Though the task forces are gone now, the same problem cropped up in two recent cases in Southeast Texas where officials alleged police personnel stole cash or drugs. According to the Houston Chronicle ("2 area police departments hit by turmoil," May 30):
Officials in Galveston and Brazoria County deserve extra credit in my book for their decision to drop low-level drug case that relied missing evidence or tainted officer testimony, particularly with so many exonerations peppering recent headlines. Why risk convicting an innocent person?
Criminal cases are being dismissed, a police detective has resigned and a former clerk has been indicted as police departments in two Houston-area communities deal with the disappearance of evidence, including drugs.
In the Brazoria County town of West Columbia, a detective quit the force after he couldn't comply with the chief's request that he produce cocaine that was held in evidence.
In Galveston, a grand jury has indicted a former clerk on a charge of stealing evidence from the Galveston police property room, causing the dismissal of 18 criminal cases.
The Galveston County grand jury Wednesday indicted former property room clerk Heidi Aline Domino, 27, of Texas City, on a charge of theft by a public servant, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. If convicted, she would face a minimum sentence of two years in prison.
The investigation that led to Domino's indictment began after an undisclosed amount of cash was discovered missing from the property room in February.
The Sheriff's Office began an investigation, and Galveston County District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk asked the Texas Rangers to take it over.
The investigation uncovered missing cash, drugs and weapons held as evidence in the property room, leading to the dismissal of 18 criminal cases.
Seven of the dismissed cases were felonies, six for drug possession and one for sale of cocaine near a school. The remainder were misdemeanor drug and gambling violations.
The dismissal of the cases led Sistrunk to ask the Texas Rangers to conduct an audit of the property room in addition to the criminal investigation.
Officials also are dismissing seven to 10 drug cases investigated by a West Columbia police detective who resigned after being asked to produce some missing cocaine.
Joe McElroy, who had worked for the Brazoria County town's department since October, resigned May 20, chief Michael Palmer said Thursday.
Palmer said all the cases McElroy handled individually will be dismissed. "I don't want to erroneously put anybody in jail," the chief said.
If authorities in Tulia had reacted that way when they first found out undercover officer Tom Coleman was an alleged thief at his prior police job (a subject revealed when an arrest warrant popped up for him in the middle of the investigation), the state of Texas could have been avoided that expensive and embarrassing public lesson.