Federal investigators are working with Houston authorities to untangle the destruction of what prosecutors say could be as many as 21,500 pieces of evidence by the Precinct 4 constable’s office that led to erroneous jailing or convictions of more than 150 defendants, the Houston Chronicle reports. Federal officials have the authority to investigate if they determine the loss of evidence led to wrongful incarcerations, a violation of federal civil rights laws.
Defense attorney Paul Morgan, whose case first drew public attention to the issue, called for outside investigators to handle the probe, saying the Harris County District Attorney’s office has a conflict of interest. District Attorney Devon Anderson’s public integrity section already is investigating problems that have affected both pending and recently prosecuted cases, but would welcome an outside audit and federal agencies’ help as the scope of the problem continues to expand, said Jeff McShan, the office spokesman. Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said he believes the agency’s evidence problems are smaller than the DA has described and were limited to one “rogue employee” – Corporal Chris Hess. Herman painted a picture of a property room that was stuffed with evidence and a deputy who haphazardly cleaned out drugs, guns, and other items while other officers followed correct evidence destruction procedures.