In an interview for an upcoming documentary called "Where's Heaven," Kahan said he somehow learned details of Jon Buice's confidential prison discipline record two years ago. In the on-camera interview, he read to the producer, Alison Armstrong, a list of prison infractions. Kahan admitted he didn't know what they were for. Buice's attorney says they were for having an inappropriate relationship with a prison employee, hanging a clothesline in his cell after proper hours and having sunglasses in his cell without a commissary receipt.
Texas law says that information is supposed to be kept private. It's not supposed to be used to fight against parole, but Kahan somehow got it and used it to argue Jon Buice shouldn't be released from prison.
Kahan wouldn't talk to us about it, and his bosses at HPD refused to answer questions as well. Kahan did tell that documentary maker how he got it.
"A state representative managed to get us documents showing that Jon Buice had some disciplinary infractions," Kahan told producer Armstrong on camera.
He didn't tell the crew which lawmaker gave him the information. He claimed he didn't know it was confidential. The law is clear it is confidential and it was when Kahan gave the interview. Three months later, Kahan repeated the same story to the same documentary crew in another on-camera interview: "As a state representative, you have a lot more power than myself or anyone else for that. And so they had to comply with her request and that's how we discovered that he did indeed have a disciplinary record."
When asked if HPD should be breaking the rules to keep a confessed killer in prison, Buice's attorney Bill Habern, said no, adding that is certainly partially what he thinks happened in this case. Habern reported it to the Travis County DA, and that's when Andy Kahan's story apparently started to shift.
In early August, the Texas Tribune reported Kahan initially said he had, "no earthly clue" about the information and said victim's mother, Nancy Rodriguez, got it. Nancy Rodriguez told Eyewitness News that as well.Journalism professor Michael Berryhill first broke the story of Kahan's alleged illegal access to Buice's disciplinary file here on Grits back on July. Then the Texas Tribune followed up in early August while Grits was on vacation. (There's much more detail on the specifics, btw, in Berryhill's original Grits piece than the other two stories.)
Kahan told Eyewitness News on the phone in August he got "notes" from a state representative, but denied getting any documents. Then as the Travis County DA was asking questions, documentary producer Alison Armstrong says Kahan called her saying he lied in those two interviews with her.
Armstrong told us Kahan told her, "I threw you a red herring." She says Kahan told her he was trying to counteract what he called the lies of the other side.
HPD and Andy Kahan refused all our efforts for comment.
The Travis County DA reportedly has closed its investigation without filing any charges. But the fact that their inquiry caused Kahan to allegedly admit lying to a documentary filmmaker at a minimum amounts to "bad optics," as the public relations folks say. OTOH, unlike illegally accessing inmate disciplinary documents, lying to the press is not a crime. (Hell, for some it's a hobby.) So perhaps the admission was worth it to keep the Travis County DA off his back. Now the question becomes: Will the episode cost him his job? Smart money likely says "no" - Kahan has powerful allies within Houston city government - but still, this is a pretty ugly turn of events.
MORE (9/18): Oberg updated the story last night to add that the Houston PD has launched an internal affairs investigation into Kahan over this episode. AND MORE: See additional background and commentary from the Houston Press.
UPDATE (Sept. 19): Who'd have thought? Apparently Kahan was accused of the same thing back in the 1990s. Can't find a record online of how that episode turned out.