From 2015 to 2019, about a quarter of Texas police officers fired for misconduct were still able to get jobs in law enforcement elsewhere. That’s according to a recent state review of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement or TCOLE. It backs up the findings from a years-long reporting effort by James Barragán for The Dallas Morning News.
Barragán’s investigation centered in part on an officer named Stephen Yohner. Yohner worked for the City of Navasota’s police department from 2007 to 2009.
“While there, he began a relationship, a sexual relationship, with a woman he met on a police call,” Barragán said.
Navasota investigated and decided to fire Yohner because of that situation and how it was handled but the police union said they would appeal that decision.
“So what happens then is that the City of Navasota, it’s not a big city, doesn’t have a big budget, they decide that instead of a drawn out legal process, they’re going to say, ‘OK, your guy can continue to be a police officer, just not here,” Barragán said.
Yohner did go on to work in law enforcement. A few years later, he was accused of sexual harassment by two women at the Hearne Police Department.
“But he still continues to have his license to operate as a police officer and continue working,” Barragán said.
Barragán says the system is failing at many different levels and it’s impossible to know exactly how frequently officers accused of bad actions are moving on to new law enforcement jobs.
“The police departments are failing to investigate the sexual misconduct allegations and other types of misconduct allegations, then the unions are getting involved when the police departments actually do a good job like in Navasota and do investigate these things. But the unions say, ‘no, no, no, you’re not going to do that to our guy. We’re going to keep them on the force.’” Barragán said.
Barragán says there has been some effort to give more teeth to the state licensing department — TCOLE. TCOLE would like the resources to pull licenses from bad police officers.
“That always fails because of the same issue that we see in this story, which is that the police unions are so, so strong in Texas and they always stop these efforts,” Barragán said.