COUNTDOWN: 12 days to Wrongful Conviction Day: (Thursday October 6, 2016;
PICK OF THE DAY: Pennsylvania Innocence Project: This year...the Pennsylvania Innocence Project is asking our friends and supporters to mark Wrongful Conviction Day by creating a Wall for Innocence: just a wall, or blackboard, or space on the ground where people can share their thoughts about what “Innocence Means …”.All the information on how to set up a Wall for Innocence can be found in our Complete Wrongful Conviction Day Toolkit. You’ll find handouts, instructions, information about compensation, and pledge cards for people to express their commitment to help #RightTheWrong in Pennsylvania. You can also act RIGHT NOW by heading to our Legislative Action Center to contact state legislators and ask them to pass compensation legislation now! During the day, we ask organizers to encourage people to take the time to ask their state legislators to enact compensation legislation to help those leaving prison regain something of what was taken from them. Handouts explaining how are included in the Toolkit.
STORY: "Precinct 4 evidence destruction report describes deeper problems," by reporter St. John Barned-Smith, published by The Houston Chronicle on September 22, 2106.
SUB-HEADING: "Drugs, cash, weapons found piled up during probe of Pct. 4 property room."
PHOTO CAPTION: "Constable Mark Herman blames the evidence destruction in his department on a veteran evidence manager."
GIST: One of the first hints of trouble in the Precinct 4 property room came in an email from evidence manager Christopher T. Hess. Harris County District Attorney "Investigator Kerry Gillie called today about the evidence for case 13-50054," he wrote on Feb. 29 to his supervisor, Lt. Christian Nicholson. "I explained that the drugs had been recently destroyed. He then asked for a court order for destruction copy. I told him there was not one to my knowledge." The drugs - and thousands of pieces of other evidence - had been improperly incinerated in a massive, weeks-long cleanup in January of the Precinct 4 Constables Office's evidence room, which at the time contained about 61,000 pieces of evidence. Seven months later, the District Attorney's Office and the Precinct 4 Constable's Office remain embroiled in the fallout, with District Attorney Devon Anderson dismissing more than 100 criminal cases. She has ordered prosecutors to review pending and disposed of Precinct 4 criminal cases dating back to 2007 as her office conducts a criminal investigation into the destruction. Officials with the prosecutor's office now say they believe the total number of pending cases in which evidence was destroyed was limited to 101 cases. Prosecutors have begun checking to see if evidence has been destroyed in completed cases where inmates are jailed or received deferred adjudication probations or other sentences, a spokesman said Thursdaydrugs, cash, weapons found piled up during probe of Pct. 4 property room. . Meanwhile, the district attorney's office also said that it had received word from the Harris County auditor about the possibility of missing evidence from the Precinct 7 Constable's Office. Hess, a master peace officer who began his career with the constable's office 25 years ago, according to state records, told investigators repeatedly that the destruction was supervised by a now-retired colleague, Cpl. Mike Lacher. Hess has claimed Lacher ordered him to destroy drugs, even if they pertained to open cases, according to the Precinct 4 internal affairs complaint that the Chronicle obtained under a public records request. The 25-page document shows investigators believed Hess broke evidence tampering laws and Harris County policies on evidence handling and truthfulness. The documents show the constable's property room was operated with little oversight and reveal that a string of errors led to wrongful evidence destruction. The scope and duration of the scandal raise deeper questions about operational failures inside the Precinct 4 Constable's Office, said Samuel Walker, professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. "You get a picture of an incredibly poorly run operation," said Walker, who studies police accountability and department management. "If the staffing is poor, if the facilities, the room itself, is overcrowded, it creates a potential problem that could jeopardize criminal cases. That's a big deal." Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman, appointed in May 2015 after former constable Ron Hickman became sheriff, said Hess wrongfully destroyed evidence for as long as nine years and never sought court orders required to destroy guns or drugs as required under state law. Herman fired Hess in April and said his investigators found Hess improperly destroyed 7,761 pieces of evidence, 861 of which were tied to 470 open cases. More than meth, marijuana and other drugs went into the incinerator in the ongoing Precinct 4 evidence destruction scandal. Syringes, scales, bongs, a coffee grinder, a woman’s purse and a whole host of evidence were tossed too, according to a list obtained by the Chronicle through a Texas Public Information Act request. Hickman, Herman's predecessor who served from 2001 to 2015, said he does not believe any cases handled during his tenure have been compromised. "We did have audits, so if there were any inappropriate destructions, where are all the cases that would be dismissed as a result of that?" Hickman said. "And where are the criminal cases that were disposed of because we didn't have the evidence? I haven't seen anything." The constable's office previously had destroyed other evidence in 2007, 2010 and 2012 without destruction orders, according to the complaint. Burt Springer, Hess' attorney, said his client had requested assistance running Precinct 4's property room but had been ignored. Springer said Precinct 4 lacked transparency. Command staff issued verbal orders and then scapegoated subordinates when things went awry, he said. "Herman verbally, in front of two other commanding officers … told [Hess] in front of them to let Lacher be in charge (and) did he have a problem with that?" Springer said his client was asked. "Those were the exact words." In an interview Thursday night, Herman called Springer's assertions "totally ludicrous," and said Hess has been the only employee he has fired since taking over the department. "I cannot tell one corporal he's in charge of another corporal," he said Thursday, adding that Lacher had been asked to help because he had worked in the property room at the department's Humble office. "They're both of equal rank. What they were told was they will work together and work the process." "I've been saying, we've got a rogue employee who decided to do what he did, and he has devastated a lot of people," Herman said. "He really has." A performance evaluation from September 2015, which Springer gave the Chronicle, shows Hess received high praise from his superiors. "Though the Department has about doubled in size, Cpl. Hess has maintained the Property Division in a professional manner," his evaluator wrote. "He is very good at what he does and I am proud to have him in my chain of command." Hess first blamed Lacher, who he said was assigned to supervise the clean up, according to the complaint. Also assigned to the clean up were Cpls. Todd Black, Don Owens and Deputy Anthony Smith. The property area looked like a hoarder's home, according to Lacher's statement in the complaint, with a gun room "in total disarray" and various long guns piled on top of each other. In another area, boxes of drugs were stacked 8 feet high, making passage impossible. More than $100,000 in cash was found in a storage locker and deputies recovered dozens of stolen items that should have been returned to their owners, Lacher said.........Lacher said he and another investigator handled 350 boxes containing over 2,000 cases with evidence or recovered items, according to a written statement provided to internal investigators. "We processed 1,062 items that qualified for transfer to Harris County Purchasing, 462 items were documented for destruction, 18 recovered stolen Handguns, Shotguns and Rifles were released to owners, 44 recovered stolen or found items were released to owners and 340 items were marked as recovered stolen property with no owner contact," Lacher's account states. A company in La Porte incinerated more than 1,300 pounds of evidence hauled in three pickup trucks, the IAD report says. Hess has denied responsibility in the wrongful destruction of evidence, internal investigators wrote, adding that they believed he lied at least three times during the investigation. Hess also denied being untruthful when confronted with the findings by Precinct 4 staff. "The notion that Hess even tries to distance himself from responsibility of his primary function as the Property Room Manager is ludicrous. … His claim that he was simply following Cpl. Lacher's direction/order is nothing more than an attempt to deflect from his own inadequacies," the internal investigator wrote."
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/
Harold Levy. Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.