Alleged victim protests ex-cop's plea deal

January 20, 2012 3:00:22 PM PST
Community activists are lashing out at the Harris County District Attorneys Office, alleging it was unfairly lenient in prosecuting a former police officer.

The allegation from community activists is that a former Houston police officer who pled guilty to theft was offered a better deal than someone facing a much less serious crime. They want to know why, and so does a man who says he was ripped off by that police officer.

Karim Saleem says he was minding his own business last May when Houston police officer Stefan Riha pulled him over.

"He pulled me over and took the money I just got from the mechanic," Saleem said.

After a few minutes in the back of the patrol car, the officer let Saleem go. That's when Saleem realized the $800 in cash he had in the car was gone.

He went to police who then conducted a sting operation and arrested Riha after he stole cash from an undercover officer posing as a motorist.

For pleading guilty, Riha received two years probation. He'll have to pay a $500 fine and do community service.

"Which is very unjust and unfair to me because had it not been for my testimony, he probably would still be out on the street robbing people to this day," Saleem said.

Saleem is upset because Riha was never prosecuted for allegedly stealing from him. The DA's office says they didn't have enough evidence to prove his claim. Community activists also say the punishment offered to Riha was far more lenient than that offered to some who have been charged with lesser crimes.

"We as a community are livid. This is very, very disturbing," activist Derric Muhammad said.

Muhammad says he watched a case just last week in court where Christopher Latson was accused of failing to identify himself to a police officer.

He was ultimately acquitted of that charge, but Muhammad says Latson was never offered any deal as lenient as Riha, even though Latson's case was a misdemeanor and Riha's was a felony.

Muhammad wonders if race or politics played a role.

"Why is it that a Houston police officer can get off with such a light sentence?" he asks.

The DA's office refused to answer questions for this story. They instead issued us a statement, in part telling us that prosecutors make offers and negotiate plea bargains based on a number of factors, including the facts of the case and a defendant's criminal history.

Steve Morris, chief of the governmental integrity bureau, said in a statement, "pursuant to our duty to see that justice is done, we do not consider or take into account a suspect's race, ethnicity, or gender in deciding on an appropriate sentence."