Secret squad disbanded in sheriff's office

June 2, 2008 9:26:20 PM PDT
You didn't know about it until we told you about it last month. A so-called secret squad of Harris County Sheriff's deputies is out of business.

That secret squad investigated two local brothers who were suing the department and Harris County. When we first reported that, the up-roar began.

While it's officially known as the Investigative Support Unit, insiders call it the super secret squad. It's been around since the early 90s. Monday was its last day.

"The investigative support unit as we know it no longer exists," said Chief Deputy Danny Billingsley of the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

Chief Deputy Billingsley disbanded the unit. He said the squad became a public relations liability.

Its four members have been reassigned. Its sergeant, Bruce Carr, is now tasked with filling in the holes.

The email about the Ibarra surveillance is one of only a few records the squad can produce. Sgt. Carr must answer the question, just what have they been doing?

"I've asked him to document what that unit has done since he's been there," Chief Billingsley said.

That's going back three years. Chief Billingsley also wants to know what Deputy Craig Miller was doing in the four hours before he died in an accident in February. He was the technical expert in the surveillance unit, heading to an assignment and his blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit.

"I think it's important for us to determine what Craig did during the day," Chief Billingsley said. "What we know he did, what hours during the day he wasn't around other people since he was obviously intoxicated at the time of the wreck and try to make some determination of when that occurred "

Billingsley says he disbanded the unit after talking with Sheriff Tommy Thomas. He admits it lacked oversight. The attorney representing the Ibarra brothers and others in a federal lawsuit is skeptical.

"Every time we catch them doing something they want to get rid of that," said Ibarra brother attorney Lloyd Kelley.

Chief Billingsley explains it this way.

"You'd have to be crazy to think we like all this bad publicity," he said. "I'll tell you right up front, I think much of it is unfair but you know what. If part of it is fair and we deal with it, I'm all for it."

One member of the squad has been assigned to technical support for the criminal intelligence division. Two are going to the major violators unit and the fourth will work in criminal warrants. Once the sergeant is finished documenting what they've been doing all this time, he'll be re-assigned, too.

As we first reported last week, the Ibarra brothers and three others are suing the sheriff's department, asking the government to take control of

One of those plaintiffs is Lloyd Henderson. He's the man being slammed to the ground by a sheriff's deputy in surveillance video. After the video surfaced, the Department of Justice took a look at it to see if any civil rights were violated, and today the DOJ said "no."

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