Ron Hickman: You Can’t Indict My Deputies, Our Investigation Cleared Them!
July 5, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman is upset. Two of his deputies, Ronaldine Pierre and William Strong, were indicted for Official Oppression[*] for their roadside body cavity search of Charnesia Corley on June 20, 2015, as Fault Lines contributor Andrew Fleischman wrote last April. In addition, the District Attorney’s Office had earlier dropped criminal charges against Corley.
On that night in June, Corley was stopped for running a stop sign, a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine only. Deputy Strong could smell the odor of burned marijuana, so he had probable cause to search for drugs. The problem is how he and Deputy Pierre went about it.
They pulled down Corley’s pants, right there on the side of the road, and when she protested, threw her to the ground and pinned her there with her legs spread. Pierre then digitally penetrated Corley’s vagina in an unsuccessful search for drugs. The deputies claimed to find 0.02 ounces[†] of marijuana in the car, and charged her with Possession of Marijuana under 2 ounces and Resisting Arrest, Search, or Transportation.[‡]
Roadside searches like this have happened off and on again in Texas. Two state troopers did a roadside search like that in the Dallas area, and the female trooper was charged Sexual Assault, later taking a deal for Official Oppression. Another woman has a federal lawsuit pending against state troopers who she claimed did a body cavity search on the side of the road near Freeport. As Fault Lines contributor Tamara Tabo mentioned in a post on the Dallas incident, the state legislature changed the law to prohibit these types of searches unless the police first obtained a search warrant.[§]
So after looking at the offense charged against Corley, the actions taken by the deputies, and the facts in the case, Devon Anderson dropped the charges against Corley. She then took the matter before a grand jury, which indicted the two deputies.
At this point, Hickman exploded, accusing the DA of getting the officers indicted based on “news reports” alone. Hickman was upset because a “lengthy” internal affairs investigation conducted by his office cleared his employees of any wrongdoing.
Well, hell, what’s the District Attorney thinking! Oh yeah, that the search was “offensive and shocking.”
Corley’s attorney stated:
It was unbelievable. They completely stripped her naked, from the waist down, spread her legs apart, threw her down in handcuffs, and had her face down in the concrete with her legs spread apart for, I mean, it had to be ten, eleven minutes.
What? That’s a problem? Don’t you folks understand that we’re in a war here? Hickman has an internal affairs unit that handles these investigations and we can trust the police to investigate themselves. It really shouldn’t matter that a state senator (Rodney Ellis) has complained to the state Commission on Jail Standards to increase their oversight after Hickman reduced the jail IA unit by over half its strength. Or that another state senator, John Whitmire, suggested that Harris County needed people from the outside to oversee complaints against Sheriff’s employees in the jail.
But while two state senators are pushing for increased oversight, Hickman is reducing internal oversight. While the state has looked at strip searches and decided that any body cavity search is so invasive as to require a search warrant, Hickman is defending deputies who conducted such a search on the side of the road, in full view of the public. And then he’s twisting off on the District Attorney, who has shown that she will follow the law, wherever it leads, even if it pisses off people like the Lieutenant Governor.[**] He’s twisted off before, blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for the death of Deputy Darren Goforth, before later stating that his statements were “misconstrued” (but that he stands by them).
That’s typical of police. Once you make a statement, you don’t back down, you don’t change your story, you don’t correct mistakes. To do so is considered weakness in the police community. One thing is clear, Hickman is old school. When he took office, he immediately demoted or fired the two women in command positions and appointed eight white guys, with two of those brought back from retirement. He demoted the LGBT liaison and eliminated the position that was intended to protect LGBT inmates from assault and rape in the jail. And only the police can really investigate police, because no one else understands what they do.
But Anderson doesn’t look at it that way. If a police officer or deputy sheriff breaks the law, she’s going to indict them, like the Houston PD officer who was lying about his DWI stops and arrests. So Anderson is going to stand by the indictment of the deputies for what they did to Corley on the side of the road in June of 2015. And Hickman is going to fume. The press release his office issued said:
Rumor, innuendo and sensationalism do not correlate to the facts surrounding Corley’s arrest.
No, Sheriff Hickman, the facts surrounding Corley’s arrest warrant an indictment. My choice would have been for Sexual Assault, but I can also support an indictment for Official Oppression. The problem is that when there is a question of police committing a crime, it needs to be investigated by an outside agency, not by an internal investigation.
This isn’t a new idea. Gerry Spence suggested in his book, Police State, that an outside body review police misconduct.[††] Barbara Armacost, a law professor at the University of Virginia, pointed out some of the deficiencies in internal affairs investigations, including the fact that IA investigations only find officer misconduct in 13%[‡‡] of the cases investigated.
So while Ron Hickman is telling everyone that these are not the droids we are looking for, Anderson is not buying it.[§§] She intends to prosecute the deputies, and she should. And if Hickman won’t protect the public, then perhaps it’s time for the people, to paraphrase Fleischman, to vote out the officials who won’t protect them.
[†] Equal to about ½ gram, or enough for one small joint.
[‡] The possession charge carried up to 6 months in jail and a $2,000 fine, while the resisting charge was up to a year and a $4,000 fine.
[§] The new law went into effect on September 1, 2015.
[††] Gerry Spence, Police State: How America’s Cops Get Away with Murder 315-316 (2015). Although the Simple Justice review correctly points out that Spence is more into story-telling than scholarly research, his proposal for outside investigation of police misconduct is valid. Plus, I like fringed buckskin jackets.
[‡‡] Barbara E. Armacost, Organizational Culture and Police Misconduct, 72 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 453, 537 n.523 (2004) (citing Anthony M. Pate et al., 1 Police Use of Force: Official Reports, Citizen Complaints, and Legal Consequences (1993)).