Thursday, February 01, 2007

Most probes of shootings by Harris County deputies 'substandard'

According to a "world-reknowned forensic expert" testifying in federal court, the Harris County Sheriff's Office conducts "intentionally substandard investigations" when one of their deputies shoots someone. Yow!

Likely few would deny the deputy responsible for this particular shooting shouldn't be employed in law enforcement. He was later fired - not for this incident where he shot a handcuffed suspect, nor for another off-duty shooting eight days earlier, but for a case where he performed an in-uniform traffic stop to collect a $400 debt on behalf of his father-in-law.

But the civil trial has revealed a troubling pattern of lackadaisical investigations in officer-involved shootings that deserves more detailed scrutiny. Reports the Houston Chronicle: ("Harris deputy probes 'substandard,'" Jan. 30):

After reviewing how the Sheriff's Office investigated the [Hiji] Harrison shooting, [Robert D.] Keppel said that "something was amiss."

"I was concerned that the whole investigation was substandard," he said.

His findings prompted him to review 38 deputy-involved shootings in 2002, 2003 and 2004. He found similar "omissions and deficiencies" in 23 of those cases.

Keppel's testimony is key for the Harrison family's lawyers, who are trying to prove that the Sheriff's Office has a pattern of shoddy investigations that protect trigger-happy deputies and leave citizens vulnerable to serious injury or death at the hands of law enforcement officers.

Eight days before the Harrison shooting, Wilkinson shot an alleged shoplifter while working off-duty for Dillard's in Humble.

He was fired after stopping a motorist who owed Wilkinson's father-in-law $400 and collecting the debt.

Wilkinson, who began his testimony late Monday, said the man volunteered the money. Wilkinson didn't ticket the man, but let him go with a warning.

He is expected to tell jurors about the shooting today. But he previously has said he shot a handcuffed Harrison after the two struggled in the back of the cruiser and Harrison tried to grab the deputy's gun.

Keppel's conclusions contradict Wilkinson's version.

"There was no forensic evidence to support his story," Keppel said.

There was so much missing — items, tests and interviews — that Keppel said he believed he received an incomplete file.

He called photographs of the crime scene "highly substandard."

Keppel found no evidence in the records that a photographer took pictures of the back seat while standing on the passenger side of the vehicle.

He said none of the photos included rulers and that the absence of measurement "just shows neglect." No log of the photographs was taken. Close-ups of the blood splatters and Harrison's handcuffed wrist were lacking.

"There should be evidence in the back seat of that vehicle of a life-and-death struggle," Keppel said.

Whatever the outcome of the case, the Harris County Sheriff's Office should take Keppel's analysis as a wake up call. Twenty three substandard investigations out of 38 just won't do. The families of the dead deserve more respect than that, and taxpayers have a right to expect greater due diligence when someone is shot and killed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Houston has the rudess police force I have ever come across. We were in Houston, hopefully the very last time and were trying to find a street and pulled over to the curb to try to find it on the city map, which is horrible. A policeman came over and told us to move and I asked him if he would help us and his comment, "If you don't move, I will arrest you, now move." Never bothered to help us out at all.

This does not speak well of the police force and had I gotten his name, that would never have been reported either. The Sheriff has his own problems and I am watching closely to see what transpires with his family problems. I know Judges can just have the records of the wrongs of their family's hidden but can a sheriff have four different felonise hidden from the courts? Keep a close eye on what goes on, this will tell many about justice in Harris County, TX.