Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Victim advocate Andy Kahan walks back claim of illegal access to Jon Buice disciplinary records

City of Houston victim advocate Andy Kahan allegedly either illegally accessed confidential inmate files or lied to the media to try to prevent convicted murderer Jon Buice from being paroled, Houston TV station KTRK's Ted Oberg reported (Sept. 17). Here's how Oberg summarized the events that led to the revelation:
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.

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.
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.)

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.


Anonymous said...

Why are prison inmate disciplinary files confidential to begin with? Shouldn't this be the kind of information the public should have access to--especially as it may relate to parole decisions?

Pam Richard said...

I don't understand why you are saying he had confidential information. Loss of good time credit and classification of infraction is not confidential!! Buice's own parole attorney is the one who gave the details of the infractions - not Kahan! In 2010 a parole board member told the Houston Press that Buice had a major disciplinary action. Why did these people say such if it is confidential information?
The Buice supporters have lots of experience in lying, spreading half truths and rumors, altering facts that were in evidence, even go as far as retelling the events and timeline as if they were there while Paul was being murdered! I feel Kahan and HPD are being professional by not responding to Buice's camp and Ted Oberg....the findings of the Travis County DA's office speak for them. I have followed this case for years and you all can SPIN Buice's story anyway you want - the majority is not going to buy it nor stand by quietly and let Buice be released! It has nothing to do with Kahan!! It is because he is a MURDERER who has not even served half of his sentence!! So sick of watching you all use Paul's death as a tool to poke Andy Kahan. Paul was his own person and this should not be his legacy! If anyone should be fired, it should be Professor Berryhill who used his students to further his personal interest in Buice's case. I certainly do not take his Grits piece as anywhere near the truth. If you all were true advocates, you would help the underdog who has been over-charged or is innocent. You all are only involved with Buice for the publicity and the game.

Anonymous said...

Pam, just because you don't understand the law doesn't mean it doesn't apply to Andy Kahan. If Oberg is right, he either lied or committed a crime, possibly both.

Lie down with dogs and get up with fleas. Crawl into bed with a demagogue and you run the risk your cause will be harmed. Kahan screwed the pooch. You're not helping your cause by defending him.

sunray's wench said...

Anon 5.53 ~ what would you do with the information if you could have it? Would you spend your days firing off letters to parole boards about people you don't know and have nothing to do with, just to try and keep them in prison because they had too much toilet paper or didn't request a lay-in from work when they were ill? Please don't think that "disciplinary record" equates to major law breaking, because usually it does not.

Pam ~ you do know that as a social group, murderers are the least likely to re-offend with the same crime when released, don't you?

It is the parole board's job to decide whether an individual is able to be paroled, not the public. If the law at the time of the offence this inmate committed says he is eligible to be considered for parole now, then it doesn't matter how much of his sentence he has served. Texas rarely makes laws retroactive.

Anonymous said...

Kahan wields way too much stroke.

Anonymous said...

Did you hear the one about - the Houston PD launching an internal affairs investigation into Kahan over this episode. (?)

DEWEY said...

" He claimed he didn't know it was confidential."
Please correct me if I am wrong, but didn't Mr. Kahan at one time work for the Board of Pardons and Paroles ?? He didn't know ?? Male bovine feces.

Stephanie said...

The "is he is or is he ain't" particulars of this situation aside, I think this story gighlights the over-arching issue that infects ALL stakeholders in the justice system - that the end somehow justifies the means. Add the debacle in New Orleans as a second example right now of this nearly universal sense of entitlement that we don't have to follow the rules once someone's been labeled a "bad guy." Utterly unsurprising that 72% of those surveyed think "prosecutorial misconduct is widespread."

Pam Richard said...

sunray's wench: re: murders do not reoffend - Tell that to my dead friend that was killed by a person who had committed murder 45 days prior to her death! If he had not been out on bond,, she would still be alive!

Anon: I understand the law. The loss of good time credit and the classification of an infraction is NOT confidential.

john said...

Who exactly decides the parole board? Who decides and appoints any committees? Are there any elections? What's the accountability? Do whistleblowers have any protection?

sunray's wench said...

Pam ~ I did not say that murderers do not reoffend, I said they are statistically the least likely to re-offend with the same crime.

Being out on bond is not the same as being paroled after a length of time in prison post-conviction. You are comparing apples with graham crackers.