Friday, May 30, 2008

Galveston, Brazoria police react wisely by dismissing cases after evidence room thefts

After the Tulia drug stings I began watching Texas' network of drug task forces, which Gov. Perry ultimately abolished in 2006, and a recurring theme in corruption cases involved lax standards and procedures allowing thefts from evidence rooms.

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):

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.

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?

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.


Anonymous said...

I bet there are some guilty people who took a plea who are kicking themselves right now for not contesting the charges... they might have gotten away with it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

FWIW, in the Tulia case there were innocent people who took pleas because others based on the same evidence - one cop's uncorroborated word - received decades long sentences. They were basically really lucky evidence emerged later to overturn their cases.

Ditto for the Dallas sheetrock scandal, where Ds weren't so lucky. There Ds pled out in cases where the sole evidence was the same informant who set up innocent people with fake drugs. I've little doubt personally that at least some of those who pled were actually innocent, but then-DA Bill Hill wouldn't review the cases.

That's the argument for dismissing all the cases - some might be legit, but it's not worth the risk of coercing an innocent into a sentence.

ms_saul said...

Call me cynical, but do you really believe that the desire not to put away an innocent man is what's driving the dismissals? I would think instead that facing the potential embarrassment of rehashing the facts of the evidence loss at each and every case would cause any prosecutor to want to sweep them under the rug. Given recidivism rates, they probably figure that the criminal defendants are just escaping to be rearrested another day.

Anonymous said...

Some people have linked the CIA as the Biggest dealers of cocaine in the world with the cooperation of some parts of the mexican military and border patrols.

Two American-registered drug planes busted in Mexico carrying four and 5.5 tons of cocaine are just the "tip of the iceberg" in a blockbuster aviation deal which sold 50 American-registered aircraft to the Sinaloa Cartel, the MadCowMorningNews has learned. ____________________________________-- Michael Francis Brassington, whose name is a footnote in the 9/11 investigation, was named in a procurement scandal over the disputed purchase by the Guyana Defense Forces of two antique 30-year old helicopters from a 'dummy' company in Delaware that sounds suspiciously like a front for the CIA, the ironically-named "Global X Group". While researching pilot Brassington's involvement in the Guyana scandal, we were astonished to discover that Brassington's father (also named Michael Brassington) has close business ties with one of the most notorious oligarchs in the Russian Mob, Oleg Deripaska, the "last man standing" in the brutal Aluminum Wars in Russia during the 1990's for control of that strategic resource. This information is important to a full understanding of the 9/11 attack. Brassington's name surfaced in connection with 9/11 because he had been the co-pilot on the drug-running Lear jet (N351WB) owned by Wallace J. Hilliard. Hilliard also ”and not coincidentally ”owned the Venice FL flight school where Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi were at the time learning to fly. Both probably CIA double agents. ___________________________________________ The lavishly-furnished custom Boeing 727 airliner (727PX) which ferried Senator John McCain on four occasions during his Presidential run in 2000 was the same one which flew Saudi Royals out of the U.S. right after 9/11, carrying an entourage of Saudi Royals from Las Vegas to London six days after the 9/11 attack in a controversial operation later scrutinized by the 9/11 Commission. With hundreds of air charter companies and airliners to choose from, the Saudis chose a company that owns "Worship Ministries" and Christian Network, Inc., turning to Paxson Communications, a "Christian broadcaster" which owned the plane, to make its corporate jet available to spirit the Saudi princes and their entourage out of the U.S. six days after 9/11. The Saudi Royal party made good their escape from Las Vegas on an airliner sporting a Christian symbol of peace, a dove, on it's tail, an intriguing detail and compelling human interest story ”Muslims flying Air Jesus ”that has to date been reported nowhere but in the MadCowMorningNews.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

lawschoolinmate, I don't necessarily think they have the Ds best interests at heart - that would be naive, although I'm sure it's true to some extent. But I do think they fear the consequences of what would happen, the cost, the publicity, etc., if they wound up being the agency that sponsored the "next Tulia."

Generally I try to concern myself on Grits with outcomes more than motives. When the system wrongly convict people, I've had cops say I'm being unfair by taking that approach, though I disagree. But to be consistent, when they do good, even if it's for self-interested reasons, I don't find it too helpful to interrogate their motives before issuing praise. I can't know their hearts; I can just observe what they do.

Anonymous said...

If anything, this should point to the larger problem of the DrugWar inevitably corroding the integrity of the entire prohibition enforcement apparatus.

The 'assembly-line' demeanor of the justice system regarding illicit drugs causes enormous pressures on those involved in prosecuting drug 'offenses' (which were unheard of prior to 1914, before the inception of the laws) to 'cut corners' procedurally. This latest debacle is the result. None of this should be surprising...

Anonymous said...

As a new resident to the Brazoria Co. family, I am not aware of what has been happening up untill this time.
I am writing on behaf of my cousin who has lived and contributed to Brazoria county for 12 years. She was recently made homeless my IKE and is now living in Houston.
She has run into some legal difficulties and needs a good lawyer from her home county. Can someone out there help her????