The Crack Pipe Controversy Behind the Houston Prosecutor-Cop Feud


A man is stopped by a Houston police officer for riding a bike at night without a headlight. He is patted down, and the officer finds a grungy glass pipe with the sooty residue of crack cocaine. Before Jan. 1, 2010, says the Houston Chronicle, the tiny amount of crack in the pipe, comparable to a half grain of rice, meant the officer could charge the man with felony drug possession and lock him up. Since then, the officer could only give him a misdemeanor ticket for drug paraphernalia and send him on his way. It was a change at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office that infuriates Houston police. The policy is pitting District Attorney Pat Lykos against six police groups that announced a vote of “no-confidence” in the sitting DA.

“These residue cases are instrumental in putting people behind bars – people who commit burglary of a motor vehicle,burglary of a habitation, aggravated robberies, strong arm robberies and they steal your cars,” said Eric Batton, vice president of the Harris County Deputies’ Organization. “These individuals do that to subsidize their drug addiction, so why wouldn’t you put them behind bars with trace cases?” Judge Michael McSpadden, who has handled criminal cases since 1982, says the “War on Drugs” has been lost and he has changed his mind about his “get tough on crime” stance. He urges a policy of treatment and second chances for addicts. “Pat Lykos and I are not close, and in fact probably don’t like each other, but she’s right about this,” the jurist said. “Almost everyone’s in agreement except, I guess, the police unions.”

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