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HCSO, DA's office in heated debate over indictments against deputies

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Disagreement between HCSO and the District's Attorney's Office after deputies indicted. (KTRK)

The Harris County Sheriff's Office and District Attorney's Office usually work together closely.

But today, the two agencies seem to be involved in a public battle from an incident that started last June.

Deputies pulled over 20-year-old Charnesia Corley in a Texaco parking lot in northwest Harris County. They claimed to smell marijuana. After deputies say Corley resisted arrest, they conducted a cavity search on the concrete.

Earlier this week, Deputies Ronaldine Pierre and William Strong were indicted by a grand jury for Official Oppression. The two deputies have also been suspended from the sheriff's office.

"It was unbelievable. They completely stripped her naked, from the waist down, spread her legs apart, threw her down in handcuffs, and had her face down in the concrete with her legs spread apart for, I mean, it had to be ten, eleven minutes," said Corley's attorney, Sam Cammack.

Harris County deputies say they found .02 ounces of marijuana on Corley. But the district attorney dropped charges of marijuana possession and resisting arrest, saying that the search was "offensive and shocking."

Usually after an indictment like this, you wouldn't hear more from the sheriff or DA until a hearing or trial.

Friday, the sheriff issued a press release that slammed the DA and accused prosecutors of presenting the case to the grand jury unfairly.

The press release reads, in part: "Rumor, innuendo and sensationalism do not correlate to the facts surrounding Corely's (sic) arrest."

Then, the DA slammed back, calling the sheriff's comments uninformed.

Her press release reads, in part: "...the grand jury did fully and fairly review all of the available evidence over several sessions. The decision to indict was not a conclusion based on "a local news report about the incident.'"

Corley has also filed a federal lawsuit against the county.

Official oppression is a Class A misdemeanor which carries a punishment of up to a year in jail and a fine up to $4,000.

Full statement from Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson:

The Harris County Sheriff's response to the grand jury's indictment of Officers Pierre and Strong is disappointing on many levels.
First, the suggestion that the grand jury had not reviewed the evidence is spurious and uninformed. Although this office cannot disclose the substance of the grand jury's secret proceedings, we can disclose that the grand jury did fully and fairly review all of the available evidence over several sessions. The decision to indict was not a conclusion based on "a local news report about the incident."

Second, the response overemphasizes the District Attorney's Office's decision to accept charges against Ms. Corley. In Harris County, the initial decision to accept a criminal charge is generally based upon a brief conversation between the arresting officer and a prosecutor in which the arresting officer describes the facts justifying criminal charges, and the prosecutor approves or disapproves the charge based on what the prosecutor was told. That is what happened in Ms. Corley's case.

When the case is subsequently assigned to a trial court prosecutor, that prosecutor then conducts a thorough and careful review of the facts and law to decide whether the evidence justifies further prosecution. That is also what happened in Ms. Corley's case.

After the trial prosecutor investigated the facts in Ms. Corley's case, she found that the search was offensive and shocking, and this office immediately dismissed the charges against Ms. Corley.

Full statement from the Harris County Sheriff's Office:
On Wednesday, a Harris County Grand Jury handed down two misdemeanor indictments of Official Oppression forcing two HCSO Deputies to surrender their badges, and report to civilian positions while their case is considered by the courts.

The indictments came as a surprise to the Harris County Sheriff's Office, after a lengthy internal affairs investigation cleared the deputies of wrongdoing. As stated in a District Attorney's Office Press Release, the presentation to the grand jury was not based on a review of evidence, but rather, "based upon a local news report about the incident."

Simultaneously, Charneshia Corely filed a federal lawsuit against the county alleging that deputies subjected her to an illegal search and seizure. Her attorney, Sam Cammack has said that there was no marijuana in her possession at the time of the search, according to the Houston Chronicle.

However an analysis of the seized substance was confirmed to be marijuana in the attached report from the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.

By her own admission, Corely stated that she concealed the substance because she knew it to be "contraband."

On June 21, 2015, Harris County Assistant District Attorney Beth Exley accepted the charges of Possession of Marijuana and Resisting Arrest. It was not until Corley's attorney publicized her arrest (prior to a September 2nd court appearance) that the Harris County District Attorney's Office elected to drop charges on August 13, 2015.

Rumor, innuendo and sensationalism do not correlate to the facts surrounding Corely's arrest. The Harris County Sheriff's Office is waiting for the courts to determine guilt or innocence.

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harris county sheriffs officeHarris County
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