Only five of 40 cases involving police shootings of unarmed individuals since 2010 have resulted in disciplinary action against officers after police chiefs found that they violated policy, a new Chronicle analysis shows. None of the officers were criminally charged, and none of the disciplinary actions were announced to the public. Because the department's internal affairs probes are cloaked in confidentiality, the analysis required cross-matching data from the city, HPD and the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
All five officers were disciplined for policy violations that occurred when they shot people while off-duty.
One failed to train with the weapon he used to shoot an innocent man. Another exhibited a lack of "sound judgment" by shooting a fleeing man in the back while working an unapproved security job out-of-uniform. A third had been repeatedly disciplined for working an unauthorized apartment security job when he confronted and killed a wrecker driver. The fourth was found to have been intoxicated at the time he shot two people, among other policy violations. Still, as in all other intentional shootings, these were determined to have been "justified."Even when disciplinary actions were taken, they seemed aimed more at providing cover for the shooter than punishing misconduct. Check out this example:
Officer Christopher Slater, who fired his weapon across a busy street and hit an unarmed 29-year-old, Gerard Barnett, in the back of the leg. Federal court records in a related civil rights lawsuit show the officer gave different versions of why he shot Barnett. The officer initially claimed Barnett had pointed a weapon at him. No gun was found, and Barnett's hands bore no sign of having fired a weapon. Still, the officer insisted someone else must have picked up the gun after Barnett fell.
After interviewing suspects and reviewing surveillance video, HPD's own investigators concluded Barnett was an innocent bystander. Video cameras and other witness statements indicate that Barnett had been filling up a car with gas at a Citgo station when shots rang out and he ran to get out of the line of fire, according to documents made public in a related federal court case.
Slater received a written reprimand in February 2010 - but only because he had "failed to qualify" with the gun he used by not practicing often enough at the department's firing range, his personnel file shows. In 2013, the city of Houston approved a rare $90,000 settlement for the man he shot.
Despite that settlement, the Houston Police Department has never updated its account of the April 2009 shooting that claims Barnett pointed a weapon at Slater, who was off-duty and out-of uniform at the time of the incident.
Barnett, reached by phone, said most of the settlement money went to pay a lawyer who finally agreed to take his case. Barnett has been able to work but has never been able to afford surgery. The officer's bullet remains embedded in his thigh.
Prosecutors in all but one of Texas' biggest counties have launched a spate of police officer prosecutions in the shootings of unarmed or mentally ill people over the past three years that parallels a similar rise in police prosecutions nationwide.
Harris County, which leads the state in police shootings by a wide margin, is the exception. Prosecutors have presented evidence in more than 200 officer-involved shootings to grand juries that happened here since 2012. One of every five individuals shot by police was unarmed. But in every case, the officer was not indicted, records show.