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September 27th, 2013
06:45 PM ET

Who’s policing the Houston police?

In the Houston Police Department, getting fired doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get your job back.

In June 2011, Indira Paz was sleeping in her bed next to her 4-year-old daughter. The next thing she knew, a strange man was on top of her, tying her hands with plastic ties as her daughter screamed beside her. Paz was raped in her home by an intruder who left behind a condom wrapper, crumpled tissue, and the ties he used to bound her.

Paz called the police hoping that they could help. The man who raped her just left her home with cash, electronics, jewelry and Paz’s car. When the police arrived Paz says she wasn’t treated like someone who had been the victim of a heinous crime. Paz alleges that Officer Alan Sweatt, who was one of the first officers at the scene, didn’t collect any evidence at the crime scene. She says he didn’t collect the condom wrapper, the tissue or the plastic ties. Paz says Officer Sweatt only stayed 10 minutes before leaving her home.

“His job was to say, ‘I don’t want anyone in the bedroom where this incident happened because there’s evidence in there’, he didn’t do anything,“ said Paz in an interview with CNN. “My whole family arrived in the house, looking around and stepping on the evidence, that evidence was lost because of his negligence.”

According to internal documents, Officer Sweatt left the scene and filled out a report at a local store. He says he was concerned about overtime and was under the impression other officers were arriving to Paz’s home. Houston Police Chief Charles McLelland fired the officer for negligence after complaints were raised by detectives who were investigating the rape, saying he didn’t show regard for the victim.

The Texas Observer reports that the Houston Police Department rarely disciplines its officers even when the vast majority of the complaints come from within the police department. In cases like Paz’s, officers can appeal. Houston Police say that two-thirds of those disciplines are either overturned or reduced.

Officer Sweatt appealed his firing and was given his job back with back pay. The independent arbitrator ruled that the police chief didn’t have just cause for indefinite suspension. The Houston Police Officers Union argued that Officer Sweatt’s failure to search for and remove evidence “does not amount to gross negligence.”

So why do so many appeals get overturned or reduced? Critics argue the arbitration system is flawed where the city and police union share the cost of the arbitration board and the decision over who is allowed to sit on the board.

Follow Ish Estrada on Twitter.

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Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Randi Kaye
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Karen

    It is horrifying that this man was given his job back and with back pay. When things like this happen, it is no wonder that people look askance at unions. There is not one good reason to defend someone who was grossly negligent in doing their jobs.

    October 3, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
  2. RDCollins

    There aren't many labor arbitrators in the U.S. The Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service lists fewer than 1400 in the entire country, and the same arbitrators who hear and decide cases in Houston are selected for cases in other jurisdictions as well.

    If the Houston P.D. has the worst arbitration batting average of any police department in the U.S., then perhaps it needs to review its disciplinary procedures, retrain its internal affairs officers, and find new legal counsel.

    September 28, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  3. Marie

    The officer didn't receive proper training by the department? Please, my mama raised me that its bullying if you beat someone when they are down and that is wrong. The problem is, that arbitrators are selected by agreement of management and the union, therefore if an arbitrator rules against the union, they do not select that arbitrator anymore. No selection, no job, no pay. Its all simple economics. As long as arbitrators get their lively hood from selection by the parties they are far from impartial, and in most cases find a way to "split the baby" so they don't upset the unions. Our system is broken, and unions protect abusers and the incompetent. Just more of the "its not my fault" defense that is now a part of the American way of life.

    September 27, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
  4. Tom

    The failure to serve the victim rests on the shoulders of a police chief who didnt' have appropriate policy. In no way, shape, or form should a uniformed officer be handling major crimes such as this one. The failure of the chief to have supervision and policy coverage is his own doing. Dont' blame the union for the chief's apparent incompetence for serving victims and leading the officers.Keep in mind, the chief would not go on camera and gives the impression of hiding from the problems.

    September 27, 2013 at 8:49 pm |

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