Officer, HFD investigator accused of ticket fixing

August 10, 2010 4:11:52 AM PDT
An investigation is underway into some members of the Houston police and fire departments. The accusation against them -- ticket fixing. The allegation is serious and potentially criminal. The Houston Fire Department wants to know whether a 16-year veteran reached out to a Houston police officer to help a grieving friend.

Every day, hundreds of people come to the municipal courts building near downtown to address tickets.

"I got pulled over for doing 60 in a 65," said driver Vanessa Gonzalez, who was paying a ticket at the courthouse.

They spend their valuable time.

"It's a big hassle," driver Destin Etheridge, who just got a ticket, said.

But there are now questions about whether taking care of tickets is more about who you know.

"That's not fair. I want to say something else, but I can't say it on TV, but it's BS," Gonzalez said.

A Houston Fire Department arson investigator and a Houston Police Department officer will soon be the focus of an investigation based on a Facebook exchange. In it, the daughter of a longtime firefighter puts a blanket callout to her friends for help in getting some traffic tickets fixed.

She was pulled over, it says, in the 700 block of North Shepherd on July 14 and was cited for speeding and other violations.

Soon, according to the comments, a woman identifying herself as a chief investigator for the fire department responded. She said she knew the officer well and offered to help her out.

Within six minutes, she asked for the pink copy of the tickets, telling her it would be taken care of.

Four and a half hours later, she said she didn't need the pink copies after all, that the officer told her the tickets were ripped up.

HPD says it's unaware of the allegation but told Eyewitness News:

"We are not aware of the situation and do not make it a practice of commenting on an employee of another organization. If anyone is aware or received information of misconduct of an HPD officer or HPD employee, we respectfully ask that person contact our Internal Affairs Division."

"It is inappropriate to dismiss citations. Citations can only be dismissed if the charge is inappropriate, if a greater charge is filed, or if there is an error on the citation."

Meanwhile, the Houston Fire Department is taking action.

"Any type of wrongdoing, any alleged wrongdoing, we have to take a look at it to determine if the allegation is correct," Houston Fire Department Spokesman Patrick Trahan said.

Trahan says department officials are drafting a complaint requesting an Office of Inspector General investigation. The department he says does not want the public to think there are cases of special treatment.

Neither does Etheridge.

"Hell no, it ain't fair -- ain't fair at all," Etheridge said.

Eyewitness News isn't identifying any of the parties involved because they haven't been charged with a crime.

The president of the firefighters union said he hopes the investigation takes into consideration all the circumstances because there are extenuating circumstances. He says the woman who got the tickets had just suffered a death in the family.

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