There may be something interesting going on in the grand jury room.
A Houston grand jury apparently investigating recent allegations about the Houston Police Department’s troubled mobile alcohol-testing vehicles may now be setting its sights on the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
An appellate court ruled on Thursday that the grand jury can continue to exclude prosecutors from listening to witnesses testify in secret proceedings in the ongoing investigation, despite protests from Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos.
Because grand jurors meet behind closed doors, their intentions are unclear, but court documents filed this week shed light on the investigation. Defense attorneys involved in the case also have their suspicions.
Chip Lewis, an attorney representing a former police crime lab supervisor who testified Thursday, said it is his understanding that she was called to talk about problems with the HPD’s breath alcohol testing vehicles – known as BAT vans – as well as issues with the DA’s office and the police department.
Lewis also said it was possible the grand jury is investigating the district attorney’s office.
“I wouldn’t call it a runaway grand jury,” he said, as much as I would call it a well-focused grand jury.”
I don’t have a particular opinion about this one way or another. It makes sense to me that if there were issues with the evidence, then those issues are most likely not limited to just the police, but beyond that I don’t know enough to comment. I’m noting this story mostly because of how unusual it is for the DA’s office to be investigated in this manner. It seems to me that in general, a lot of DA’s offices operate without a whole lot of oversight, and that this is how you get situations like that of Michael Morton, in which an innocent man was convicted of a crime in part because exculpatory evidence was never given to the defense attorneys. When you look at all the legal maneuvers the current DA in Williamson County and the District Court judge who was the DA at the time are pulling to avoid having to go on the record about what they did and why they did it, you can clearly see the incentives they have for playing to win rather than working for justice. It may well be that the voters will ultimately hold John Bradley and Ken Anderson accountable at the ballot box, but if that’s the only consequence for conspiring to deprive a man of 25 years of his freedom, well, that ain’t much of an incentive to play by the rules, if you ask me. I don’t know what the answer to this is, but I do know that we ought to be asking some questions about it.
UPDATE: See Murray Newman for more on the Harris County story.