After the Harris County District Attorney dismissed numerous cases because of a severe error by a Constable Deputy, many people assumed the D.A.’s office was responding appropriately. But now that a few weeks have passed, there are still more questions than answers – and worse, no one seems eager to answer them.
Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman originally reported that a deputy in his office mistakenly destroyed 20,000 pieces of evidence, mostly related to drug cases, when he was assigned to clean out the evidence room. That number has since grown.
“What we know right now is approx. 21,500 pieces of evidence tied to all different types of cases are being reported as destroyed,” said Anderson. Herman has since said he found out about the incident and promptly started an internal investigation, fired the deputy, and notified the District Attorney’s office. The investigation determined that the deputy – Corp. Chris Hess – had been destroying evidence against protocol since 2007, when Sheriff Ron Hickman was still the Constable.
In response to the revelation, the D.A. originally announced that 90 cases had to be dismissed because of the deputy’s wrongdoing. That number has also grown and is currently at 142 cases – with over 1,000 more under review. According to the D.A. this all came to a head when one of her prosecutors found out, “the night before the trial,” that the evidence in their case had been destroyed.
However, the D.A.’s Public Integrity Unit has been investigating the incident since February, so questions remain as to why this is now becoming public, and why trial prosecutors within the same office were kept in the dark. Also, why did it take nearly 5 months for criminal defendants to find out evidence in their case had been destroyed?
The Chronicle reported one of the defense attorney’s whose case was affected saying, “I find it suspicious that [Anderson] knew about this information and decided to just sit on it. The minute an elected official tells you that 20,000 pieces of evidence are in question, that’s when Anderson should have issued the red light.”
Anderson has said that 1,000 additional cases may be in jeopardy if they are found linked to the destroyed evidence, but until a thorough list of affected cases is produced, the numbers remain unknown. “Over and over again, the Public Integrity Division asked Precinct Four for a complete list, but it was clear the lists were conflicting and incomplete,” said Anderson.
Since the revelation, the D.A. has asked the Constable to hire an independent auditor to examine the extent of the damage, which he has since done. There has also been a criminal investigation opened into the actions of the constable’s deputies. Anderson said upon completion of the investigation criminal charges may be filed. The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association is also performing an investigation into whether the D.A.’s office acted unethically or not, and a Houston attorney has formally requested the U.S. Attorney General’s office to get involved.
David Bellamy, the criminal defendant whose case sparked the controversy, has filed a lawsuit against Harris County and Devon Anderson. Bellamy said Anderson’s office pushed for plea deal after plea deal until his attorney asked to see the evidence, which no longer existed. Bellamy’s attorney said, “They knew they couldn’t try the case, they knew the evidence didn’t exist and they pursued prosecution against this man for months.”
What remains unknown is how many prosecutors at the D.A.’s office have pursued other cases, knowingly or unknowingly, with destroyed evidence. Anderson said her office is reviewing cases all the way back to 2007 to determine the number of those affected.