Sheriff's department tight-lipped about firing

April 7, 2010 4:38:47 PM PDT
There's more controversy within the Harris County Sheriff's office. Union leaders say they want answers behind recent firings -- including the firing of one of the heads of internal affairs. But the sheriff's department says its hands are tied. Sheriff's department officials say it is policy not to discuss personnel matters. But union leaders are still pushing for the reasoning behind those decisions.

It's a battle that may never be resolved -- conflict over what is confidential, and what is not.

When Sheriff Adrian Garcia took office last year, controversy within the department was nothing new. Not the least of which were metal detectors at the jail that didn't work.

But there's word now that a former jailer is accused of fondling an inmate there, and the fact that the former head of internal affairs unit has been dismissed.

Sheriff's Department spokesperson Christina Garza issued a statement that explained it was "due to administrative violations."

Like any employer, the department would not say any more about the termination of internal affairs Major James Kirk. We know he joined Sheriff Garcia's command staff in January 2009, when Garcia took office.

At the time, Garcia promised change.

"To make sure that we embrace the ideals of both transparency and accountability, and protecting every day the public's trust," Sheriff Garcia said in a 2009 speech.

But the sheriff today refused to meet with us to field any of our questions.

"It's like an iron curtain of secrecy now as far as information, getting things from the administration," said Bob Goerlitz, President of the Harris County Deputy's Organization.

The Harris County Deputy's Organization is the largest union representing deputies. Goerlitz says they've been attempting to get information on the internal affairs case for about a month, since they first heard the major was being investigated. They say they want to know what happened so they can avoid such a situation in the future.

Goerlitz asked, "Does there need to be corrective training? Does there need to be additional training for whatever issue that there was? We have no clue."

Goerlitz says he hadn't even heard about the indictment against Paul Briones. Court documents indicate he is charged with a state jail felony that could land him in the very facility where he once worked.

Donna Hawkins with the Harris County DA's Office explained, "The allegations are that he had improper sexual contact with an inmate in the jail in December 2009."

No one answered when we went to the Briones' home to hear his side of the story. The sheriff's office would tell us today only that Briones retired in January. The deputies union finds it frustrating that the department is not releasing any more on this case either.

Goerlitz asked, "If we don't know what happened, how can we correct it? How can we fix it and make the department better in the future?"

To be fair, the Briones case is still working its way through the judicial system. Details have not yet been revealed on it in court.

Relative to Kirk's termination, most employers will not comment on the reasons behind an employee's firing. We have repeatedly called and emailed Sheriff Garcia today requesting a chance to talk to him about these incidents, and so far we have only received the written response.


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