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Internal report on Precinct 4 evidence destruction

The more you look, the worse it appears.

Constable Mark Herman

Constable Mark Herman

One of the first hints of anything awry in the Precinct 4 property room came in an email from evidence manager Christopher T. Hess.

Harris County District Attorney “Investigator Kerry Gillie called today about the evidence for case 13-50054,” he wrote in the Feb. 29 email to his supervisor, Lt. Christian Nicholson. “I explained that the drugs had been recently destroyed. He then asked for a court order for destruction copy. I told him there was not one to my knowledge.”

[…]

Hess, a master peace officer who began his career with the constable’s office 25 years ago, according to state records, told investigators repeatedly that the destruction was supervised by a now-retired colleague, Cpl. Mike Lacher. Hess has claimed Lacher ordered him to destroy drugs, even if they pertained to open cases, according to the Precinct 4 internal affairs complaint that the Chronicle obtained under a public records request.

The 25-page document shows investigators believed Hess broke evidence tampering laws and Harris County policies on evidence handling and truthfulness. The documents show the constable’s property room was operated with little oversight and reveal that a string of errors led to wrongful evidence destruction.

The scope and duration of the scandal raise deeper questions about operational failures inside the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office, said Samuel Walker, professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“You get a picture of an incredibly poorly run operation,” said Walker, who studies police accountability and department management. “If the staffing is poor, if the facilities, the room itself, is overcrowded, it creates a potential problem that could jeopardize criminal cases. That’s a big deal.”

Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman, appointed in May after former constable Ron Hickman became sheriff, said Hess wrongfully destroyed evidence for as long as nine years and never sought court orders required to destroy guns or drugs as required under state law.

See here and here for the background. It really does boggle the mind that this could have been happening for nine years, maybe more. How is it that it hadn’t affected any cases before now? How is it no one noticed it? Why is it that Sheriff Hickman, who was the Constable in Precinct 4 for most of this, hasn’t explained himself? Lots of questions, not so many answers. The Press has more.

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2 Comments

  1. Paul Kubosh says:

    Is as if they had a God complex. They can do whatever they want. Who is going to stop them?

  2. Steve Houston says:

    PK, while we are now finding similar audits for other constable evidence rooms showing problems, you have to remember that precinct 4 has long enjoyed insulation from scrutiny due to the make up of the region. If you are the sitting Constable with the “R” next to your name, you just can’t lose no matter what scandals you get tied up in. And given the area is home to the largest contract program in the county (perhaps state), surpassing the entire HCSO program, voters equate their local “officer friendly” with how well the elected position is doing. Lacking any civil service, the deputies learn to avoid rocking the boat and figure out early on how posting campaign signs for the boss and otherwise ingratiating themselves keeps food on the table, the deputy in question having received excellent reviews for years while all this was going on.

    So I agree with Kuff on his questions and suggest at least one more; why are each of the constables wasting county resources by keeping their own evidence room? Better to farm it out to the HCSO where an independent set of eyes can keep them honest.

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