UPDATE: Since the writing of this post, I have been informed that the District Attorney's Office has recused themselves from the Chiofalo cases.
Grits for Breakfast recently reported that when newly-elected Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty took over her new position from outgoing D.A. John Bradley, she found a welcoming gift in her desk drawer of a headless corral snake. This idea of a joke was clearly unprofessional, juvenile and mean-spirited; however, when considering the welcoming gifts provided during the Harris County District Attorney transition, it may pale in comparison.
When Mike Anderson took over for Pat Lykos on January 1st, he knew that he had a long road ahead of him. The prosecutors' morale was down after four years of working under Lykos, Jim Leitner and Roger Bridgwater. The Office's relationship with county-wide law enforcement agencies was strained. The budget and the Office's Asset Forfeiture fund had been radically depleted.
All of this were things that Anderson knew he would be inheriting when he took the helm. What he had not anticipated, however, were some of the scandals that had occurred under Lykos' Administration that suddenly were revealed under his tenure.
None of these scandals are more prominent than the FBI's arrest of former-Harris County D.A. Investigator Lonnie Blevins and the investigation into Blevins' partner, Dustin Deutsch for allegations of stealing high dollar evidence in a pending criminal case.
For those of you have somehow missed the story, Blevins and Deutsch are former partners with Harris County Fire Marshal's Office, who were hired to be D.A. investigators by Lykos at the beginning of 2012. Prior to being hired by the D.A.'s Office, they had served in a liason-type capacity with the Office. Both men were assigned to the Special Crimes Division, where they worked in Major Fraud.
In the vast majority of the investigator assignments with the D.A.'s Office, an investigator is very much a utility player in the course of day-to-day operations. They hunt down witnesses on upcoming cases for trials. They pick up evidence. They accompany prosecutors any time the prosecutor has to go out in the field.
Being an investigator in Major Fraud, however, is a much more pro-active assignment. Investigators like Deutsch and Blevins are routinely the police officers in charge of actually investigating allegations of criminal wrong-doing. They draft search warrants. They interview all the involved witnesses. They collect the evidence.
Most importantly, they are the Affiants when charges are filed.
The D.A. Investigators for the Major Fraud division of Special Crimes file the vast majority of the cases that Division will handle, which makes the recent investigation into Blevins and Deutsch crippling.
Blevins was arrested for stealing (and subsequently selling) a large amount of valuable collectible comic books. The problem was that these comic books were also evidence in the high-profile case against Anthony Chiofalo and his wife, Susan. The bigger problem was that the investigating police officer who actually filed the charges against the Chiofalos was Blevins' partner, Dustin Deutsch.
Let's just take a moment and see how this case plays out in trial.
A prosecutor has to put on Deutsch as a witness to testify about the wrong-doings of the Chiofalos. Deutsch testifies passionately about how those terrible people stole all of that money. The prosecutor then passes the witness to the defense attorney who asks Deutsch about how much money and collectibles he and Blevins stole as well.
See the problem here?
The fact that Deutsch and Blevins are under investigation isn't just relevant to the Chiofalo cases. Theft is a crime of moral turpitude and it calls into question every case they ever touched. There is a big difference from being a D.A. investigator who served a subpoena on a case, and being the one who actually filed the case, itself. Their level of involvement in all of those Major Fraud cases calls every last one of the cases into jeopardy.
Additionally, as a friend of mine pointed out, think about all of the cases that Deutsch and Blevins handled as Arson investigators with the Fire Marshal's Office. How easy would it be to walk through a burned up house and see an expensive watch, or even cash, laying around and steal it -- only to put in your report that all valuables had burned up in the fire?
The damage from the Blevins and Deutsch incident will affect not just pending cases, but potentially every one that they ever handled.
The District Attorney's Office did the right thing a few weeks ago when they said they were "freezing" 125 active cases handled by the Blevins and Deutsch.
But that's not enough.
Anthony Chiofalo's attorney, Paul Doyle, has called upon the Office to recuse itself from his client's prosecution, and he is absolutely right to ask for that. There is too much involvement from Office personnel that jeopardizes the integrity of the case. It is also worth noting that while the D.A.'s Office has "frozen" these cases, many of the defendants are still sitting in jail waiting for their cases to be "unfrozen" -- including Anthony Chiofalo.
Recently, the District Attorney's Office recused itself from handling the cases of any officers charged in the Chad Holley beating. The reason given for that recusal was that Devon Anderson, the wife of District Attorney Mike Anderson, had represented an officer involved (but not charged) with the beating.
I agree that the Office's self-recusal was appropriate in the Holley case. However, if it was appropriate in that case, then it is absolutely appropriate in the Chiofalo cases. Quite frankly, at this point, the District Attorney's Office probably needs to recuse itself from any case handled by Blevins and Deutsch. It just looks bad, otherwise.
NOTE: As an interesting side note, Lonnie Blevins has hired Dick DeGuerin to represent him on his Federal case. Dick is a great (and expensive) defense attorney. Mr. Blevins dealt with Dick before on the highly publicized arson case of then-Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina.
The bad acts allegedly committed by Deutsch and Blevins did not occur during the Anderson Administration and they don't reflect on it, either. That being said, how this Administration handles the fallout from this scandal absolutely reflects on them.
They inherited this problem, but they can very easily bypass their inheritance by simply recusing themselves from further involvement.
I don't understand why they wouldn't want to.