13 Undercover finds questionable email

January 23, 2008 7:53:59 AM PST
There's a new email controversy, and this time it's the Harris County sheriff accused of sending a controversial cartoon to key members of his command staff. One county commissioner is calling the cartoon degrading and offensive. It's an update to a story we've been following for weeks. Friday, 13 Undercover won a legal battle to prevent the sheriff's office from deleting any more emails.

We found the cartoon in emails released to 13 Undercover, emails sent between the Harris County sheriff and some of his top commanders. It's a picture of the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. The caption reads, 'Oh, wishing star, we wish for an end to racial strife and bigotry.' In the next frame, the two black civil rights leaders go 'poof.'

"It's pretty self-explanatory. It's denigrating and degrading," said Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee.

The caption says the cartoon hits the nail on his head. Both men have been involved in protesting alleged civil rights abuses by lawmen across the country.

Commissioner Lee was not amused.

"Any time you have a public setting, any time there's a distribution of, whether its sexually or racially motivated material, it's just not the place for it," said Lee.

"I wouldn't have sent it," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. "I do think it's political satire. I think both Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are political figures."

"It's offensive, but it's not new. It's not a new phenomena around these parts," said Lee.

A few weeks ago, a message on District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal's computer prompted protests. Now it's controversial material on the sheriff's computer.

"The county needs an email policy. That email policy needs to address not only retention, but what kind of emails are appropriate," said Emmett.

Through a spokesman, the sheriff says the cartoon was, "Political satire...nothing more." And he forwarded it to people, "who in my view share my belief that racism and bigotry cannot be tolerated, regardless of the source."

The cartoon was forwarded to just five sheriff's department commanders.

13 Undercover went to court Friday and got a judge to keep the sheriff from deleting emails. The sheriff had ordered the destruction of most department emails after just 14 days and the policy change came in the midst of a 13 Undercover investigation of the sheriff's office.

"I think for our own protection, a two week retention policy is not appropriate," said Emmett.

Channel 13 is scheduled to be in court again Friday over the email fight with the sheriff's department.

Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal will be in court next week over his own email controversy. He faces a possible contempt charge for deleting emails that had been subpoenaed in connection with a civil rights lawsuit. The hearing is set for January 31. Rosenthal is also being investigated by the state attorney general's office after racist jokes and pornography were found. He has refused to resign.

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