HPD sergeant fired, 7 others disciplined in murder case probe

By James Pinkerton

(Chron.com) A Houston Police Department sergeant was fired Friday and seven others punished after an internal investigation of the homicide division determined nearly two dozen murder cases were ignored or investigative work was shoddy, Chief Charles McClelland said.

McClelland said that of the 24 cases – some stretching back to 2004 – nine were still active. In the others, charges were filed or arrests were made, he said, adding that in two of the cases, the suspects have died.

McClelland said some of the officers simply failed to submit information they developed into a central case file, but he was highly critical of the homicide supervisor he fired, Sgt. Ryan Chandler. Chandler was assigned to 21 of the cases where deficiencies were discovered.

“There were certainly some mistakes of the heart and mistakes of the mind,” McClelland said of the other seven. “But as it pertains to Sgt. Ryan Chandler, it is evident from the IAD investigation that he was lazy, he was a liar, he was not forthright with his supervisors and he misled his other co-workers.”

Chandler, who was with the division from January 2008 until last year, could not be reached for comment.

The chief said the investigation, which began last October, uncovered a long list of deficiencies in one of HPD’s approximately 10 detective squads in the homicide division. The shortcomings include:
1 Detectives who failed to conduct the required follow-up investigation in cases assigned them after they did preliminary work at the crime scene;

1 When the follow-up was conducted, it was deficient;

1 Of those who did additional field work, many failed to timely enter their field notes into the case files or never did.

“We did not discover any pervasive or systemic failures,” said McClelland, “The intentional actions of some, and a few, should not be construed on the other members of that division.”

McClelland also found inadequate operating procedures in the homicide division, as well as a lack of accountability by a number of homicide supervisors.

The department has ordered homicide supervisors to meet with their investigators weekly; increased restrictions to the file room; and quickened the time dormant cases are assigned to the cold case squad, the chief said.

The revelations of shoddy police work caused a sharp reaction from civil rights groups.

Amin Alehashem, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project office in Houston, said the findings raise doubts about the overall effectiveness of Houston police.

“This certainly undermines confidence in HPD’s ability to investigate (and) not just homicides, clearly one of the most egregious crimes,” the civil rights attorney said. “If homicides are slipping through the cracks, what else is?”

Mayor Annise Parker said the “severity” of the problems “cannot be minimized.”

“The victims and family members involved in these cases deserved better,” Parker said in a statement. “However, the actions of a few individuals should not devalue the work done by the rest of the homicide division.”

McClelland said the department has met with some of the families of the victims in the 24 cases. Some could not be found, he said, because addresses and phone numbers were out of date.

The 24 cases included 19 murders or capital murders, three justifiable homicides, one intentional shooting and a false kidnapping, McClelland said. Homicide investigators handle other major cases in addition to murder, including active kidnappings.

The other seven disciplined included two lieutenants, another sergeant and four officers. Two lieutenants, Rory Lakind, and John McGalin, supervised the detectives.

McClelland said he will discuss their assignments in the coming weeks.

One of the officers, Kevin Carr, a homicide investigator since April 1998, did not enter his field work in six cases assigned him, the chief said.

The Harris County District Attorney’s office will be reviewing the cases when they are given a list, said spokesman Jeff McShan.

The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office handled Chandler’s case because he is engaged to a Harris County prosecutor, McShan confirmed.

McClelland sought charges of tampering with a government document against Chandler. Montgomery County officials declined to prosecute on the charges, the chief said.

The police officers’ union said McClelland took the necessary steps to restore confidence in the homicide division.

“These were some problems that were found, fixed and corrected,” said president Ray Hunt. “Policies and procedure were put in place to make sure they don’t happen again.”

McClelland expressed confidence not only in the homicide division but his command staff that oversees that division.

“I want to assure the public that if I had a family member that was the unfortunate victim of a homicide, I would certainly want that case investigated by members of the HPD homicide division,” he said.

A former sergeant and current City Council member who removed homicide cases from his office when he left the department in 2009 would have been punished for his actions if he was still with the department, McClelland said.

Ed Gonzalez, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, removed six homicide cases, including two that were the original case files, McClelland confirmed. The internal affairs investigation discovered the files were missing and questioned Gonzalez. He said their removal was an oversight and that he has returned them.

Several sources said that after Gonzalez returned the murder case files to HPD in recent months, homicide officers were able to identify a suspect in one of the cases and filed murder charges against him.

Read more: http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/HPD-sergeant-fired-7-others-disciplined-in-5377253.php
Related: http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=news/local&id=9492050

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