It appears the Houston Police Officers Union takes issue with the possible discipline some Houston police officers face over arresting a man after they thought he was drinking codeine while walking into Dillard’s. The union President Hans Marticiuc wrote this article on the union’s website. I’d like you to watch the report from FOX and tell me what you think here on The Insite!
There is a Class I Internal Affairs complaint that has been in the works for over a month that may be a defining moment for the legacy that Chief Harold Hurtt may leave for himself at the Houston Police Department.
I will attempt to provide a brief scenario since discipline has not yet been handed down, even though the investigation has been completed. The case involves two HPD officers working an extra job at a department store.
It is well known that the department store that has struggled for years with a national stigma of racial profiling and discrimination. We are hopeful that this fact plays no part in the discipline decision-making process.
The scenario goes as follows:
Officers working the extra job have their conversation interrupted by an African-American shopper. The individual catches their attention and they observe him throw a plastic Ozarka bottle in the trash.
This bottle contains a thick, red-colored liquid. The officers check out the trashed bottle and, based on the texture, color, and smell of the contents, believe it to be codeine. They have both investigated codeine cases in the past, as has a third officer from another agency, who is also working the extra job.
After individually examining the contents of the bottle, all three officers confer and agree that they believe the bottle contains codeine. When the officers approach the individual to speak to him about the contents of the bottle, the individual and his wife raise their voices toward the officers and create a disturbance inside the department store, claiming that the inquiry is racially motivated.
The officers later contact the District Attorney’s Office and run the story by an ADA, who accepts charges on what the officers believe to be codeine.
After the suspect is arrested, lab results determine that the bottle did not contain codeine. Unfortunately, an innocent man was temporarily deprived of his freedom. We shouldn’t lose sight of that fact and it is always unfortunate when this kind of honest mistake is made.
Nevertheless, the mistake was an honest one.
But the real question is, “Did these officers violate policy or deviate from any normal practices or procedures?” Did these officers go beyond reasonable assumptions and reasonable actions in placing the suspect under arrest, filing charges and sending the liquid evidence to the crime lab for identification purposes?
By all accounts, it appears that the officers did what officers do everyday – arrest persons on what they believe to be valid charges supported by probable cause. Based on an officer’s experience and observations, arrests on drugs that may not yet be identified as illegal narcotics are made every day.
Federal and state case law firmly establishes that an officer’s reasonable belief that a substance is an illegal narcotic, based on sight, smell, and the officer’s experience, constitutes probable cause.
Now the ball is in Chief Hurtt’s court and many officers are waiting to see what he will do. Will it be a training issue? Will it be handled as procedural and process issue?
Or will it be a hard lesson for these two officers that will send a clear message to the rest of us – don’t make an honest mistake; don’t make a good-faith arrest; any substance you reasonably believe to be narcotics must be tested in a lab before you make an arrest; and, you need more than probable cause before making an arrest.
If these are the messages that Chief Hurtt wishes to send, this department and this city are in serious trouble. I don’t believe that is a legacy most of us would want to leave.