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Wednesday, January 26, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 81

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Smith denies cover-up, chief's dismissal

President says he didn't know Athletics forgery was a felony, targets media 'conspiracy'

By Audrey Warren
Senior Staff Writer

UH President Arthur K. Smith released a five-page memorandum Monday responding to what he called a "fictitious web of conspiracy" in the Houston news media regarding the alleged dismissal of UH Police Chief George Hess.

The memo followed a special meeting of the Board of Regents on Monday morning to consider possible litigation from Hess. Because that meeting was a closed session, the proceedings are not public record.

Hess' claims center on a 1998 case involving football player Michael DeRouselle, who forged an Athletics Department requisition form for $700 worth of books, which he then sold for his own profit. Although the forgery was reported to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which suspended DeRouselle for four games, Hess was not notified of the crime.

DeRouselle was indeed suspended for four games over the course of the 1998 and 1999 seasons. His scholarship was revoked, but was reinstated in September 1999 at the decision of a review committee. 

DeRouselle was suspended from UH at the end of last semester after a review of his case by the dean of students' office. The potential NFL draft pick is currently free on bail and awaiting trial.

After reading about DeRouselle's suspension in the Houston Chronicle, Hess told top UH administrators he planned to take the case before the Harris County district attorney. He said vice-presidents John Martin and Randy Harris urged him not to do so; then, after the case was tried and DeRouselle was sentenced to four years in prison, Hess claimed Martin fired him.

Smith's memo denied the allegations that the University tried to cover up DeRouselle's case, that it changed policy of reporting certain criminal activity on campus to exclude UHPD and that it threatened retaliation against Hess for taking DeRouselle's case to the DA.

Smith said he was not sorry for not reporting DeRouselle's forgery of the Athletics Department document, which followed the football player's 1996 conviction for forging his roommate's personal checks, because the administrators involved did not know of the earlier conviction and did not view the 1998 forgery as a felony.

"Neither (Athletics Director Chet) Gladchuk nor I identified the Athletics Department's internal form as an official state document," Smith wrote. "Neither of us realized that tampering with the department's internal document might be construed as a felony."

Further, Smith wrote UH General Counsel Dennis Duffy did not advise him the incident might be a felony at the time.

But even if they were unaware of the extent of the crime, forgery is a felony and should have been reported to the police, Harris County District Attorney John B. Holmes Jr. said.

"What difference does it make the level of the crime?" Holmes asked. "If a car is burglarized, it is a misdemeanor. If it is stolen, it's a felony. You don't report one and not the other."

Smith also denied the police chief's claims that he was informed of his termination during a meeting with Martin on Nov. 8, 1999, days after DeRouselle was sentenced.

But handwritten notes taken by UHPD Assistant Chief Frank Cempa during a Nov. 9 meeting with Hess and Martin, at which the two discussed Hess' termination, tell a different story.

In the notes, taken Nov. 9, Cempa wrote that Hess "informed Martin that he had told me on Monday (Nov. 8) that he (Hess) had been fired and a letter would be forthcoming in a couple of days."

Cempa wrote that Martin seemed surprised Hess had informed him of the dismissal and promised Hess that his notice-of-termination letter would be ready by Nov. 19.

"Martin then commented that he'd like Hess to transition into the new (UHPD building) and that Hess should go out in a dignified manner due to his being a long standing good performer," Cempa wrote.

Further, Cempa wrote, "Hess ... believes the termination is wrong as it's not for cause."

The University's Staff Handbook outlines the procedure for terminating full-time staff, stating that cause must be given for such action.

Hess' attorney, Glenn Diddell, said UH told him it had reinstated Hess to avoid any confusion. Nevertheless, Hess told the Chronicle he had not heard from officials regarding his position, and sources say the University has dealt with Cempa, not Hess, since November.

Smith told the Chronicle that UHPD was being re-evaluated as part of a University-wide reorganization. Any action regarding Hess' position -- which officials maintain has not occurred -- would simply be a result of that re-evaluation, the president said.

Smith summed up Tuesday's memo by suggesting Hess' allegations are the result of displeasure at that reorganization.

"If there is a lesson in all this, I believe it is that organizational change is often very difficult, and it will not be welcomed and supported by some employees," Smith wrote.

Diddell had no comment Tuesday on the chief's current legal position.

"My census is that this (memo) is a carefully scripted statement," he said. "I am somewhat mystified by some of the statements made."
 

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