|Wednesday, November 4, 1998||
Volume 64, Issue 52
Whitlock on Gender Equality
Lisa M. Chmiola
Crime and punishment
Houston Police Department Chief Clarence O. Bradford Monday fired six Houston officers involved in the July 12 shooting death of Pedro Oregon Navarro.
Oregon, 22, was killed in his southwest Houston apartment after HPD received a tip that drugs were being dealt there.
A grand jury previously no-billed five of the officers and charged the sixth with a misdemeanor. However, an internal police investigation found the officers violated department policies as well as state and federal laws.
Three of the officers said Oregon pointed his gun at them and fired. However, evidence in the investigation showed Oregon did not fire. Instead, the shot came from another officer's weapon that accidentally discharged.
Bradford was right to fire them, and whether the officers murdered Oregon or acted in self defense -- though it is important the justice be served in this case -- isn't the primary issue in their discharge.
The point is that the officers broke laws, and if they had gone unreprimanded it would have reflected badly on the entire force. It would have seemed as if HPD officers could do anything they wanted, and as long as they weren't convicted, they wouldn't be punished.
In any job, if policies are broken, the employees who broke them are dealt with in an appropriate manner. And when laws are broken, individuals are punished.
The investigation cited the officers for various infractions, ranging from improper use of an informant to official oppression and criminal activity. To top it off, all six were accused of lying to police internal affairs investigators.
While the officers may never be jailed or fined for their actions that July evening, at least they paid for it with their jobs. We trust our police officers to protect us and our community, so how can we trust officers when they lie to their own co-workers?
Mayor Lee Brown's support of Bradford's decision highlights the need to have a police force we can trust. We need to be sure that officers will check all the facts before acting on a tip. We need to know that they will follow the policies of the department.
We need to believe that they will do their jobs the right way. We don't let them carry guns for nothing.
The decision of the grand jury cannot be changed. District Attorney John B. Holmes Jr. has already said the case will not be tried, no matter what the investigation found.
A U.S. Justice Department investigation is also ongoing. But whatever is found, Houstonians can rest in knowing that HPD officers will not go unpunished if they break the rules and take the law into their own hands improperly.