The War Within

Mark Aguirre is an aggressive Houston cop who won civilian support by fighting crime. But the abrasive captain could lose his biggest battle: the one raging over him in HPD itself.

The only sure thing is that Aguirre's efforts have roiled the division.

"I've paid a price, genuinely," he says, "because [opponents] use our department's internal-affairs process to slow me down."

News reports show he was hit with a 15-day suspension in 1998 for failing to follow proper procedures. Aguirre was accused of allowing one of his lieutenants to give special work privileges to a female sergeant, even though he was aware that the two staffers were in the midst of a romantic relationship. Two years earlier, the captain received similar disciplinary action for not adhering to department regulations involving a sexual harassment complaint lodged against another of his lieutenants.

Aguirre says half of HPD is made up of "malingerers."
Deron Neblett
Aguirre says half of HPD is made up of "malingerers."
Community activist Julian Cortinas says residents got only lip service before Aguirre arrived.
Deron Neblett
Community activist Julian Cortinas says residents got only lip service before Aguirre arrived.

Aguirre says he's been the subject of many anonymous internal-affairs complaints. The most high-profile one came last year after one officer secretly taped portions of a staff meeting where Aguirre reamed out his command officers. He denied the allegations of several staffers who said Aguirre told them he'd "grind them into dog patties and stomp them into pancakes." The captain admitted using some profanity to emphasize his points, saying the intent was "to chew ass -- pure and simple."

The complaint centered on what some officers perceived as threats, as well as his rough language, thus displaying an Emily Post-like quality to HPD that had been heretofore kept discreet.

Police Chief C.O. Bradford testified in the hearing on Aguirre's appeal that a suspension of a few days had been recommended for the captain, but Bradford reduced it to only a written reprimand, presuming that it would be adequate to teach the captain the error of his ways. After Aguirre's defiance, the chief said that in retrospect he wished he had pressed for the suspension.

Aguirre fought the charge (see "HPD Blue," by George Flynn, May 30), and during the civil-service hearing Aguirre attorney Terry Yates asked Bradford if he had ever called an assistant chief a "motherfucker." Bradford said no; the assistant said yes. And Aguirre asked the Harris County district attorney to investigate Bradford for perjury.

"Nine times out of ten, when the chief says he doesn't curse, are you going to make a big deal out of it?" asks Burt Springer, an attorney who represents many HPD officers.

"It's unfortunate, but I didn't make that man do it. He did it to himself," says Aguirre. Bradford, through a spokesperson, refused to comment on Aguirre or Operation Renaissance.

Aguirre says he's used to being arrayed against other officers. "If I know I'm doing the right thing, I don't care if they love me or not," he says.

Talk to officers about Aguirre, and often enough one will mention the 1995 incident when he crashed his city vehicle at 3 a.m.

Aguirre was in the Northwest Division at the time, but he says his attitude toward work had already alienated some officers. "They were out there at that accident scene looking for beer cans or bottles and even fingerprinting them," he says.

Aguirre was never charged with driving while intoxicated, and he says he reimbursed the city for the damage. He says he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a fence at a dead end near the Heights. "I believe the air bag knocked me for a loop…but the other guys wanted to believe I was drunk," he says.

He admits he had been to a bar earlier that evening, but had then spent "six or seven hours," mostly sleeping, at a friend's home. A half-dozen witnesses verified his story in hearings, and he received only a written reprimand.

He says he has always been the source of rumors. "I'm a drunk, I'm a womanizer, I'm a gambler, that's what you hear, but none of those things are true," he says. "It stems from people wanting to whittle you down to their size because they're envious…It's the destructive, idle, unbelievable bullshit they're always engaging in to destroy people's reputations over here."

He's aware, he says, that some officers would be eager to catch him screwing up somehow.

So, he claims, he merely plays pool and reads in his off time. "I do not hang around with anybody [from HPD]; there is not one individual from the Houston Police Department that I hang around with, because they are all gossips," he says. "Why hang out with someone so they can put my business on the street?"

It's evident that there's not likely much of an HPD career ladder left for Aguirre. One HPD veteran said his troubles began with the 1995 car crash. "He wanted to be in the group that was politically connected enough to become an assistant chief, but he got in that accident just about the time Bradford came on as chief," says the officer. "Once you get that screw-up tag, you never get back in management's good graces."

"Captain is as high as you can go in the civil service; from then on you can only get appointed or anointed as [assistant] chief," says attorney Springer. "And Aguirre is always going to be stuck at captain under Bradford."

City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, like others, has heard rumors that Aguirre might be transferred. Aguirre would love the chance to take his Operation Renaissance theories to other divisions, and eventually citywide, but he says he realizes it would likely meet too much resistance to be adopted. And it's clear he's as fed up with the department as some of the department is with him.

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