Double standard at the top of HPD?

October 14, 2008 8:46:21 PM PDT
It started as a minor fender bender involving Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt 18 months ago and it's led to allegations of retaliation, as well as claims of double standards. More than a year and a half ago, Chief Hurtt was involved in a minor car accident while driving a city owned vehicle. According to the police report, Chief Hurtt was backing out of his driveway and hit a neighbor's car parked across the street. He reported it.

Officer Robert Kessler, a seasoned HPD accident investigator determined the chief was at fault. Yet HPOU Attorney Aaron Suder says nothing ever came of it.

"The chief routinely disciplines officers that are found to be at fault when they are driving city vehicles," he said. "Unfortunately it appears the chief does not hold himself to the same standard."

HPD attorney Craig Ferrell says there is a perfectly good reason why.

"This didn't fit the criteria that would have warranted discipline on any other officer in the department," he told us.

Ferrell says two years ago, the chief gave division commanders the authority to use their own discretion.

But the story doesn't end here. Remember Officer Robert Kessler, the investigator who handled the chief's accident and found him to be at fault? Several months ago, the police officer's union nominated him to the department's accident review board, the committee that reviews all officer-involved traffic accidents.

"He's by all accounts an excellent investigator," said Suder. "Just as much experience as anyone out there."

Despite his qualifications, according to a document, the chief himself would later attempt to block Kessler from serving on the board, the same officer who investigated his accident.

"I can tell you it certainly appears to be nothing but pure retaliation on Chief Hurtt's part," said Suder.

"That's ludicrous," said Ferrell.

Ferrell says the chief rejected Kessler's appointment after looking at his disciplinary record. According to an HPD memo, Chief Hurtt did not believe the Kessler was suited for the position.

"He had 14 cases of sustained discipline in 16 years," said Ferrell.

The union ended up filing a contract grievance and won. Ferrell maintains the arbitrator's decision had nothing to do with Officer Kessler or his record, but the chief's right to reject the union's selection.

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