Tuesday, January 31, 2012

No indictments from Houston BAT van probe

A grand jury investigating misconduct at the Harris County District Attorney's Office declined to issue indictments, but put out a stinging public statement critical of the DA's Office's handling of the affair. Reports Brian Rogers at the Houston Chronicle:
A Harris County grand jury ended its session Tuesday, ending a months-long investigation into the district attorney's office and the Houston Police Department's DWI testing vehicles with a blistering report, but no indictments.

"There was no evidence of a crime," said grand jury foreman Trisha Pollard.

Pollard signed off on a one-page report blasting the DA's office for "unexpected resistance" and accusing the office of launching an investigation into the grand jurors, the special prosecutors and judges.

The grand jury also harshly criticized Rachel Palmer, a prosecutor who invoked her fifth amendment right to refuse to testify.

"The stain upon the HCDAO will remain regardless of any media statements issued or press conferences issued by anyone," according to the statement.
Certainly, the spectacle of a prosecutor taking the 5th Amendment to avoid testifying was an almost absurdist display, and Grits cannot recall another DA called to testify before a grand jury in the fashion that occurred here. I'm not sure what if anything has been resolved, or what conclusions to draw. I'll look forward to reading a copy of the grand jury's report.

MORE: Big Jolly, who sees this as vindication for Pat Lykos, has posted the grand jury statement and Lykos' official  response. Lykos portrays the grand jury proceedings as a witch hunt by her political enemies, and there is something to that assessment. But I also think the DA's Office and especially Houston PD bear responsibility in the matter. One of Lykos' prosecutors, Rachel Palmer, notoriously took the 5th (the right against self-incrimination) instead of testifying about activities performed on the job. That's a highly unusual development, and it's hard not to wonder if the outcome of the investigation might have been different if the ADA had testified. Lykos likely deflated the matter as a campaign issue, though, by testifying herself.

The DA's public statement declares, "Despite repeated public insinuations to the contrary, there was no criminal conduct in the operation of HPD BAT vans, nor was  there suppression of evidence." "No criminal conduct" I'll accept, but the truth is Houston PD knew about problems with BAT vans in fall 2010 when the issues were raised by their own analysts, two of whom later resigned rather than participate in flawed forensics. It was only after defense attorneys found those ex-analysts and brought one of them to court that anyone in officialdom publicly acknowledged potential problems with BAT vans' accuracy. So while this may be the end of the runaway grand jury story (and HPD BAT vans generally, which are being phased out later this year), your correspondent sees little vindication for anyone coming from this episode, just an enormous politicized mess that pretty much tarnished everyone remotely associated with the process.

AND MORE: From Mark Bennett, who thinks the DA's Office may have improperly used a secure database in violation of federal law.


Texpat said...


Despite the weeping, wailin' and knashing of the teeth in Harris County, I think you will find the report is rather pathetic. If this is all that grand jury has to offer, it seems to me they have wasted a lot people's time.

They have provided plenty of material for the bored local press though.

rodsmith said...

yep typical whitewash for govt employees VIOLATING the law!

Alex S. said...

I love how Lykos criticizes the Grand Jury for not letting her office know what was going on...
It sure sucks being investigated by a Grand Jury, doesn't it, Mrs. DA? Scares the heck out of you, doesn't it? Now you have a glimpse into how the citizen accused is treated, don't you? Et tu, Brute

Anonymous said...

Local rumor surrounding the courthouse was that if the GJ did indeed issue an indictment the US Justice department was poised to begin an investigation into how the GJ was empaneled. Then a judge and other well-known legal professionals would have been looking at federal indictments. This entire investigation was a sham from get-go.

Anonymous said...

Last I checked, taking the 5th wasn't an admission of guilt. Refusal to testify would be an entirely appropriate thing to do in a witch-hunt situation.

Anonymous said...

First, DA Lykos doesn't trust the evidence from HPD Bat Vans. (OK, so there is truth to the whistleblowers claims. Discontinue use of the scientifically unreliable BAT Vans.)

Then, she makes statements declaring the whistleblowers claims were without merit.
(OK, so utilizing the BAT Vans is time-saving and scientifically reliable.)

Yet, she discontinues use of the BAT Vans and spends nearly $500k on new intoxilyzers. (OK, so there is some truth to the whistleblowers claims...)

"...We have determined on a day-to-day basis that people don't take care of them like they should and it's what caused all these problems; even though it may not cause the ultimate test results to be incorrect, it obviously causes problems," said First Assistant DA Jim Leitner...

"Problems" because juries no longer believe that the BAT Vans are reliable (despite what the DPS or the DA's Office declare), making convictions much more difficult to come by.

Seems like there is a tremendous amount of flip-flopping here.

You can't have it both ways, Harris County.

And to the 5th Amendment champion, ADA Rachel Palmer, thanks for doing your job -- to seek the truth.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

3:34, IMO you naied it. I don't think the DA's office committed a crime, but they're definitely trying to have it both ways. However, I do NOT agree that DA's office is without fault, just that they likely committed no crimes.

Alex: Good point.

2:18, you could be right; that would explain a lot.

3:31: taking the fifth is not an admission of guilt, but it's surely highly unusual for a prosecutor. I can only think of one other instance where I've ever heard of that happening.