HISD teacher arrest cases thrown out

August 17, 2009 6:27:01 PM PDT
A year after the Houston Independent School District started rounding up its own in drug dragnets, courts are giving the cases failing grades. Last year, searches by HISD police resulted in more than a dozen arrests of school staffers. However, we've learned nearly 70 percent of those cases have since fallen apart.

It was big news last year when teachers were cuffed and stuffed into police cars, hauled down to jail and put on trial for driving dope to school. Back then there was talk of turning in their licenses, even changing state law to be tougher on them, but we didn't know what we know now. After months of In Focus research, it appears the high-profile arrests have quietly fallen apart.

Gina Thomas sat in court last week waiting for a jury to confirm what she'd been saying for months: that as a longtime school counselor, she isn't the kind of person to stash pot in the car she drove to Wheatley High School last November.

Back then Thomas was one of more than a dozen HISD employees rounded up in high-profile sweeps of school employee parking lots. Almost all the cases were handled by HISD Police Officer Stephanie Clinton.

Since Officer Clinton and her award-winning drug dog ran through parking lots, nine of the 15 cases we're tracking have been dismissed.

"I don't have any knowledge of the outcomes on most of them," said Officer Clinton.

In many of the dismissals, the accuracy of Officer Clinton's reports have been put in doubt.

"All my reports are accurate," said Officer Clinton.

On the stand Friday, Officer Clinton told the jury that Gina Thomas admitted to smoking marijuana. However, in her written police report, the one that is always accurate, the officer wrote that Thomas' boyfriend smokes, not the defendant.

"This officer is letting down the people she's hired to protect," said Chip Lewis, Thomas' lawyer.

It is similar to inconsistencies raised in dismissals of Howard Reynold's case, and Anthony Martin's case, and Mindy Herrick's case.

"I am so happy," said Herrick after her case was dismissed.

Drug dog Reno and Officer Clinton searched Mindy Herrick's car at Roberts Elementary in January. Reno alerted and Officer Clinton found Xanax.

"The police reported to the district attorney that immediately when Mindy Herrick is confronted with these pills she goes, 'Oh, that's Xanax," said defense attorney Kent Schaeffer.

However, two longtime school administrators swore that never happened, that Herrick never said what Officer Clinton alleges.

When asked if the principal is lying, Officer Clinton responded, "Apparently. We don't lie in our police reports."

There's one other curious item. According to Shaeffer, Officer Clinton's police report said Reno alerted to the Xanax in the teacher's car.

"There's years of records here," said Schaeffer.

After viewing years of Reno's training records, the award-winning dog's never been trained to pick up the scent of Xanax.

"Whether the dog alerted or not, they say the dog alerted," said Schaeffer.

That jury last week finally gave Gina Thomas what she was looking for. They found her not guilty. Thomas can no longer back to HISD, but Officer Clinton remains on the job.

"You better get this officer trained because if not, there's no telling what we're going to have on our hands if she continues to cut corners and do sloppy police work," said Lewis.

HISD stands by its police officer, telling us in a statement that the district attorney has not brought any concerns to them.

The HISD police chief adds, "I have full confidence in our dog handlers, detection dogs and our random drug search techniques."

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