Sheriff Thomas talks to Eyewitness News

July 1, 2008 4:31:54 AM PDT
The sheriff is speaking out for the first time since we uncovered racist and offensive emails from Harris County Sheriff's Department computers. We've learned some people will be punished for the emails they sent.

Late Monday afternoon we learned Chief Deputy Mike Smith, the chief of the detention bureau, has been suspended without pay for five days. His name was on some of those anti-Muslim emails. He is the first to be disciplined. The sheriff indicates there will be more.

"Some of the emails I felt like were inappropriate and need to be dealt with," Sheriff Thomas told us.

Last week 13 Undercover exposed anti-Muslim and bigoted emails that circulated within the department. Just minutes before a meeting with Islamic leaders, he faced our camera to talk about those emails.

"From the way I understand it, it's been throughout the entire community, churches and everywhere else in Houston," Thomas said.

I asked if that's OK with the Harris County Sheriff's Department.

"Well no anytime you misuse our email system then it's not okay," he replied.

It was the first time in six months Sheriff Thomas talked to Eyewitness News.

"Because I don't think you've been fair," the sheriff told us.

It comes after a public apology to the Muslim community. An email blaspheming Muhammad prompted it. Over lunch with about 60 leaders inside the Islamic Society for Greater Houston Sheriff Thomas promised sensitivity training for all deputies and discipline for those behind the emails.

"We are sure he will take whatever steps he needs to take to remedy the problem," said Rodwan Saleh who is the President of the Islamic Society Of Greater Houston.

But some left skeptical.

"I personally asked if heads are going to roll and he didn't answer," said community leader Syed Izfar.

They believe the problems are systemic in a department the sheriff has lost control over.

People of other races and ethnicities have also been offended these emails. Sheriff Thomas says he has no plans to reach out to them. He calls some of the emails embarrassing and acknowledges they have done some damage to his public image.

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