HPD chief learned of suspended cases the day before Astroworld tragedy

Tuesday, April 2, 2024
HPD chief learned of suspended cases the day before Astroworld tragedy
Houston PD Chief Troy Finner says investigation into suspended cases could wrap up this month but could result in spin-off investigations.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Sitting at the center of a conference table, surrounded by media and members of his team, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner answered questions about the controversy surrounding thousands of adult sex crime cases that were suspended due to lack of staff.

It was the first time in weeks that Finner, who has held just two news conferences since announcing concerns about suspended cases on Feb. 16, spoke directly with reporters about the ongoing internal investigation and efforts to contact victims. He did not allow media to video or audio record the meeting.

"Staffing is a problem, and it has been a problem, but it is never an excuse not to investigate violent crimes against people," Finner said during the two-hour conversation on Tuesday.

In February, Finner said he identified more than 260,000 incident reports, including 4,017 adult sex crime reports, that were wrongfully assigned a " suspended - lack of personnel," or "SL" code since 2016. That accounts for one in every 10 incident reports over the last eight years.

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

Finner, who was appointed police chief in April 2021, said he told staff to stop assigning incident reports the SL code in November 2021.

On Tuesday, we learned Finner found out about the SL code on November 4, 2021, just one day before the Astroworld tragedy where 10 people died at a concert in Houston.

Finner said there are "no excuses," but told us his directives were never followed and he never followed up.

13 Investigates' Kevin Ozebek asked Finner if he made a mistake not following-up.

"Nobody is perfect," he said, later adding, "You are only as good as the information you receive from your support team."

Finner said we'll know why his orders weren't followed when the investigation is complete.

Two assistant chiefs were demoted this year, but Finner said it was not disciplinary but rather "done to move our investigation forward."

After Finner learned in February that the code was still being used despite his instructions, he ordered every case to be reviewed.

In February, he assigned special staff to start contacting victims, with a priority put on victims of adult sex crimes.

ABC13's Lileana Pearson asked Finner about a portion of the SL code that says officers are supposed to follow-up on cases and reassign them to investigators even if they do mark them as suspended due to lack of staff. Finner said he assumes at least some of the cases were never reviewed and reassigned.

Two adult sex crime victims 13 Investigates spoke with last week said they hadn't been contacted by HPD yet. We know one of them has since been contacted.

We asked HPD last week how many victims they had contacted so far and they told us the situation is "fluid."

Today, Finner said of the 264,000 incident reports, 67,533 have been reviewed, which is about one in four cases.

Additionally, 3,883 of the 4,017 sexual assault incident reports have been reviewed, with investigators scheduling more than 256 follow-up interviews.

Finner said the code was first implemented in 2016, years before he took over as police chief.

"We are in this predicament, and I said from the very start, I own it, we own it as a department," he said. "I didn't start it, but I am damn sure going to end it."

He admitted the department still has work to do, but as a native Houstonian said he is fortunate that the department has "deep relationships" with the community.

"Nothing is more important than the survivors of the victims - if we let anyone behind, that is my main concern," he said. "I am laser focused on making sure we reach back and leave no one behind."

Finner has vowed to be transparent, but HPD has sent 18 of our requests to the Texas Attorney General, who will rule whether or not 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.

He said the investigation could wrap up as early as this month and said that's when we could find out who created the SL code and there could be spin-off investigations.

In the meantime, Finner said he has not been interviewed as part of any investigation independent panel looking into the SL code.

Finner confirmed his chief policy officer, James Jones, is resigning. 13 Investigates asked Finner if Jones' resignation has anything to do with the investigation. He confirmed 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.

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

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