By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
"Which I think is terribly unfair," Josephson says. But, since it's county policy, it isn't illegal. So the second week of May, Williams's whistle-blower claim was nonsuited. Josephson decided instead to pursue Williams's case in the overtime class-action suit; Williams had not previously been a party to the suit because he was a salaried employee, exempt from receiving overtime. Josephson now argues that Williams was retaliated against for reporting that Wooten wasn't paying overtime.
The county attorney's office says Williams was not retaliated against because it was Butler who terminated him -- and Butler had no idea that Williams had spoken with the county attorney's office.
When his employment ended, Williams applied for several Harris County jobs, but no one would hire him. "After putting in almost 26 years with Harris County, I figured they'd have a job there someplace for me," Williams says. "Everybody that I called said, 'We'll take care of you. We're gonna give you a job.' " But potential employers told him he was "too hot" and that he must have done something bad at Precinct 7 that he wasn't telling people.
He lost 30 pounds and started sleeping away his days. He woke up at 4:30 a.m., got his 12-year-old son, Joey, off to school, then went back to bed; in the late morning he looked for jobs, then slept all afternoon.
His daughter Jennifer is majoring in criminal justice at the University of Houston's downtown campus. He worries about how he's going to pay her tuition. For the last several years Williams held an administrative desk job. Now he's patrolling Prairie View A&M University as a security guard.
The Monday after Wooten was suspended, Robert Casey called the constable's office and asked Williams when he could come back to work. But Williams himself was fired that day.
Casey's personnel file contains nothing but good reviews. But the county attorney's office contends he didn't do good work.
"I've got thousands and thousands of documents from the county, and there isn't anything that suggests he was a bad employee," Josephson says. "If they were going to fire him, that's not documented. He was an outstanding employee."
Casey was the sergeant supervising the toll road. The county attorney's office says there were numerous complaints that he did not do his job. The county says that he was transferred after the toll road authority threatened to pull the contract if Casey wasn't removed.
In a deposition, the new constable says if he had been in charge when the toll road authority's EZ TAG audit showed that Casey wasn't properly patrolling, he "would not have worked another day." Instead, Wooten transferred Casey to being in charge of the precinct's program that strives to keep kids from smoking, doing drugs and joining gangs. The county contends that he didn't properly run the program and required deputies to do his work.
Despite allegations of poor performance, the county maintains that Casey was fired because he didn't give Wooten the money. Butler did rehire people he says Wooten wrongfully terminated; he says Casey never asked him to consider rehiring him.
The district attorney's office discredits Casey's whistle-blower claim, saying he didn't contribute new information to the case. "He was not instrumental," Goode says. "He was not helpful to us."
Goode began investigating Wooten in October 2001 -- nearly a year passed and she was ready to take the case to trial when Casey approached her. "Our case was already wrapped up," Goode says. "That was the midnight hour."
Casey says prosecutors were finishing his sentences. Goode says that's because he didn't provide her with information she didn't know.
"That's not a whistle-blower," she says. "That's somebody who realizes, 'I'm going to lose my job because I'm not going to come up with $5,000.' "
To legally qualify as a whistle-blower, Casey didn't have to report wrongdoing the minute he knew about it, Josephson says. He just had to have adverse employment action (e.g., to be fired) within 90 days of reporting illegal action to the proper authority.
"Their position has absolutely no value," Josephson says. "It's not the law. Maybe it's what they want it to be. But it's not the law."
Casey applied for more than 50 jobs but hasn't received a single offer. His wife took a $7-an-hour job with the Conroe Independent School District so the family could have health insurance.
On Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays Casey hunts the Web, applying for jobs online. He searches newspaper classified ads and sends out résumés; he looks at the Harris County job openings every other week.
He worked as a clerk at Safeway for eight years before joining the force, so he has applied for assistant manager jobs at stores such as H-E-B, Target and Academy.
When Casey was hired at the sheriff's office, a high school diploma was sufficient. But most police and security jobs he's applied for require college credit, so he paid $800 and earned 36 hours of college credit through an Arizona-based correspondence course.