Officers file lawsuit against HCC, claiming retaliation involving suspended chief: 'It's corrupt'

Friday, December 22, 2023
Officers file lawsuit against HCC, claim retaliation
As an investigation continues into Houston Community College's chief of police, ABC13 has learned a lawsuit has now been filed.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- ABC13 first uncovered that the police chief of Houston Community College is under investigation and placed on administrative leave. Now, we have learned a lawsuit has been filed.

Following a tip, Houston Community College officials would not answer basic questions about the employment status of Chief Michael Benford. An open records request revealed he has been placed on leave with pay since Oct. 24.

Three officers and a sergeant are now suing Houston Community College, stating that complaints were filed about Chief Benford and Captain Artina Walker. The suit alleges Chief Benford used his position of power to hire Walker, whom he knew beforehand, and that Walker lied on her application and background check.

Marcus McNeil is one of the officers named in the suit. He has worked with Houston Community College Police for 12 years. He describes the department, responsible for the safety of thousands of students, across 21 campuses, as corrupt.

"It's very corrupt. Very unfair," McNeil said. "We have a lot of great people who work there, but the power structure is a huge problem."

The officers and the sergeant filed complaints with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE). In the suit, a letter from TCOLE confirms Walker had inconsistent statements related to her personal history statement, and continued violations may result in formal disciplinary action or license suspension.

Following the investigation, attorney Scott Poerschke, representing the officers, claims they were retaliated against, and HCC failed to protect them under the Whistleblower Protection Act.

"They transferred them, demoted them, stripped them of job duties, in an effort to get them to leave and forced to resign on their own," Poerschke said.

ABC13 asked how he was certain this was retaliation and not bad behavior from the officers and sergeant.

"One of the things you look at in these cases is the timing," Poerschke said. "TCOLE came to Houston Community College in July. Immediately after TCOLE came to the college, there was a systematic retaliation against my clients."

While Chief Benford is on leave, he is still getting paid - his yearly salary of $158,000, which is all taxpayer money.

"There is a public trust to use those taxpayer dollars wisely," Poerschke said. "You shouldn't hire corrupt individuals, and they should protect people who report them. What is concerning is the failure of the Houston Community College system to hire a chief and captains that run these police departments that protect these students that go to Houston Community College."

McNeil said it was important to him to report the allegations because it is his duty as an officer, and wanted to set an example for his son.

"I feel, as an officer and a Black male raising a 15-year-old son, that it would be wrong for me to know about corruption and not speak up on it when I'm setting an example for him," McNeil said.

The attorney representing Houston Community College has not responded to our emails.

ABC13 has reached back out to Chief Benford and Captain Walker, but have not heard back.

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