Late last month the Harris County’s District Attorney’s office announced it was dismissing 90 misdemeanor and felony drug cases after a former deputy constable improperly destroyed evidence. Now the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office in northwest Harris County is under criminal investigation.
The district attorney’s office began investigating in February but didn’t know how widespread the destruction of evidence was.
In March, Constable Mark Herman contacted the district attorney after his internal affairs division investigated into one of the deputy’s actions and fired an officer for gross policy violations.
St. John Barned-Smith worked on the story for the Houston Chronicle. He says the previous constable told the deputy in question to clean out an overfilled property room – where evidence is stored. Normally, officers must get orders from the court allowing property rooms to be cleaned.
“The evidence manager didn’t do any of that and in January destroyed 8,000 pieces of evidence,” Barned-Smith says.
Barned-Smith says that so far 142 cases have been dismissed – up from 90. Many were minor drug-related criminal cases. But a total of nearly 1,100 pending criminal cases could have been involved and are still under review. Barned-Smith says 600 cases had already been either adjudicated or come to a sentence. In all, Barned-Smith says there could be almost 2,000 cases that could be affected by the evidence destruction in some way.
The district attorney will also review all disposed Precinct 4 cases going back to 2007, which could include more than 25,000 items of evidence.
“Because of a lot of this evidence was going to be presented in pending criminal trials, now the DA’s office would be in a position of having to go to trial without evidence,” Barned-Smith says. “There’s still a lot of ripple effects that are still playing out.”
Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.