union used to prove Sweatt did his job appropriately was that Sweatt sat with Paz on the sofa and interviewed her “for some time.”

When I showed Paz a summary of Sweatt’s hearing, she flipped through it absently. “Is this it?” she said, pushing her glasses up her nose. Now 27, Paz has moved into an apartment with her husband and daughter and started nursing school. She said she’s put the attack behind her, and she seemed uninterested in reading the official details. But when she got to Sweatt’s testimony, she laughed.

“Interviewed me?” Paz said. “You’re joking. He walked in and said, ‘You okay?’ That was it. Like you would to a dog. ‘You okay? Let’s go.’ In the movies, they’re always like this …” She mimed scribbling in a notebook. “But if he had anything to write with, I don’t remember it.”

“So he didn’t sit and interview you for several minutes?” I asked. “On the sofa?”

Paz laughed again. “We didn’t have a sofa.”

She paused. “It made [the attack] worse, in a way. When something like that happens, it would be better to have nobody come than somebody who doesn’t care about you.”

Officer Sweatt was a senior officer in the department, a 21-year veteran who had been disciplined 21 times, including two suspensions for untruthfulness and one for writing an incomplete report, according to department records. Incomplete reports aren’t just bad paperwork. Missed or omitted evidence can lead to a failure to convict a guilty person or failure to exonerate an innocent one, which Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland pointed out when explaining why he fired Sweatt. A sustained charge of “untruthfulness,” let alone two, makes an officer useless as a trial witness, because any good defense lawyer will easily discredit the officer.

Sweatt’s poor discipline record is a main reason everyone in the department who reviewed his case voted to fire him. The city’s argument noted, “…even the Union representative [voted] for an indefinite suspension.”

Yet Sweatt got his job back. The arbitrator who heard Sweatt’s appeal decided that, minus a 90-day suspension, he should remain a Houston police officer, and receive back pay and benefits for the months he spent fired.

Paz put down the hearing documents after a few minutes. “It’s like I told my family,” she said. “Why did we even call the police?”

 

The Houston Police Department (HPD) is the largest law-enforcement agency in Texas and the fifth-largest police department in the nation, with 5,400 sworn officers. Some of them, like Alan Sweatt, have been allowed back on the job despite committing serious infractions and, in a few cases, violating the law.

A six-month Texas Observer investigation has found that HPD rarely disciplines its officers, and those who are sanctioned often end up with suspensions of just a few days before resuming their duties.

The Observer compiled HPD disciplinary records from 2007 to 2012. During that span, HPD received an average of 1,200 complaints per year, less than a third of which ended in any kind of discipline. More than half of those punishments were written reprimands, which have little effect on an officer’s record and no effect on his or her paycheck.

Only 7 percent of all complaints against Houston officers ended in serious discipline, meaning a three-day suspension or more, according to an Observer analysis. Officers who left crime scenes, failed to secure evidence, lied to superiors, falsified forms and, in one case, allegedly pocketed drugs continue to police the streets of Houston.

The department’s discipline process, having evolved over decades of negotiations between the city and police union, now functions like a modern version of the notorious “code of silence” by which police officers hide one another’s misdeeds. This new, institutional code of silence is built less like a black box and more like a maze. Legitimate complaints against misbehaving officers can dead-end at any one of a dozen junctures, dismissed because of tiny procedural technicalities or judgment calls in an officer’s favor. Even if a legitimate complaint makes it through the labyrinth of regulations governing Internal Affairs investigations, the resulting discipline is often overturned by an independent arbitrator with only one or two days’ familiarity with the case.

The lack of severe punishment isn’t because Houston citizens are filing scores of illegitimate complaints, according to the Observer’s analysis of department records. Of the 1,200 or so complaints HPD receives each year, only about 300 come from citizens. The other 900—fully three-quarters of all complaints—originate with police officers and their supervisors.

The department and police union claim this proves that the “code of silence” is a myth. But the same statistic raises a different question. If officers are willing to report one another’s misconduct, why isn’t the department willing to punish it?

In some of the most serious discipline cases, HPD tries to punish its officers but can’t.

The department and police union have an agreement called “Meet and Confer” that specifies every detail of officer management, from hiring quotas to benefits. It also dictates discipline procedures. Per “Meet and Confer,” all officers who receive suspensions of three days or more—including indefinite suspensions, the department’s parlance for firings—can appeal their case to an outside arbitrator who has the final say. That means the chief of police has the power to dispense punishment unilaterally, but not to make sure it’s enforced.

This fact came to public attention last year, when Chief McClelland tried unsuccessfully to fire several officers for their part in beating Chad Holley, an unarmed 15-year-old burglary suspect who fled before surrendering. The security camera at a nearby storage facility filmed 12 officers kicking, stomping and punching Holley as he lay on his stomach with his hands beside his head. Video of the arrest became public only because the owner of the storage facility was angry that the city wouldn’t pay to fix a gate officers broke while chasing Holley. He gave the video to an activist, who leaked it to a local news station. After the video aired, McClelland fired seven of the officers involved, but three got their jobs back through arbitration. In one case, the arbitrator didn’t hear any arguments but restored the officer’s job because the Internal Affairs investigation had missed a deadline. The officers who lost their appeals were later indicted by grand juries.

Video showing numerous HPD officers kicking and punching Chad Holley after he had apparently surrendered to police.

This supports a comment made by a veteran HPD officer who provided background for this story but requested anonymity. He noted that while many officers feel their jobs are in constant jeopardy from Internal Affairs, the reality is, “I’d pretty much have to commit a felony to get fired.”

Because only a quarter of sustained complaints end in serious discipline, you might expect that arbitrators, who hear only appeals of three-day suspensions or more, would find those suspensions justified most of the time. They don’t. In two-thirds of the cases they hear, arbitrators reduce an officer’s discipline or overturn it.

But statistics are only suggestive. The low rate of serious penalties could mean HPD fails to take misconduct seriously, or it could mean officers commit few major infractions, and the department punishes even minor violations, albeit with appropriately minor punishment. The high proportion of dismissed complaints could mean that legitimate misconduct is going unpunished or that officers are overzealous in reporting it.

The department itself offers no explanation. The HPD media relations office and Chief McClelland refused numerous requests for an interview, despite receiving a detailed summary of this story more than three weeks before the press deadline.

HPD keeps investigations of its officers largely hidden from the public. Materials related to any complaint that Internal Affairs dismisses aren’t subject to state open records laws. So no outside party can evaluate the 850 or so complaints a year that don’t end in discipline. With only numbers and final results, it’s hard to know what goes unpunished and why.

But there is a loophole. Public records of arbitration hearings like Officer Sweatt’s include a detailed narrative of the event, the arguments made by the city and union, and the arbitrator’s rationale for his or her decision. Through open records requests, the Observer obtained more than 80 such records from the last six years. They provide a deep look into the subjective side of HPD’s discipline system, revealing what the department, union and arbitrators consider serious or petty, offensive, criminal, or just a bad day at the office.

The records of these closed-door conversations show a discipline system with serious flaws. Discipline for any one violation can vary wildly. Offenses against citizens, like refusing to help a victim, are usually punished less severely than intradepartmental offenses like failing to get permission before working an extra job. Officers testifying in their own defense are given the benefit of the doubt to a sometimes-ludicrous degree, while citizen testimony is often disregarded by default, even when the citizen has no reason to lie and the officer does. Arbitrators sometimes even disbelieve the testimony of superior officers when it conflicts with an accused officer’s defense.

The result is an ineffective, inefficient discipline system that tolerates misbehavior, protects officers better than citizens and retains officers that no one should have to rely on in an hour of need.

 

Ray Hunt doesn’t see it that way. Hunt, the president and public face of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, believes that HPD officers are excessively investigated and that citizen complaints get more credence than they should.

Asked why departmental issues seem to receive stronger punishment than mistreatment of citizens, Hunt took a clipping off the bulletin board beside his desk. “Quanell X and I rarely agree on things…” he began. Quanell X is a longtime Houston activist who often rallies public support for victims of racism and who is vocally critical of HPD.

Hunt read from a local news story in which Quanell X justified having the people he spoke for sign a contract: “The activist also said, ‘It’s common for people to be less than truthful when claiming racial injustice,’” and the contract is to protect him legally. “‘At least 60 percent of the time, the people are not telling the truth,’ said Quanell X.”

“This is where a lot of our complaints [come from],” Hunt said. “A lot of our complaints are people who believe if they make a complaint, it makes their case stronger when they go to court. … That’s troublesome to us.”

Hunt feels the discipline process unfairly favors citizens because they are rarely charged with perjury for making false complaints. He also wishes Internal Affairs (IAD) were more judicious about which complaints it investigates.

“Complaints get accepted over there for things I would never accept IAD complaints for,” Hunt said. “Every single complaint gets investigated. Thoroughly investigated! I make a joke when I go over there. They have those stacks of boxes of paper coming in for six months’ [supply] and I go, ‘What’s that, IAD’s paper for the day?’ Because they will kill trees on someone who says, ‘He was rude to me at a traffic stop.’

“We have more IAD investigators than we have homicide investigators,” Hunt says. “What does that tell you?” This isn’t actually true—Internal Affairs currently has 30 investigators and homicide has at least 48. But it probably feels true to Hunt. Internal Affairs investigations can take up to six months, and any complaint more serious than an administrative error is reviewed by multiple officers at different ranks, sometimes including the chief himself. Allegations of criminal activity or excessive force get additional scrutiny.

Still, the most common finding of an Internal Affairs investigation is “not sustained,” meaning the available evidence is inconclusive.

Complaints can be resolved one of four ways: unfounded (event didn’t happen); exonerated (event happened, but was in line with policy); sustained (event happened and violated policy); or not sustained (IAD can’t tell what happened).

“Not sustained” indicates neither guilt nor innocence. It closes the case without resolution but precludes any further action. It results in no discipline and leaves no public trace because “not sustained” complaints and their investigations are shielded from external review the same as “unfounded” and “exonerated” ones are.

If Internal Affairs investigations were done by the book, few complaints would be “not sustained,” because the burden of proof in IAD cases is supposed to be “the preponderance of evidence.” That means whichever side has a stronger case should prevail, even if it’s only slightly stronger. It’s a much easier standard to meet than the one used in criminal courts, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If “preponderance of evidence” were really the standard used, “not sustained” cases would occur only when the evidence supporting each side was perfectly equal.

Hunt says most cases are like this. “You can’t come in here and say I called you a bitch,” Hunt explained. “You can’t say, ‘He called me a bitch on a traffic stop’ and the officer says, ‘I didn’t call her a bitch on a traffic stop.’ Whose word is being taken greater than the other? It ain’t the officer’s because it comes back as not sustained. It doesn’t come back as exonerated.”

Even so, complaints not sustained have the same net result as exonerated ones.

Arbitration records suggest most cases are not as simple as bitch versus not-bitch. Where there is a shred of doubt about an officer’s guilt, complaints are often “not sustained.”

 

Early on the morning of April 9, 2011, officers Amanda Lollar and Drew Johnson responded to a call at an apartment complex in northwest Houston. A pair of security guards had detained a man carrying what they said was marijuana.

It wasn’t much of a sting operation. Two men were dropped off by a car that reeked of weed. The apartment complex’s guards asked if they had any marijuana, and one of the suspects, Allen Fisher, handed over six small, clear baggies of what Fisher, his friend, and both guards said was marijuana: green, leafy and pungent. The guards handcuffed Fisher, put the baggies on a table in the guard shack, and called HPD.

When officers Lollar and Johnson showed up, they weren’t pleased. Johnson yelled at the guards that they had “fucked up [HPD’s] investigation” by illegally searching and detaining Fisher, according to HPD records. They found that Fisher had two outstanding traffic warrants in Humble, Texas, but released him and cleared the call as “information,” meaning there was nothing to report. Then they clocked out and went to a taqueria.

One of the guards later testified that Officer Johnson pocketed the baggies on his way out the door.

The security guards complained to HPD, which dispatched Sergeant Lewis to check it out. Lewis, according to HPD records, interviewed the guards, and tracked down Johnson and Lollar in the taqueria parking lot. He scolded Johnson for swearing at the guards. Then he asked, “Where’s the dope?”

“What dope?” Johnson said.

Lewis said the security guards claimed he had pocketed the weed. Johnson said the guards were lying.

“So you didn’t see any marijuana?” Lewis asked.

“No,” Johnson said.

Lewis turned to Lollar. “Was there any dope out there?”

She said, “No.”

Lewis said, “I want to believe you.”

The officers laughed. “Yeah, we’re gonna sell it,” they joked. “We’re out here every night taking marijuana from people.”

Johnson later explained, “I laughed at the absurdity of the accusation being brought against me, and the fact that a sergeant obviously believed the statements of security guards … over his own trained officers.”

Lollar and Johnson continued to maintain there were no baggies in the guard shed until two months later, when they wrote their administrative statements.

Administrative statements afre an officer’s sworn testimony about an event being investigated. Per “Meet and Confer,” officers can’t be interrogated or asked to write their administrative statements until they’ve been given a complete copy of Internal Affairs’ findings, and had 48 hours to review it and consult a lawyer.

After seeing the evidence against them, both officers changed their stories. They wrote in their administrative statements that there had been six baggies on the table, but that they contained “herbal incense or synthetic marijuana,” which was legal at the time. They said they left it with the security guards.

Chief McClelland didn’t buy it. He fired Johnson and Lollar for several offenses: swearing at the security guards, failing to write an incident report, releasing a suspect with outstanding warrants, insubordination and, worst, lying by failing to mention the baggies when originally asked, according to HPD records.

Lollar and Johnson appealed. Their arbitration hearings were held separately.

Johnson’s arbitrator decided that the “two jaded security guards” had vindictively fabricated the weed-pocketing incident to punish Johnson for “usurping [their] authority.”

She also blamed Sergeant Lewis for Johnson’s alleged untruthfulness.  “Sergeant Lewis asked confusing questions framed within a biased viewpoint,” the arbitrator wrote. “If Sergeant Lewis had made a discrete [sic] and professional inquiry into the matter instead of using accusatory questions in a caustic and clumsy encounter, then maybe this Arbitrator would have placed more credence in the charge of untruthfulness.”

Johnson’s arbitrator reduced his firing to a five-day suspension.

Lollar’s arbitrator agreed: “…there is no basis to trust the security guards [sic] judgment over that of the two police officers as to what the baggies contained.”

As for the untruthfulness charge, Lollar’s arbitrator described Lollar as “between Scylla and Charybdis” in the parking lot of the taqueria. Lollar should have mentioned the synthetic marijuana, the arbitrator ruled, but probably didn’t want to contradict her partner.

HPD had characterized this as lying by omission, but Lollar’s arbitrator said that doesn’t exist.

He wrote: “The most commonly accepted definition of a lie is that it is an assertion, the content of which the speaker knows to be or believes to be false, which is made with the intention of deceiving the hearer with respect to that content. Thus, within that definition, a lie or an ‘untruth’ could not exist by omission.”

Lollar wasn’t accused of using profanity or pocketing anything. She was fired only for denying that Johnson swore at the guards and for failing to mention the maybe-marijuana.

The final punishments were not only lenient but arbitrary. Johnson got his firing reduced to a five-day suspension. Lollar ended up with a 30-day suspension. Both resumed their duties.

 

The disparity between Lollar and Johnson’s final punishments isn’t a fluke.

Because the discipline process is so circuitous, officers can receive very different suspensions for the same offense. At an arbitration hearing that ended in 2007, the city and union both tried to use this in their favor. An officer appealed his nine-day suspension for working an extra job without a permit. He’d received a one-day suspension for the same offense just months earlier. At the hearing, the union argued that nine days was excessive because other officers had received written reprimands for the same offense. The city said nine days was appropriate because other officers had received nine-day suspensions for that offense without having committed it before. The suspension was upheld.

Officers can also get the same punishment for offenses of very different gravities.

Last year, officer Eddy Powell Jr. received a five-day suspension for lying about leaving the scene of a sexual assault to visit a traffic stop where his partner’s cousin was about to be arrested. Powell said he and his partner couldn’t locate the assault victim and forgot to tell the dispatcher they were leaving the scene.

HPD’s account reads, “The reportee on the sexual assault call stepped out and found that no officers were at the location.” She called HPD again to ask for help. “Some level of confusion ensued when the dispatcher informed the reportee that the officers were at the location when the reportee was insisting that there were no officers there.”

When the dispatcher located Powell, he lied and said a sergeant had given him permission to leave, according to HPD records. By the time Powell returned to the sexual assault scene, the victim had given up and gone to a police station to file a report.

Powell appealed his five-day suspension. Records from the hearing show that no one had a problem with Powell and his partner abandoning a sexual assault call to “stop by” a relative’s arrest. Even failing to tell a dispatcher he’d changed locations, the arbitrator wrote, “may have been inadvertent or not overtly intentional”—a fantastic euphemism for “deceptive.” The arbitrator upheld Powell’s five-day suspension, but not for leaving. Just for lying about having permission to leave.

Senior Police Officer Jeffrey Whitehead also received a five-day suspension, in 2007. His suspension was for telling a superior officer to quiet down because Whitehead couldn’t hear the television. Whitehead was originally suspended for 10 days, but an arbitrator reduced it to five.

Another officer who got a five-day suspension was Sergeant Anthony Jammer, in 2009. Jammer had heard that another officer, M. Gratz, admitted to having sex with a woman during the follow-up investigation of a robbery at her home. Jammer was also told that the woman claimed it was rape, according to HPD records.

Jammer called Gratz to his desk. Gratz swore the sex was consensual. But even consensual sex with a complainant while on duty is a serious offense. Rather than reporting the incident to Internal Affairs, Jammer doctored Gratz’ time card to make it look like the three hours in which the incident happened were personal time, not on-duty, according to HPD records.

Jammer appealed his five-day suspension. The union argued that since Jammer heard about the event from another officer, rather than a “complainant,” it wasn’t a complaint and thus Jammer wasn’t obligated to report it. In changing Gratz’ time card, the union said, Jammer was using his supervisory discretion.

The arbitrator reduced Jammer’s five-day suspension to one day. As for Gratz, who allegedly had sex with a crime victim while on duty, HPD records obtained by the Observer show no disciplinary action.

 

Individual infractions and their disparate punishments are troubling, but worse are officers like Alan Sweatt who accumulate a laundry list of sustained complaints, yet keep their jobs.

According to HPD records, officer John Woods racked up 14 sustained complaints in 15 years without getting fired. Woods received a four-day suspension for failing to notify a supervisor of another employee’s criminal act; a one-day suspension for taking pictures of his ex-wife’s car at her workplace; a 10-day suspension for failing to renew his car’s registration despite a direct order to do so; a three-day suspension for giving his attorney an unfinished report of a major traffic accident that he’d been in while on duty; a one-day suspension for accidentally firing a Taser at a suspect he was handcuffing; and a six-day suspension for allowing a confrontation between two citizens to escalate until one had to be arrested, then lying about it. His longest suspension (as of June 2009, the date of his arbitration records) was 15 days. Woods received that punishment for using HPD computers to research a wanted suspect, then trying to collect a Crime Stoppers reward by feeding the information to investigators while posing as a citizen and “confidential informant.”

Officer Joseph Brashier already had 13 sustained complaints, including untruthfulness, when he violated his estranged wife’s restraining order seven times in less than three months. In lieu of firing Brashier, the department gave him a 90-day suspension and a “Last Chance Agreement,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Yet when Chief McClelland later tried to fire Brashier for an apparent illegal towing scheme, an arbitrator reduced his punishment to a 10-day suspension.

Officer Jaime Vera also signed a Last Chance Agreement after a domestic-violence incident that earned him a 60-day suspension. Yet three months later, when Vera was disciplined for sexually harassing a female officer, he received a 15-day suspension instead of being fired, because the sexual harassment occurred before Vera signed the Last Chance Agreement. Vera was eventually fired, but only after bribing a mechanic to help his car pass inspection, getting reported, removing the sticker and bribing a second mechanic on the same day. In this case, his arbitrator wrote, “his poor judgment transcended the realm of ‘unsound’ into the realm of ‘what in the world was he thinking.’”

This is apparently the real burden of proof in HPD discipline cases.

 

Officers have nothing to lose by going to arbitration. Arbitrators can’t impose harsher discipline; they can only reduce, overturn, or uphold the original punishment. Per “Meet and Confer,” the city has to split the cost of arbitration—usually between $2,000 and $5,000—with the police union, no matter the outcome.

The union has a policy of appealing any eligible discipline case an officer wants, no matter how weak the officer’s position. That’s how the city of Houston spent $1,103 in 2007 defending its decision to give three days suspension to an officer who refused to change out of his bike uniform for a non-bike shift, then went home claiming to be sick. (His three days were reduced to a written reprimand.)

Individual arbitration results may seem, well, arbitrary, but their outcomes are consistent. Between 2007 and 2012, arbitrators upheld exactly one-third of all appealed HPD cases. They reduced officer punishment in half of all cases and overturned it completely in about one out of six.

The fact that arbitrators overturn or reduce Internal Affairs’ decisions two-thirds of the time suggests a problem with HPD’s discipline system, the arbitration system, or both. Fortunately, peer-reviewed research on this phenomenon already exists.

In 2002, the journal Police Quarterly published a study on a city where, during a five-year span, arbitrators reduced the total number of officer suspension days by almost half. The author, Mark Iris, noted that at this department, “Any decision to take disciplinary action against an officer is made only after an internal investigation has passed through a multistage review process. Disciplinary measures are deliberated and considered carefully.”

When so many cases are reduced or overturned, Iris wrote, “the message to all those with a stake in the disciplinary process—the accused officer, the complainant (whether it is a citizen or the officer’s supervisor), interested media observers, the Internal Affairs investigators, police chief and management, and so forth—is that their efforts may be for naught.”

The city in Iris’ study was Houston.

Emily DePrang is a staff writer at The Texas Observer where she covers criminal justice and public health. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic and Salon.com, and she’s a former nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. She’s holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2013, she was a National Health Journalism Fellow; in 2012 she won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in magazine journalism.

  • Michael Glass

    A powerful and terribly distressing story. Outstanding reporting, Emily and T.O.

  • pecador

    I lived in this part of Houston several years ago and once called the police when my car had been burglarized. The police who arrived were angry with me for reporting the burglary until I explained that a laptop belonging to my work had been stolen and I had to report the theft in order for them to be able to file for insurance. It left me wondering why we even had police if we weren’t supposed to report crimes.

  • TM

    These are but the tip of the iceberg. Several years ago (7-10) an officer was fired for an event — involving pirated graphic images of an arrestee from her cell phone and a related suggestions of future activity — figure it out. His termination was sustained and he now works for another local law enforcement agency. The other officer, who allegedly also participated, had his termination overturned and went on to work in vice — ironically and appropriately.

    As a criminal defense lawyer, I can tell you from personal experience that this system is broke. This kind of inconsistent result is the norm, not the exception. I have seen it for 30 years. It is nothing new, though this article shines a refreshing light on it. On a professional note, these kinds of officers are best for my clients as they usually muck most things up and make it easier to defend the cases they do bring. It REALLY helps the innocent and results in a windfall for the less than innocent.

    Few, citizens or police officers, should have their jobs and careers placed in jeopardy for simple mistakes or minor mistakes in judgment. No one ought to want that result whether it is a citizen or a police office. I only wish it was applied equally and across the board to citizens and police officers alike. On the other hand, those who are wilfully abusive of their position of trust deserve what they get and we are better for it.

    • john dadio

      How can I contact you TM?

  • Mike Wales

    More police officers are convicted of child sex crimes than all other professions combined. It’s law enforcement’s “dirty little secret”: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tribute-to-survivors-of-child-sexual-assault-by-law-enforcement-officers/180584842010594

  • SoberMoney

    It is time we wake up to the reality that the US is now a police state. The growing incompetence and corruption in our city police forces and their ultimate immunity from prosecution and dismissal is a clear sign of a police state nation.

    Even President Obama, who has sadly disappointed me with his Orwellian rationalizations for the Adminisration’s intolerable domestic spying policies, has become a totalitarianist.

    And now George Zimmerman, a racist weasel, gets away with, at minimum, manslaughter. Our gun culture and even our obsession with military heroes has gone way too far.

    It is time citizens act to rein in these abuses, either by voting, boycotts and buycotts, consumer choices, and plain civil disobedience.

    It is probably going to get worse before it gets better.

  • http://en.wordpress.com/tag/matthews-bark-attorney/ Matthews Bark Attorney

    Thanks for the post, this is truly undefined about the system crime unpunished,,,