13 Undercover looks at HPD brutality complaints

March 17, 2011 2:50:05 AM PDT
Tonight, the truth about Houston police brutality complaints -- they virtually never result in an officer getting punished.

HPD will tell you that 50 percent of all complaints to internal affairs prove true. But when it comes to complaints of excessive force, well, see what happens.

It's the video that was seen around the world, and by the time you got to see it, a Houston police internal investigation found that four of the cops you see in the video used excessive force.

But if you believe HPD internal affairs, those cops were the only Houston street cops last year who used unnecessary force in a police force of more than 5,300 officers.

"The deck is stacked against citizens. We don't have anything to fight with except our cell phones and our cameras, because the truth of the matter is, whatever is said is not going to be substantiated," said Pastor DZ Coffield, the president of the Houston NAACP.

The Houston NAACP president is now reacting to the latest 13 Undercover exclusive. We've learned in 2010, not a single citizen complaint against a Houston cop for unnecessary force was sustained. Not one. And there were 239 complaints.

"The system is basically rigged, and it's rigged in favor of the police," Coffield said.

"We are not in the witch hunt business and when complaints are sustained against officers, there has to be factual proof," said Gary Blankenship, president of the Houston Police Officers Union

HPD's own records paint a controversial portrait. During the last decade, 2,135 complaints about alleged police brutality. Only 33 were sustained -- less than two percent. And if you count only citizen complaints, the number of times the brutality allegation has been confirmed is just 16 -- 16 of more than 2,100.

"And that's why there is so much anger in the black community and Hispanic community in particular because we know we are being beaten and abused but nothing has been done about it," community activist Quanell X said.

"In 60 percent of those cases, on average, we'll say, 'You know what? We don't have evidence to prove it either way,'" Executive Chief Michael Dirden said.

"Well then the police should admit that many of their officers are the number one liars in these investigations about excessive use of force," Quanell X said.

Even HPD brass admits without this video the officers in the Holley case would have likely never faced an internal probe. There was no complaint filed by the burglar.

But there's another reason, too. None of the HPD officers on the scene that day said a word about what we can all clearly see on the video.

After Channel 13 aired the video, a crowded town hall meeting exposed the level of frustration. These startling stats won't help.

"Let's stop playing games. Just tell everybody they got to be in before dark and if not, you're going to whip our behinds," Rev. Coffield said.

Under current state law, a person who complains about a cop is not allowed to even see what internal affairs investigations did, who they talked to.

"The IAD division (Internal Affairs Division) of the Houston Police Department has no credibility with the community," Quanell X said.

And the public isn't allowed to see an officer's history of complaints unless police prove they are true. We've got the numbers but no names.

"That's like asking the wolf to investigative the fox, and both of them belong to the canine family," Quanell X said.

Even the union knows this video is troublesome, but cautions that a cop with a history of complaints may not necessarily be a bad cop.

"Officers that work hard, harder in higher-crime areas often generate complaints," Blankenship said.

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