Wednesday, November 20, 2013

'Bulletproof': One quarter of suspects shot by Houston PD unarmed, officers hardly ever disciplined

Following up on reporting this summer by Emily DePrang at The Texas Observer, the Houston Chronicle is in the middle of a three-part series on shootings by the Houston Police Department called "Bulletproof." So far they've published parts one and two, with part three coming on Sunday. Here's how part one opened:
Houston police fired their guns at civilians more than 100 times in the last five years, resulting in numerous injuries and deaths, but never in charges against the officers.

From 2008 to 2012, officers shot 121 people, 52 of them fatally.

Police say their lives or others were threatened in all those incidents, although more than a quarter of the civilians shot by the Houston Police Department during that time were unarmed. Of the unarmed people shot, 10 died. They include a mentally ill double amputee in a wheelchair and a Navy veteran diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Officers shot unarmed civilians who “reached” or “grabbed” for their waistlines — or held objects such as cellphones or a hairbrush that police mistook for weapons.

Harris County grand juries have cleared HPD officers of criminal wrongdoing in all shootings from 2008 to 2012 that they have reviewed so far, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found.

The last time an HPD officer was charged for a shooting was in March 2004, when Arthur Carbonneau was indicted in the death of 14-year-old Eli Escobar Jr. Carbonneau was convicted of negligent homicide in that case. Since then, Houston police officers have been cleared by Harris County grand juries 288 consecutive times for shootings.

The newspaper also found that most HPD officers receive less shooting range training annually than what national and international police agencies recommend. And when it comes to fulfilling that basic training requirement, the department appears lagging. Houston police officers currently on the force have been cited 405 times by their superiors for failing to undergo annual firearms qualifications, according to an HPD database of sustained internal affairs complaints.

Very few HPD patrol vehicles, meanwhile, have dashboard cameras, denying officers and the public a proven method of documenting whether or not the use of force is appropriate. Jeff Monk, manager of HPD’s open records unit, said he was not aware of any HPD shooting from 2008 to 2012 that was captured on a dashboard camera.


Anonymous said...

I know dash cameras are useful for both police and the public. But I would like to know how many of these shootings took place directly in front of the patrol car. I would say probably a very low percentage. That being said, dash cameras are not the save all the public thinks they are. I am an officer with one in my car. I have saved numerous videos when I feel a complaint coming. As far as firearms training goes, I have always felt we don't get enough. Chalk that up to the departments not wanting to purchase ammo. I also know the "I feared for my life" phrase is used often; but who is to say what causes fear in another person? It's like someone saying "I'm cold", when its only in the mid 70's. Personally I don't find that cold at all. It is the opinion of the person at the scene if they felt fear or not. Do we need to be shot at before we can protect ourselves? Most use of force situations are fluid and dynamic, not so cut and clear when read about days later.

Anonymous said...

I should point out that almost all of the shootings are reviewed by one grand jury which is empaneled with former police officers. The DA will sit on the cases until a favorable GJ is empaneled then submit a large number of cases. Sometimes all of the cases within a single year are presented to a single GJ. This "Grand Jury Shopping" began under the Lykos administration, and will likely continue with the new administration.

Anonymous said...

We're all familiar with the race card. But few realize there's another card that's played a lot more often in Harris county; The Badge Card.

The Badge Card is played anytime a law enforcement officer is implicated in a crime. You know, like these Spades that someone always seems to post when an officer is charged with DWI; "They're under a lot of stress" and "You would drink too if you had to do their jobs", and, my personal favorite, "Is this all the Houston Chronicle has to report on? How about cop spanks his kid"

Or when a cop is charged with a crime in which they benefited financially, it never fails that someone will post this Diamond "They should pay us more, then he wouldn't have had to do this".

Sometimes the Badge Card is played to intimidate, slander, and even threaten those who expect accountability from law enforcement, like the ever popular "You're a cop hater" and "Only a criminal would make a comment like that". And on a recent article about having an HPD review board, this little Ace was left by someone purporting to be an officer "Go ahead and create a more hostile environment for police officers that make arrests and make this city safe. Soon you find police officers that don't want to work and the criminals will take over the city.Those that make war against the police better be prepared to make friends with the criminals."

Then there are the most ominous Badge Cards of them all, the "I was in fear for my life" and "He was reaching for his waistband" cards. These Jokers are dropped in place of the throw-down guns that were once a part of the Official HPD Officers Duty Belt. Rarely played outside of Harris county, and always dealt from the bottom of the deck, these cards allow local cops to kill at will, and to trump prosecution by the DA's office.

As we've just seen, the Badge Card comes in different suits. Deciding which to play depends on whether the dealer wishes to minimize their own criminal conduct, justify it entirely, extort higher pay, or simply bully us into silence. So, next time you're stopped by a member of local law enforcement, ante up, cut the cards, and prepare to take your chances with a loaded deck.

rodsmith said...

I think it's pretty obvious it's RIGGED! sorry out of 288 cases NOT one was charged. Someone's got their finger on the damn scale. Based on how they have the system setup. It's got to be the police and the DA.

Time for a good old fashioned party! by the nearest tree or light post!

Unknown said...

I am an officer with one in my car. I have saved numerous videos when I feel a complaint coming. As far as firearms training goes, I have always felt we don't get enough. Art Lighting

JLR-1827 said...

If I was a cop, I would spend the money for my own range practice and write it off on my taxes.

Anonymous said...

From shootings over the past couple of years it seems that the rule is that if a cop sees a person with a weapon they shoot before the person can put down the weapon or surrender. They are covered. The guy was armed. All they have to say is "He aimed the gun at me" or "He raised the knife to charge me" It gives them an excuse to shoot someone and be a hero.

Anonymous said...


It's not about range time as much as it's about time working thru judgement scenarios. Hitting the target is not the same as deciding when to shoot the target.

Joe Friday said...

If an officer is convicted of DWI, by all means treat him like any other defendant. If he's convicted of stealing or other crimes, do likewise.

That said, the series of articles jumps around so much that it is clear the writers were pushed for time, their inherent lack of understanding shinging through repeatedly. It should make many of you happy that HPD is starting a trial program where officers will actually be wearing cameras, starting off with 100 or so, until all in patrol have them. Like others, the dash cameras proved the citizen wrong every single time they were used in a complaint made against myself or others around me (not a lot of cases but enough) so I'm all for expanding them.

When it comes to shootings, grand juries, and training issues, all I can say is that each could be a separate book or twelve in terms of how they work or how they fail to work. The number of discipline cases for officers not going to the range is tied as much to the broken ranges we use, you can plan a week ahead of time to qualify and then find out at the last minute that the range is down or being used for something else. Then you are stuck with no means of correcting the problem since you must qualify in your birth month, no sooner or later.

I'd be more interested in seeing how often those who shoot someone, or some animal, compared to those numbers because from what I've seen, the officers that go to the range all the time are much more likely to use their gun. They are also much more willing to place themselves in a situation to use it as well, all perfectly legal, but as most of you are likely aware, only a tint fraction of officers ever shoot at someone in their careers.

For grand juries, they are not generally comprised of officers, retired or active, or their families. They are largely comprised of older voters of all colors and races who vote for candidates with an "R" next to their name. Strike up a conversation with some and you'll see what I mean. I appreciate that they give all reasonable doubts to officers, no need for DA's to hand hold them or try to influence them as some of you indicate. They also tend to serve on HOA boards and do volunteer work in the community if that helps any of you understand their mindset better.

Lastly, regarding the so called "badge card" one brought up. These are indeed trying times and being fearful when you are so short staffed that backup is nowhere near you as you are forced to confront a group of hostile people, often very hostile at that, is not a crime. Citizens do not want to pay for as many officers as are needed to ride two in a car and despite that whooping 3% raise we received after years without anything but insurance increases and lower pension benefits, there is a continuing trend to want to go home safe at the end of the shift. I apologize profusely that you think the term "public servant" means "public slave" and we "knew what we were getting into" by taking the job, but the reality is that the more risks you want us to take, the more "fear" we're going to feel. Given just how dangerous much of Houston has become, you'll understand that as much as most of us hired on to help society, we are not interested in becoming martyrs just for that one time parade we get when killed in the line of duty. By all means hold us accountable for what we, as individuals, do but spare us the broad brush strokes some of you have become too acquainted with.