Wednesday, November 02, 2011

It's the coverup that gets you: BAT van edition

In politics, often it's not one's sins that trip you up but the coverup afterward. That appears to be what's happening in Houston as a grand jury investigates whether DA Pat Lykos retaliated against a whistleblower from the Houston PD crime lab. Now, two Harris County prosecutors face contempt charges for obtaining secret transcripts of grand jury proceedings from which they were barred on threat of arrest. See:
The whole episode drips with institutional arrogance. Houston PD ignored problems with mobile breathalyzer units until 2 crime lab supervisors quit because they wouldn't sign off on faulty breathalyzer results from Blood Alcohol Testing (BAT) vans. When defense attorneys subpoenaed evidence on the matter, Houston PD defied a court order to hand over documentation. The DA's office insisted that all is well, move along, nothing to see here, but then appeared to retaliate against one of the supervisors, prompting a grand jury investigation. As the grand jury looked into the conflict, they turned their sights on the DA's office and decided to conduct their investigation independently, threatening to have prosecutors arrested if they tried to enter the room. The DA appealed and lost, then appealed again, and lost: They couldn't hear the grand jury testimony. So now it appears the ADAs went directly to the court reporters to secure secret transcripts, thumbing their noses at the grand jury and the judge who empaneled it.

How much simpler would all this have been if, when Houston PD first discovered problems with the BAT vans back in 2010, they'd informed prosecutors and addressed the technical and training problems instead of blaming the messengers? What if, when the DA's office discovered HPD had concealed BAT van errors, they stepped up and took the hit on Brady violations (withholding exculpatory evidence) instead of blowing smoke and attempting to discredit the whistleblowers? And what if, once prosecutors were ordered out of the grand jury room, they'd just abided by the order and waited to see how things turned out?

Odds are, if the HPD crime lab had its house in order a year ago, this would all have been fixed behind the scenes and never been made public. If the DA had owned up to the problem after defense attorneys found out about it, this would have been a one-day story instead of an ongoing drama. And now that the DA's office appears to be defying/circumventing the grand jury, perhaps even illegally violating its secrecy provisions, they've opened up a can of worms that may end up taking DA Pat Lykos down.

MORE: Mark Bennett sees political machinations behind the "runaway" grand jury, with the investigation possibly serving as a stalking horse for Lykos' political foes. He suggests there's at minimum an "appearance of impropriety" from appointing a special prosecutor who was a major contributor to Lykos' 2008 primary opponent, Kelly Siegler, and who is known to have "bad blood" with the DA. That all may be true, but it's also true that if the situation had been handled more forthrightly earlier on, there would be nothing to investigate now. AND MORE: See a followup post from Bennett. Murray Newman predicts delay tactics.


Anonymous said...

To be fair, there may be a bit more to this story.

Interesting reading:

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, I hadn't seen that. Added a link in an update.

rodsmith said...

this part was interesting!

"So now it appears the ADAs went directly to the court reporters to secure secret transcripts, thumbing their noses at the grand jury and the judge who empaneled it."

So where's the news story about their arrest. Last time i looked grand jury deliberations are legally secret. So they comitted a CRIME!

Jack B. said...

Sorry for posting off-topic, but Grits, I thought this Corpus Christi Caller-Times story coming out of Aransas County might interest you:

DA investigating video claim of Aransas County court judge beating daughter

Warning: The video is incredibly disturbing. It's over seven minutes long and I had to stop watching at 1:45.

Charlie O said...

Oh, c'mon Grits. Cops and prosecutors do the right thing? What planet you living on these days? Better yet, what are you smoking? I'll take some.

Anonymous said...

Question--what is a stalking horse? Second question--is a court reporter a news reporter who does courtroom items, or is it a court employee?
Comments--How did the DAs convince the reporter to give them a transcript, and doesn't the reporter get in trouble for doing so?


Doc Ellis 124 said...


more at

Let a 1000 'Rouge' Grand Juries Bloom!
Will Grigg

Doc Ellis 124