13 Investigates talks with HPD leader who tried to warn chief of suspended code

Thursday, April 4, 2024
13 Investigates talks with HPD leader who tried to warn of suspended cases
13 Investigates interviewed a HPD deputy director who said she spoke with Chief Troy Finner when he learned cases were suspended due to lack of staff.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Diana Poor said she was sitting next to Houston Police Chief Troy Finner in November 2021, when he was first told about the "suspended - lack of personnel" code during a meeting with 15 to 20 high ranking HPD leaders.

The code is at the center of the controversy involving 260,000 incident reports that went uninvestigated by HPD after being assigned a "suspended - lack of personnel code." HPD said 4,000 of those incident reports involved allegations of adult sex crimes.

"Why it was created, what the purpose was, I don't have any idea," Poor, who retired as deputy director of HPD's Office of Planning & Data Governance, told 13 Investigates.

Poor said Finner was "very upset" once he learned what the SL code was and that it was being used. Finner has expressed his frustrations about the use of the code during two news conferences earlier this year, saying as soon as he learned about it, he directed staff to stop using it.

"Chief Finner was very upset that HPD was using this type of code," Poor recalled of the 2021 meeting when he first learned about it. "Very upset about it and was telling the investigative members and the executive staff that was there that they needed to get manpower into those divisions in order to address all of these codes and that we were to stop using that type of code. It was not appropriate."

Poor, who spoke exclusively with 13 Investigates about the suspended cases, said part of her job involved overseeing HPD's data reporting, which is why her department sounded the alarm about the code.

She said after learning about the code in 2021, she approved a department-wide circular calling for a stop to the use of the SL code, and wanted to send it to Finner through her chain of command.

Poor said that means before the circular sees Finner's desk, it has to go through the executive chief who oversees her.

But, she said she doesn't think it ever made it to his desk. Poor said that's because she received an email from HPD's James Jones asking if the circular needed to go department-wide because it seemed like it was an investigative-only issue.

"I said no, 'it's not just investigators. Patrol can use this code also,'" Poor told 13 Investigates. "Per our policy, if somebody disagrees with a circular, they are supposed to put a note or a letter on top of that circular and send it on to where it needs to go, i.e. Chief Finner."

Poor said Jones sent the circular to her executive chief with a note saying he thinks it was an investigative-only issue.

13 Investigates obtained a copy of the Nov. 4, 2021 circular, which has a handwritten note on it saying, "Dr. Poor, Is a circular necessary since this only applies to investigations?"

"From that point, that letter never got sent anywhere. It stopped in (my executive chief's) office. It never got sent to the Chief (Finner's) office and it never got returned to me," Poor said. "Policy says every letter must go to the intended recipient. I wrote it to Chief Finner. When I didn't get any information on it, I assumed it went to Finner, and Finner made the decision he wasn't going to put out the circular."

This week, HPD confirmed Jones, who is Finner's chief policy officer, is resigning.

On Tuesday, Finner said Jones is a "target" and "witness," but the internal investigation is still not complete, so the chief doesn't know if there was any misconduct.

13 Investigates reached out to Jones on Wednesday, who said he cannot comment due to the ongoing investigation.

Poor said although the SL code was not removed from their internal system after it was identified as an issue, the title of it was changed to "suspended" instead of "suspended - lack of personnel."

"I was under the impression it was not being abused. I was under the impression that the letter had gotten to the chief," she said. "You had two executives, No. 2 and No. 3 guys that spent the majority of their career in investigations division. One or both of them had been up there for quite a while. I can't imagine that they did not know about this code a long time ago."

RELATED: 13 Investigates timeline: HPD's 'suspended' code was an issue in 2014

13 Investigates reached out to HPD for comment Wednesday, but they said they cannot release any information at this time due to the ongoing, open Internal Affairs Division Investigation.

Despite multiple open records requests, HPD has not released any documents to support Finner's timeline of when he learned about the SL code and when or how he instructed officers to stop using it.

Instead, HPD has sent our requests to the Texas Attorney General, who will rule whether the information we asked for has to be released or can be withheld.

On Tuesday, Finner said that's because internal investigative files can only be released to another law enforcement agency or a district or U.S. attorney's office.

Poor said she believes Finner wanted to put an end to the code in 2021 when he learned about it.

"He was adamant that we should not be using that code - I was sitting right next to him - and that we had to get manpower on these cases to make sure that we were coding these properly and just not sending them off into oblivion," Poor said.

She said she reached out to Finner just once after she submitted her comments as part of the internal investigation and spoke with him briefly.

"Because the investigation is going on, he's not going to talk about it and I think that's why I'm so upset because I feel like everyone is looking at him saying, 'This is Chief Finner.' It's not Chief Finner," Poor said. "Chief Finner's in a tough position. I think he's doing the right thing not really talking a whole lot about it. The case needs to conclude, but I no longer work for HPD, and I'm not held to those standards, and people need to know that Chief Finner should not be the scapegoat for this. There was a line in-between him, and I was astonished that that line did not support him."

Any victims whose contact information has changed since the time of their report can call (713) 308-1180 or email specialvictimsreport@houstonpolice.org.

Contact 13 Investigates

Do you think your case was mishandled by HPD? Or are you an HPD whistleblower who wants to talk anonymously? Fill out the form below. (On mobile? You can open our form by tapping here.)