'Made me sick': Mayor says he couldn't look past 2018 email about code in lead up to Finner retiring

Courtney Fischer Image
Wednesday, May 8, 2024
Troy Finner out as Houston police chief amid suspended cases scandal
Three years and a month ago, the city ushered in new leadership at the police department. Fast forward to Tuesday night, and HPD is undergoing change once again.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Troy Finner, the city of Houston's chief of police for the last three years, is out amid questions about whether he was aware of a code that suspended more than 260,000 cases years sooner than the timeline he gave to the public.

Eyewitness News obtained an email by Mayor John Whitmire sent late Tuesday night to Houston Police Department employees, informing them of the change at the top. Executive Assistant Chief Larry Satterwhite will serve as acting police chief, as stated in the email.

"This decision comes with full confidence in Acting Chief Satterwhite's abilities to lead and uphold the high standards of our department," the email read in part.

According to Whitmire's email, the mayor accepted Finner's retirement, effective 10:31 p.m. Tuesday.

"It's not an easy decision to see a public servant retire. I'm very confident it was in the best interest for Houston, the department and for Chief Finner," Whitmire said at a press briefing Wednesday morning. "I considered Troy Finner a friend, a colleague."

Whitmire said that he spent all day Friday and Saturday with Finner, but what happened the day before was the start of what ultimately became too much.

According to Whitmire, the investigation into the cases was closed last Thursday, but it was reopened Friday afternoon after a letter from the Houston Police Officers Union that called the integrity of the probe into question.

The investigation into the suspended cases began after a memo from Executive Assistant Chief Chandra Hatcher. In it, she claimed to have heard concerns about the "Suspended - Lack of Personnel" code during a meeting on Nov. 4, 2021. It was a meeting attended by Finner, where he said he had heard of the code for the first time and also ordered his leaders to never use it again.

However, HPOU alleges that Hatcher wasn't at the meeting - despite the memo saying she was - and it's that concern that they sent in a letter to the mayor last week.

Whitmire said that coupled with the investigation had become disruptive to the department and its staff, especially since resources in reviewing the cases had taken officers off the streets.

But it was a 2018 email, Whitmire said Wednesday, that made him "sick."

In fact, sources close to the situation told ABC13 reporter Courtney Fischer that the 2018 email was hard for Whitmire to look past.

On Tuesday, 13 Investigates obtained the aforementioned email showing Finner knew of that coding being used at least once, meaning he was aware of it three years earlier than he previously claimed.

The July 20, 2018, email was addressed to several high-ranking HPD leaders, including then-Chief Art Acevedo and Finner, who was an executive assistant chief back then.

The email mentions a specific road rage case marked "Suspended - Lack of Personnel." It details that the case was labeled that way, even though a witness identified a suspect.

Finner responds to the email, saying, "This is unacceptable, look into it and follow up with me."

The email does not flag issues with the suspended code or address how often it is used.

After the report, Finner released a statement, insisting he had no recollection of the email until Tuesday.

"I have always been truthful and have never set out to mislead anyone about anything, including this investigation. Until I was shown the email today, I had no recollection of it. I have since been informed it was already included in the internal investigation. I promised an independent and thorough investigation and my lack of knowledge of this email serves as proof of my independence," the statement read, in part.

Finner would go on to retire later that night.

"It made me sick when I saw the last email," Whitmire said Wednesday. "But I don't have time to be sick. I have to make the best decision based on all the information I have received."

Whitmire explained that after the email surfaced, he and Finner discussed what his options were, and it ultimately led to his stepping down, adding that he took Hatcher's letter into consideration when deciding to accept the police chief's retirement.

The mayor first publicly addressed Finner's retirement during city council on Wednesday morning, speaking of Satterwhite as well.

"I hope we'll support the agency, Chief Satterwhite, who most of you know," Whitmire said. "I've worked with him for years. He's been on the department for 34 years. He was actually the acting chief when Chief Finner would leave town. I know the department and Houstonians are in good keeping with Chief Satterwhite."

In March 2021, former Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner handpicked Finner to take over the department in America's fourth-largest city, overseeing more than 5,300 officers and another 1,200 civilian support staff, according to HPD's website.

Finner's stint crossed over into Whitmire's mayoral administration that began this year. By month two of the former state senator's time in office, the chief revealed thousands of sexual assault investigations were suspended due to lack of personnel, which was attached with the "SL" coding.

In the weeks following the mid-February revelation, Finner announced the true scope of the suspended cases - more than 264,000 investigations suspended since 2016 due to a lack of personnel.

Acevedo was police chief in 2016 when the code was first issued.

But Whitmire said Wednesday that there were issues as far back as 2014, saying that between eight years under the previous administration and four police chiefs, "There's plenty of fault to go around."

SEE MORE: HPD says over 81K reports reviewed of the 264K cases suspended due to lack of personnel

Whitmire called Finner's retirement a "tough decision," but said he's ready to move forward.

"My judgment was we have to get back to crimefighting. We've got to get out of the press," Whitmire said.

READ MORE: 13 Investigates: HPD Chief Finner was emailed about suspended code in 2018

13 Investigates obtained a 2018 email that calls into question when HPD Chief Troy Finner first heard a case was suspended due to lack of staff.

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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