13 Investigates: Shootings less likely to be solved when victim survives

Sarah Rafique Image
Tuesday, September 27, 2022
13 Investigates: Shootings less likely solved when victim survives
13 Investigates found thousands of people are shot at every year in Houston, but only about 30% of those shootings end up getting solved.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A woman was hiding behind a trash can outside a small events venue in far southeast Houston when someone started screaming.

"Get up. Get up," she remembers them yelling at her. "They're going to shoot you if you keep sitting there."

The woman started running, but as soon as she turned a corner, she wasn't moving anymore.

"I fell real hard on my side and I was like, 'Why am I not running anymore?' because I remember me running," the shooting victim, who 13 Investigates is not naming since a suspect hasn't been identified, said. "I'm looking around and I'm like, 'Don't tell me I got shot.' That's where I was at. That's where my panic was at, and then I looked down and I was just like, gushing out."

As she lay bleeding on the floor after getting shot in the stomach, she saw flashing lights and people jumping over her and began begging: "Please help me. Don't leave me here."

In that moment, she felt alone. She said she's continued to feel alone over in the nearly 10 months since the shooting as she waits to hear from Houston police.

"I don't know who it is. It eats me alive that I don't know who it is," the victim told 13 Investigates' Ted Oberg. "I'm more upset with the police because I'm like, 'Are you guys even helping people that even go through this type of stuff?'"

13 Investigates found the Houston Police Department solves about 84% of homicides - the homicide division's clearance rate is 84% as of Monday - but when it comes to shootings where a victim survives, those cases are less likely to be solved, leaving thousands of victims waiting for answers every year.

During the first six months of this year, HPD has responded to 2,530 aggravated assaults with a firearm incidents, but only cleared 24% of those cases.

By HPD's definition, cleared cases include those where the status is listed as "cleared" or "closed" or has a status of "suspended - patrol arrest" or "inactive - arrest warrant filed."

Over the last three and a half years, HPD cleared about 30% of the 15,567 aggravated assaults with a firearm incidents.

"I don't think it's something that any of us are comfortable with. We would like the number to be higher, but the number also is what the number is," Houston Police Assistant Chief Wyatt Martin told Oberg. "That number has so many factors that go into it. Do we have a witness? Do we have information on a suspect that we can prosecute? Can we get cooperation, even from the victim? The unfortunate fact of the matter is, in some of these cases, we don't get cooperation from the victim. We don't get cooperation from witnesses. We don't have surveillance camera footage or anything that we can use to identify that person. It seems like with murders, for some reason or another, more leads tend to come up."

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So far this year, at least 702 people were shot and injured in Houston, which is an average of about four people shot every day. That doesn't include the hundreds who are shot and killed annually across the city.

Martin said the division that investigates non-fatal shootings - along with others across HPD - could always use more detectives.

When we asked for the current workload of investigators in the Major Assaults and Family Violence Division, we found there are only 180 active aggravated assault with a deadly weapon cases as of Sept. 15. The 180 include cases where a firearm wasn't the weapon.

We asked HPD how many aggravated assault cases are inactive, but the department couldn't tell us.

HPD's Major Assaults Division said in a statement that investigators try but aren't always able to make every shooting scene.

"These cases are worked until conclusion, either through the filing of charges, inactivating the case when all leads have been exhausted, or cleared through other investigative means. When there are no leads or all leads have been exhausted, the case is moved to an inactive status. If new information comes in later, such as a tip, new physical evidence, or a new witness comes forward, the investigation will then be reopened," the statement says. "There is a victim in each of these cases who has been injured physically or traumatized or both. HPD recognizes the importance of every one of these cases, but unfortunately, sometimes there are no workable leads and a case must be inactivated."

'We need assistance'

After she was shot, the victim we spoke with said people just ran past her without helping. One even took a video of her laying on the floor and posted it to Snapchat, but she doesn't think they bothered to call 911.

Eventually, the victim told us her friends found her. Without them, she thinks she could have died because nobody else seemed to care that someone was shot, leaving her helpless.

That helplessness is something HPD may also be grappling with. Although detectives are assigned to every shooting, Houston police told us they have to consider what they call solvability factors - like a known suspect, eyewitnesses, surveillance video or cooperation from victims - when deciding when to let a case go inactive.

Without a few of those, it's not likely police can afford to give it much time, and even they admit it isn't enough.

"We're doing what we can, but we are 5,000 people in a city of millions. We need assistance," Martin said. "We need your eyes. We need your ears. If you know something about a serious violent incident that impacted one of your neighbors or one of your family members, we need to know because if we can stop that person before they then turn around and victimize someone else, we can actually make an impact."

Martin said scared victims or witnesses, or those involved in gang activity and uninterested in coming forward, are some of the roadblocks HPD faces in solving non-fatal shootings.

RELATED: 13 Investigates: Why you're paying millions for gunshot hospital bills without getting shot

"People are afraid to cooperate. They fear retaliation," Martin said. "Some of them just think there's nothing that can be done and they just don't want to get involved. ... They may know exactly who shot them, or at least have a very good idea, but they don't cooperate with us. Their choice is to try to handle it themselves. Don't talk to the police, don't cooperate with the police and that is something that we deal with on a regular basis."

The victim we spoke with said she doesn't know by name the person who shot her, but if she saw his face, she would be able to identify him and would be willing to do so in court. But, after calling police about five times this year for an update in her case, she said she finally gave up.

"They failed me in a way," she said. "If I did die there, would y'all even investigate it? Would you even help me in a way or do I have to find him on my own? That's where I was like battling in my head, so I gave up. I was like, there's no point even in me expressing it or talking about it."

More 'potential victims' in high density neighborhoods

Whenever he goes to community meetings to provide Houstonians with crime updates, Martin said he's mindful of residents' concerns.

"I can tell you crime's down 99%, but if you're a crime victim, that's not what your concern is. Your concern is, 'I was victimized,' or 'My loved one was victimized,' and you want to know what we're doing about it, so we never stop," Martin said. "Crime can be down, but we're not going to sit there and say, 'Well, it's down, we're good.' We're going to continue to pursue it."

He said non-fatal shootings happen every day, and the department puts a "heavy emphasis" on devoting resources to as many as they can.

"If we can't, because of manpower, treat them exactly the same as a murder, we try to come as close as we can because it's our belief and understanding it wasn't necessarily for lack of trying," he said. "Quite often that person who was shot, it wasn't the shooter's intent to just have them survive. They either survived through the wonderful efforts of our EMS personnel or the trauma doctors that we have in this city that save a lot of lives and that's fantastic, but we still have to take that crime extraordinarily seriously."

Our investigation found last year, 30% of the 4,891 shooting victims sustained injuries. The other 70% were cases where shots were fired but no one was injured.

"Firing any weapon in a city like Houston is dangerous," Martin said. "You send a bullet out of the barrel of a gun, it goes somewhere. It hits something - whether it's the ground, whether it's a tree, whether it's the side of a building or whether it's a person. Every time a gun is fired in this city, we have to take it seriously."

When looking at the first six months of 2021 compared to the first six months of this year, the number of shooting victims is down by 11%.

Still, our investigation found 41% of Houston police beats had more residents who were shot but survived so far this year.

INTERACTIVE: Houston police respond to thousands of shootings every year. On mobile device? Click here for a full screen experience.

The worst was in the Clear Lake Division, or Edgebrook area, where 12 people were shot and survived in that six-square mile police beat during the first six months of last year. From January through June of this year, 31 people were shot and survived in that police beat.

SEE ALSO: Man killed while protecting pregnant girlfriend survived shooting just 1 year ago, his mom says

We spoke with three other crime victims or family members of people who were shot in that beat and they all tell us they are too fearful to share their stories since a suspect hasn't been caught in their cases.

Our investigation also found a case where a victim was shot in that beat and survived, but his case was never solved and he was shot and killed this year.

Martin said he has noticed an uptick in shootings in the Clear Lake area, but anytime police think they may have a profile of the "typical" suspect or victim, something happens, causing it to change.

"We can't necessarily look at a neighborhood and say, 'well, that's where there's a bunch of bad guys,' but we can look at a neighborhood and say, 'there's a lot of potential victims,'" he said. "Anytime you have a dense population, you tend to get a disproportionate amount of crime because it's like taking a single family, residential neighborhood of 1,000 homes and cramming them into two blocks."

Nearly 10 months have passed since the victim we spoke with was shot in the stomach in far Southeast Houston.

She wants the suspects to be held accountable so they don't hurt anyone else, but she also wants to forgive them so she can let go of the pain, anxiety and fear she's been harboring since getting shot.

"It might be crazy to say, but if I forgive that person, I could move on with my life. I don't have to be so angry or bitter or hostile towards others because I'm angry that a person that I don't know shot me," she said.

No matter how much she wants to, she's not sure she can forgive an anonymous person, so she'll keep waiting on police to solve the case.

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