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Judge overturns DWI conviction due to BAT van issues

November 9, 2011 5:06:52 PM PST
There is new evidence that Harris County officials may have been less than forthcoming about problems with the DWI testing vans. It's a story we've been following for months. Now a judge says the secrecy violated the law.

This takes the allegations of secrecy and hiding evidence a step further. On Tuesday, a Harris County judge turned over a DWI conviction apparently because the Houston Police Department and Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos didn't share all they knew about BAT van problems.

For the first time, a Harris Co. judge's signed order indicates the alleged secrecy between HPD and the DA surrounding BAT vans was bad enough to overthrow a DWI conviction.

"It denied him the right to a fair trial, not by mistake or by accident," said defense attorney Brent Mayr.

He represents a convicted drunk driver who was arrested and tested using an HPD BAT van in 2010. Back then HPD emails show all sorts of problems with maintenance and concerns over potential impacts on test results.

13 Undercover uncovered the emails in March 2011, and when asked, HPD told Wayne Dolcefino they didn't feel a need to share that information with the DA.

"It's not that we are trying to hide it, but I don't see a need in telling them that. If they want to know that, we'd be glad to share that information with them," said HPD Capt. Carl Driskell.

When Wayne asked him if the DA's Office ever asked, Capt. Driskell replied, "No."

"Do they need to? Absolutely. There's no question about that they should've told them about it," Mayr said.

Even if HPD didn't raise the issue with the DA, 13 Undercover did, and so did Mayr -- back in March. But our investigation and a legal appeal apparently weren't enough to get on Pat Lykos' radar screen. The district attorney told us she didn't know about these concerns until this summer.

"We were never informed of anything; it was through the news media that they had electrical problems with the BAT vans," Lykos said.

On Tuesday night, without explanation or elaboration, the DA posted a timeline of what she knew, when, about the BAT vans. It starts in July -- months after internal emails and legal documents show she was aware of the problems. Her timeline ends saying she always strives to do the right thing.

"It's a flat-out lie. They knew about this stuff well before July," Mayr said.

We reached out to HPD to see if they stand by their comments to 13 Undercover and will let you know what they say once we get an answer.

We sent Lykos a detailed list of questions Wednesday asking for an interview or answers, and we're still waiting for a response.

In the meantime, the grand jury investigating potential criminal activity within the DA's Office meets again on Thursday.


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