- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

HOUSTON One of the biggest mass arrests in this city's history 273 persons hauled in during a predawn raid in mid-August has turned into a financial and emotional trauma for local law enforcement.
The police chief might go to prison for perjury. The captain who led the raid might eventually be fired. Twelve other officers have been relieved of duty. And the city faces millions in potential legal costs.
The 5,300-man Houston Police Department is in turmoil, many aligning themselves behind either Capt. Mark Aguirre or Police Chief Clarence Bradford.
Though relations between the two men who joined the department in 1979 had been less than cordial for years, the big blowup didn't come until Aug. 18, when Capt. Aguirre headed a raid on drag racers who regularly invaded a Kmart parking lot in west Houston.
Just after midnight, the police swooped down on the area, arrested 273 persons, piled them into paddy wagons, took them to jail and had their vehicles towed. It caused an immediate furor. Some said they were just eating at the nearby Sonic drive-in or shopping at Kmart.
Others said the police had set up "no trespassing" signs around the Kmart parking lot only that evening. Lawyers for some of those charged later determined that more than four dozen such signs had been purchased by the police department. The police chief said the raid seemed unnecessary and perhaps even illegal.
Several officers were suspended, pending an investigation. Capt. Aguirre, who led the raid despite the fact it was out of his jurisdiction, later was suspended on charges of interfering with the investigation. Tempers flared. Capt. Aguirre felt he was unfairly singled out, and blamed his troubles on the chief.
Some officers say morale since has never been lower. Other officers deny the inner-department wrangling will last for a long time, but concede that department divisions since the raid are profound and deep.
"I can't believe it has come to this," said one sergeant, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "It's just a tremendous personality conflict that has drawn almost all of us into it. I wish they had just allowed us to do our jobs. I'm not taking sides. But I resent what is happening."
Steve Sanders, president of the Houston Police Patrolman's Union, calls it "a power struggle" and blames Capt. Aguirre for most of the trouble.
"Aguirre's been a problem child for a number of years here. Bradford has tried to be somewhat lenient. This is what it's got him," Mr. Sanders said.
Some more pointedly describe the captain as "a loose cannon" or "an officer out of control."
The captain's attorney brought to the district attorney's attention a months-old accusation: That the police chief had lied during a Civil Service Board hearing about charges Capt. Aguirre had used abusive language with his subordinates.
In that hearing, Mr. Aguirre's attorney had asked the police chief if he ever used profanity against an assistant chief.
The chief said he had not. Later the assistant chief disagreed. That was the basis for the perjury charge against Chief Bradford.
Some of Chief Bradford's friends are saying such charges would never have been considered if Chief Bradford was not black. They point to the fact the district attorney is white.
"What's happening here is so unfair," said Rusty Hardin, one of the chief's attorneys. He said lawyers report accusations of perjury to the district attorney all the time, with rarely any prosecution seen.
Don Smyth, Harris County assistant district attorney, rejected suggestions of political or personal animus in the decision to try Chief Bradford.
"We took an oath to do the right thing. That's what we do, regardless," he said.
Officer Wayne Mosley of the Houston Police Officers Union, the largest of eight unions within the department, said though the situation was "sticky," he didn't think the fracas had hurt morale.
Meanwhile, city prosecutors have dropped all trespassing and curfew-violation charges for those caught in the raid, and the City Council is working on reimbursing towing charges for some 95 vehicles hauled away that night.


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