Friendswood PD officer under review says she pulled drivers over with reasonable suspicion

FRIENDSWOOD, Texas (KTRK) -- The policing of a Friendswood officer remains under review as prosecutors take a closer look at hundreds of cases she investigated after the Galveston County District Attorney's Office dismissed more than 30 DWI cases that were all tied to her.

In 2017, Officer Sara Carter became the focus of an internal affairs investigation after a supervisor accused her of pulling people over without any probable cause.

At the time, Carter was accused of pulling people over simply because "they didn't belong in the city," allegedly targeting cars from Pasadena, La Marque or Texas City without a legal reason.

The Friendswood Police Department eventually cleared Carter of any wrongdoing.

READ MORE: Hundreds of cases tied to Friendswood PD officer now under review

In a recent DWI trial, Carter took the stand.

Defense attorney Dan Krieger used the opportunity to press Carter on her reasoning for pulling over vehicles.

"In her initial interviews with the supervisors of the department, she admitted she stopped 20 vehicles without probable cause," said Krieger.

In courtroom testimony obtained by ABC13, Carter was asked about her decision-making.

Carter said she often had reasonable suspicion, using mail theft as an example.

"Are you testifying that cars from Pasadena are known for stealing mail in the city of Friendswood?" asked the lawyer.

"Incorrect. I'm testifying that vehicles that do not appear to belong in the neighborhood," said Carter as she was interrupted.

"Wait. What is a vehicle that looks like it belongs in a neighborhood in Friendswood?" asked the attorney.

"One that has a registration in Friendswood," responded Carter.

Carter's testimony proved problematic on the stand. Judge Jack Ewing threw out the case and ultimately ruled her to be an unreliable and not credible witness.

"Maybe I didn't make that clear," said Ewing in open court. "I find Officer Carter to be not a credible witness, and as such, I think it would be an injustice to allow this to proceed based upon evidence that she was responsible for in this case."

Ewing's ruling could leave hundreds of criminal cases in legal jeopardy since defense attorneys will likely use it to help their clients and call into question any of Carter's future testimony.

The Friendswood Police Department fired back on Tuesday in a lengthy statement.

The department stands by Carter and even called into question Ewing's ethics.

"Officer Carter's testimony has been under review for the last 2 weeks by police officials and the law firm of Olson and Olson LLP. The Friendswood Police Department believes that Officer Carter testified correctly and truthfully in regards to stopping vehicles when she had reasonable suspicion or probable cause and this is the legal standard that is clearly established in State and Federal case law. Further review of the transcript also indicated that Officer Carter testified truthfully, at times at her own peril, when the defense attorney continued to raise issues relating to probable cause as the legal standard for vehicle stops. The transcript showed the defense attorney and the prosecutor stated in opening remarks that it was the jury's responsibility to determine the credibility of witnesses, yet the judge chose to issue a directed verdict rather than letting the jury decide on Officer Carter's credibility. Finally, the review of the transcript showed the order issued by Judge Ewing regarding the credibility of Officer Carter appears to be based on the incorrect legal standard of probable cause vice reasonable suspicion for investigative and/or traffic stops. The content of the trial transcript was so problematic for police officials, it caused a review of Judge Ewing's most recent campaign donations filing with the Galveston County District Clerk's Office dated July 16, 2021. The review showed disturbing information where the defense attorney's law firm contributed $3000 to the judge's election campaign one week before the trial began, raising concerns of judicial bias in this case."

Ewing told ABC13 by phone he stands by his ruling. He said he makes decisions based on the evidence, not campaign contributions.

"I think that's just ridiculous," said Krieger.

He suggested that serious allegation of campaign interference was retaliatory for all the negative publicity surrounding Carter.

"It's judicial election season. They campaign. We give campaign donations to multiple judge," said Krieger. "To think that there was some type of impropriety because of that ... would certainly be questionable coming from Friendswood of all places."

Paul Aman is a lawyer who represents Carter.

When ABC13 tried reaching out to him by phone, he said Carter had no comment for our reporting.

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