A federal lawsuit in Harris County is prompting a lot of questions about the mission behind one of the oldest and most obscure law enforcement agencies in Texas: the constable’s office.
Constables in Texas are usually responsible for low-level civil tasks like issuing traffic citations, subpoenas or restraint orders. But over the years in Houston’s Harris County, where the constable workforce has ballooned to more than 1,000 officers, they have taken on a bigger role, says St. John Barned-Smith, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle.
“Almost all of them have environmental crime units. Some of them have child sex exploitation task forces which fight, you know, crimes on the web, or Precinct 5 in the northwest of Harris County has a narcotics unit,” Barned-Smith said. “This is a pretty dramatic shift.”
That shift includes investigations into major crimes such as prostitution, as detailed in a federal lawsuit filed a week ago by current and former female deputy constables. In it, they claim leadership at one of the Harris County precincts, created a culture of harassment of female deputies recruited to pose as prostitutes during “bachelor party” sting operations.
“The lawsuit alleges that these women were basically taekn advantage of here, that their superiors used this as an opportunity to exploit these women, you know, like telling them how to dress and then saying, oh, well, this is all undercover, but you have to let me kiss you and grope you or, you know, pretend like we are kind of engaging in shenanigans at these parties voluntarily,” Barned-Smith explained.
So far, there’s been little comment from Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen’s office.
“The day the lawsuit was announced, at the very end of the day, the briefing on counsel’s office put out a statement essentially saying that these matters have been investigated,” Barned-Smith said. “It hadn’t found any policy violations or violations of law, and that was all the questions they would be taking.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this story indicated the lawsuit also focused on the stated purpose of constable offices. That is not included in the lawsuit.