Officers angered by chase suspect's one-year sentence

April 23, 2012 4:37:04 PM PDT
A man with a long criminal history led police on a wild, high-speed chase, then he was shot. He's now locked up in jail, serving his sentence, but some police officers say he didn't get enough time behind bars.

The chase actually happened earlier this month, and a plea deal was struck quickly. But the sentence has some critics and the district attorney's office is trying explain what happened.

Law enforcement describes Mark Ames, 23, as a career criminal. Some say the punishment does not fit the crime.

Two weeks ago, Ames led Houston police on a short chase through southwest Houston. It ended at an apartment complex near Court Glen and Bissonnet with the pursuing officer shooting Ames in the shoulder after he allegedly assaulted the officer. Ames pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of attempting evading arrest, a state jail felony, and was sentenced to one year in the Harris County Jail.

"This is a mockery of our justice system," said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officer's Union.

Hunt is upset with the Harris County District Attorney's Office and how prosecutors handled the case. He's mad for two reasons: the arresting officer was never contacted about the plea deal and prosecutors never filed the assault charge.

"The officer asked for multiple charges and the DA says no, we'll use those additional things in the punishment phase. Well, that didn't happen," Hunt said.

In Texas, felony evading arrest carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Ames had two prior evading convictions, added to a long list of other offenses.

First Assistant District Attorney Jim Leitner admits prosecutors may have moved too quickly.

"It shouldn't be handled like that. I do not agree with that," Leitner said.

Leitner says victims, which in this case was the officer, should always be notified if a plea deal is in the works. While a year might sound like a slap on the wrist, he also says Ames would have served less time had he been sentenced to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison, so prosecutors thought they had a good deal.

"Their thought was we're going to get a year in the state jail, and in the state jail, you have no parole, so a year means 365 days," Leitner said.

Leitner says police never gave prosecutors the information to support an assault charge so all they could go with was evading arrest.

"A prosecutor cannot afford to alienate the police," South Texas College of Law Professor Geoffrey Corn said.

Corn says that doesn't mean they have to do everything the police want.

"We entrust the prosecutor to make those very, very difficult decisions and they are never easy decisions. If I were to give this as a hypothetical to my students, the failure I would want them to identify is the lack of communication," Corn said.

Leitner says the district attorney's office will do its part to improve communications.

Load Comments