New developments in BAT vans grand jury case

December 15, 2011 4:43:18 PM PST
There are new developments in an ongoing investigation into how the Harris County District Attorney's Office handled problems with the Houston Police Department's DWI testing vans. On Thursday morning, a prosecutor pleaded the Fifth when asked to testify before a grand jury about what the office knew and when.

The ultimate question is what the DA's Office knew about BAT van problems and whether they spoke up about them or if they retaliated against a whistle blower.

Thursday could've brought answers to those questions; instead it brought a showdown, and the DA's Office somehow blamed reporters.

This is Rachel Palmer at Harris County DA Pat Lykos' office. Palmer's in charge of prosecutors who try DWI and other misdemeanor cases. It's likely Palmer knows an awful lot about problems with HPD's BAT vans, the technical supervisor who blew the whistle on them, and why Harris County dumped the contract with the whistle blower's employer.

"God is good, I am not worried about a thing," Palmer said.

But when the grand jury asked Palmer to answer questions about what she knew, the assistant district attorney all of a sudden clammed up, taking the Fifth.

"Why did you take the Fifth?" we asked Palmer.

"You know that's not an appropriate question," she replied.

"Sure it is," we said.

"You know it's not an appropriate question, but thank you so much," Palmer said.

It may be Palmer's right to take the Fifth. The Constitution says if answering a question would force you to confess a crime, then you don't have to answer.

But court documents say Palmer isn't a target of this investigation, and as a prosecutor she is sworn to uphold the law. We asked Lykos' top assistant how it looks to have a prosecutor take the Fifth in front of a grand jury.

"I realize you want this to look bad, and I realize that everybody who brought this wants this to look bad. But all I can tell you is that somebody took the Fifth, the law says they can. You want to make something look bad about it," Harris County First Assistant DA Jim Leitner said.

The special prosecutors in the case asked a judge to force Palmer to talk to the grand jury and that will be decided Monday. In the meantime, Palmer is still on the job prosecuting misdemeanor cases and her bosses are fighting back at us.

"Does it look bad to you?" we asked Leitner.

"It looks bad to me that you have me cornered here against the wall saying these things to me. That's how you want it to look. You want it to look bad, they want it to look bad," he replied.

"So this is a political vendetta?" we asked.

"You'll find out when it's all over with," Leitner said.

It is your right to take the Fifth, but a judge can force you to testify in a grand jury if the judge decides it really isn't incriminating.

To add a little more drama to the case, grand jurors complained that Palmer's husband was taking pictures. Their role is supposed to be secret. The judge warned Palmer to make it stop.

We're back in court Monday.


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