KHOU: HPD is "quietly" reclassifying some homicides

Today, KHOU-11's Mark Greenblatt uncovers more on the problem HPD has had counting homicides correctly:

On Feb. 13, 2006, a fire deliberately started by someone burned through some East Houston apartments and boarding homes.

Joseph Chryar was trapped inside, and he would never make it out. His family said the truth hasn’t either.

“Of course I feel it is a cover-up,” father Joseph Chryar Sr. said. And he said it involves the Houston Police Department.

“It felt like they were trying to sweep it under the rug,” he said.

Early on, an autopsy by the Harris County Medical Examiner ruled Chryar’s death a homicide. But HPD labeled his death “dead man” and left it that way - never finding the criminal with the affinity for flame.

“It hurts me,” Chryar Sr. said. “It hurts me very deeply, because somebody needs to pay for this.”

[snip]

But now, the Defenders have discovered a quiet reversal by the Department.

Just recently, HPD took six deaths that had been off the books and reclassified them as murder. They reported those murders to the Texas Department of Public Safety and the FBI as part of their official Uniform Crime Report numbers.

The cases? Victims: Joe Green, Charles Arterburn, Henry Rusk, Augustin Canales, Xavier Hegwood and — Joseph Chryar.

Greenblatt points out another disturbing consequence of HPD's number-fudging:

the Defenders have discovered another injustice: By not labeling victims like McCoy as a homicide, HPD can actually punish his family further, along all the other families of similar victims in Houston.

The reason? It all has to do with access to something called the Crime Victims’ compensation fund.

“By golly, if criminals have rights, crime victims have rights too,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said.

Abbott speaks plainly.

“We obviously want to get resources and get help to crime victims as quickly as possible,” he said.

Abbott’s office offers crime victims’ families financial help for burial services and more through something called the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund- but not until a crime is declared.

“Once it’s established that the injury or death was because of a crime, then they are invited to apply to our crime victims’ compensation fund,” Abbott said.

But in the case the Defenders found, victims’ families couldn’t get that help because HPD hadn’t labeled their loved ones’ death a crime — leaving them out in the cold.

Remember, Chief Hurtt blasted Greenblatt's initial reporting, then outrageously refused to answer any questions about the story. Now it appears Chief Hurtt's arrogance is coming back to bite him, as his department faces a little media sunshine.

HPD needs to make it a priority to reexamine the cases Greenblatt uncovered. The victims' families need closure, and if they are owed some financial assistance, they need to be able to collect it. And Mayor White and Chief Hurtt owe all these families an apology.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 12/21/07 08:00 PM | Print |

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