Hidden cameras document apparent misuse of deputies in Precinct 1

January 19, 2012 3:11:15 PM PST
A Precinct 1 commander says deputies lived in fear of a veteran Houston constable. Hidden cameras document the apparent misuse of deputies by the now former Constable Jack Abercia.

Jack Abercia denies he lined his pockets, misused his deputies, and that's why we often do surveillance, so we can see how your money is being spent.

You can appreciate why Jack Abercia isn't happy. He'd just been indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges.

"Pitiful, pitiful," Pct. 1 Sgt. Rita Britt said.

"Does he deserve this, do you think?" we asked her.

"Yes sir," she said.

And Rita Britt should know.

"I've been there 29 years," Britt said.

She runs a team of deputies at Precinct 1 who bring juveniles to justice, and now she's retiring -- and speaking out.

"Whatever the boss asked them to do something, or told them to do something -- told them to rather than ask them -- they felt like they had to do it," Britt said.

The 13-count federal indictment accuses the constable of enlisting deputies to perform personal errands on county time.

"We have deputies taking materials to your bay house. Is that an appropriate use of deputies?" we asked Abercia.

"That ain't true. That's ain't true on county time," he said.

Even on a morning off, this deputy is picking up vinyl siding at a place in The Heights, not for his own house; he'll drive it down to the constable's bay house in La Marque.

"To me, it would be very demeaning because, like I say, you don't have a choice in it," Britt said.

Another deputy does work at the constable's million-dollar house off Memorial, and he's on duty. Our hidden camera can prove that wasn't much of a secret at Precinct 1.

"I'm telling you, that's his own can of worms," ex-Pct. 1 Chief Michael Butler says on hidden camera.

Rita Britt says one of her investigators could disappear for weeks at a time, the perks of being one of Jack Abercia's cabana boys.

"Those guys would be untouchable and there's nothing you can do about it, so it was frustrating," Britt said.

A top commander admits what life was like under the Abercia regime.

"There was intimidation going on?" we asked Harris County Pct. 1 Chief Deputy J.C. Mosier.

"Of course," he said.

"And there was fear?" we asked.

"Oh you can see it," he said.

Here is a sergeant and a lieutenant teaming up to pick up bread from a shop on Washington, and we mean lots of bread. The sergeant takes a detour to pick up building supplies; then they meet up again at a funeral home. A uniformed deputy joins them; three lawmen picking up cases of water -- one after another, after another. The sergeant will take the morning provisions down to the bay house for the constable. And there's Abercia, sitting on the back porch. It's 10:30 in the morning, a work day for most of us.

"So they were all being paid? All those people were being paid?" we asked Abercia.

"I got canceled checks. I got canceled checks," he said.

"OK, can we have them?" we asked.

"No," he said.

Canceled checks the constable now refuses to show us, and at Precinct 1, deputies can't work an extra job without written permission and there are no records of any work for the Abercias.

Even back in October, they were worried 13 Undercover was coming, and they even knew what the constable would say and joked about the way he'd say it.

"I told y'all, I told y'all, I told y'all to be off the g****** clock," Butler says on hidden camera.

Of course Chief Butler is now accused of taking bribes too, a widening scandal of Harris County constables and the way they are allowed to treat their county employees.

"Quit taking advantage of your position, be fair, be fair to your employees, be fair to the public; quit putting yourself up on a pedestal," Britt said.

Check out the videos and confrontations you'll only see on 13 Undercover Interactive, including some of the exclusive hidden camera video we took during this investigation. And stay tuned Thursday night, because Precinct 1 was worried we'd find another of their secrets, and of course, we did.