HOUSTON — Audits and ongoing reviews have found problems with how evidence is handled and stored at four of the eight constable’s offices that serve the Houston-area.
A review by the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/2cwnjR2 ) of the audits as well as interviews with officials found evidence cataloging and control problems have been uncovered in the Harris County constables’ offices in Precincts 3, 6 and 7.
The newspaper reported Sunday that in Precinct 3, 2,000 items were initially reported missing; guns, jewelry, electronics and cash were misplaced in Precinct 6; and Precinct 7’s evidence room has been described as “a shambles.”
This comes as the Harris County District Attorney’s Office investigates the destruction by an ex-deputy constable with the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office of thousands of pieces of evidence in Houston-area cases.
Harris County auditors in May 2015 uncovered evidence problems — not previously made public — in a review of the overstuffed property room inside the Precinct 6 Constable’s Office. Auditors reported finding 28 percent of the evidence missing along with $54,000 in cash in a review of a sample of 799 items, the audit shows.
Precinct 6 Constable Heliodoro Martinez told the newspaper he immediately contacted the Harris County DA’s Office after the audit. It took five months for a team of two Harris County sheriff’s deputies and two of Martinez’s own officers to locate the missing cash and other items. Martinez said he is still trying to impose order in an evidence room that hadn’t been cleaned out or organized in 26 years.
In July, auditors reported they were unable to find 2,000 items from older cases in a review of the Precinct 3 constable’s evidence room. Officials say they later located at least 1,500 items, according to reports and interviews
Last week, the Harris County DA’s Office was notified that a county audit found there could be missing evidence with the Precinct 7 Constable’s Office. The DA’s office sent out notices to its prosecutors and to local defense attorneys informing them of the situation and advising them to make sure they can locate evidence if they have a case with Precinct 7.
But Precinct 7 Constable May Walker said Friday there is no missing evidence.
With Precinct 4, authorities allege ex-deputy constable Christopher Hess destroyed evidence while cleaning out a crammed property room. His attorney has insisted that Hess was only following orders when he cleaned out the room.
Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle said he sees these problems as an opportunity to re-evaluate the county constable’s evidence operations, improve the audit process and to consider creating an evidence room in the sheriff’s office that would be a “gold standard.”
“I think we need to review all of these property rooms,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s the common goal that you want to protect the victim of crimes and if you fail, you open the door to injustice.”
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com