It was early January. Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal was fighting a losing battle in an email scandal.
13 Undercover had been exposing the questionable work habits of Harris County Commissioner /*Jerry Eversole*/. We looked at the design of his house by /*Leroy Hermes*/, the founder of an architecture firm with a long history of county contracts.
We found out Hermes did work on the sheriff's million dollar ranch house too. Hermes claimed they both paid, but neither official will say how much.
There were questions about the use of jail labor.
Days later, the sheriff's command ordered the deletion of 750,000 department emails in violation of state law. It was done without even telling the deputies.
The sheriff won't talk with us but told the Houston Chronicle this week the email dump was solely a storage issue. But emails that would have been destroyed had we not sued show some folks were getting nervous at sheriffs headquarters about emails.
January 10TH. Subject inappropriate emails:
"Delete them - do not forward them to anyone at work."
"Due to the media coverage - the HCSO will really be cracking down on this."
Another the same day, "refrain from sending, especially political racial religious profane comments"
Within days the process to destroy 750,000 emails began. There are now calls for a criminal investigation.
"No one should be allowed to violate the law in the way in the manner," said community activist Johnny Mata. "Whether it was joke or whether it was a racial intent to it, it doesn't matter."
It's against the department's policy to send offensive emails about someone's:
- Sexual orientation
- Religious or political beliefs
- National origin
We knew months ago even the sheriff broke that policy. The department called this email cartoon about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton going poof, political satire.
The Ministers Against Crime demanded Thomas resign.
New mails we've uncovered probably won't help.
A major passed out this email joke about Jesse Jackson having a heart attack going immediately to hell.
The subject line read "we wish."
Here's Osama bin Laden urging folks to vote Democratic.
And an email joke about the schedule of events for the 2008 Democratic Convention.
- Flag burnings
- Gay wedding planning
- At 1:35am Bill Clinton asks Ted Kennedy to drive Hillary home
A major passed along a photo of Ted Kennedy on illegal immigration. The caption reads "drunken moron."
It follows days of disclosures about emails about:
"You've brought to light a lot of things that wouldn't have been there," said Rogene Calvert of the Organization of Chinese Americans. "Intuitively we probably knew it was there, but at least you documented it."
A top commander forwarded an email suggesting alligators should be put in the Rio Grande to cut down on illegal immigration.
"That is not a joke to us," Mata said. "It's serious business."
This email wasn't about law enforcement work. One subject line asked "Am I gay?" It's a self examination for men with lots of derogatory words about homosexuals.
"We all should owe a debt of gratitude and thanks to you and your station for fighting to preserve and save these emails," said community activist Quannel X.
In the movie Forrest Gump we all remember the famous line.
In one sheriff's department email we found this:
"Life is like a jar of jalapenos. What you do today, might burn your butt tomorrow."
Some of the emails we've found have now triggered other Eyewitness News investigations. Stories like the sheriffs pace into internal investigations, jail deaths and maintenance but that's not all. Stay tuned.
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