Black and White

Good ol’ boys prosper at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Many African-Americans don’t.

But he did contact human resources and sheriff's legal counsel in the spring of 1998 to discuss preliminary findings, according to his complaint. As Borchers later wrote in a memo to internal affairs investigators, Coons told him that "the results of his project were quite detrimental to the best interests of the department and would turn it upside down." (Coons's complaint notes that he'd found a strong case that the department was violating Title VII, the law prohibiting employment discrimination.)

Almost immediately, Borchers complained to internal affairs that Coons had used a county employee to prepare the data. Coons acknowledged that he had indeed done so; after he'd briefed the brass about the study and been told they were interested in the data, he assumed it was official business.

Investigators disagreed. Borchers's complaint resulted in a five-day suspension.

Former nursing supervisor Alston says she was fired 
for disciplining white workers.
Daniel Kramer
Former nursing supervisor Alston says she was fired for disciplining white workers.
Amboree, fired in 2001, was a vocal critic as president 
of the Afro-American Sheriff's Deputy League.
Daniel Kramer
Amboree, fired in 2001, was a vocal critic as president of the Afro-American Sheriff's Deputy League.

After that, Coons wrote, Borchers assigned him to worse shifts, denied his requests to speak to community groups, censored even mundane correspondence and refused to let him drive a county car to his classes at UH like the other captains.

"Major Borchers' actions have been both numerous and methodical over this time period and cannot be considered anything but what they are: knowing and intentional retaliation against me to a certain extent for our strained relationship but largely due to alerting the department to possible violations of the law," Coons wrote.

And Coons's complaint, along with statements from two other officers under Borchers's command, suggests one reason why Borchers was so bothered by the thesis: He didn't like minorities.

Coons detailed several incidents where Borchers seemed insensitive, at best: Borchers suggested that Hispanics "get real drunk and real wild" and are "real emotional people." He'd asked Coons if a woman who'd been injured at the jail was black; when Coons said she was, Borchers allegedly responded, "Well, you know what's coming" -- meaning, Coons surmised, that the woman would sue.

Coons sailed through a polygraph, according to records. Borchers did not return a call for comment; in a letter to the department, he denied targeting Coons. The complaint, he wrote, was simply "an attempt to thwart proper supervision in order to justify his current and past failures." Borchers didn't dispute making any of the comments that Coons reported, but he did argue that they weren't racist.

Affidavits from two white officers, Captain J.G. Brownfield and Lieutenant Robin Konetzke, supported the contentions by Coons: Brownfield said he'd heard Borchers make "racial and/or derogatory remarks toward blacks, women and homosexuals" on numerous occasions. Konetzke wrote that Borchers would mimic black people by using Ebonics and used "nigger" and "queer" in his conversation. He'd also tell "war stories" about beating up homosexuals as a young man. "It became very obvious to me and Captain Brownfield that Major Borchers had some real issues with regard to race and a person's sexuality," Konetzke wrote.

The department closed its investigation in January 2002. But Borchers wasn't disciplined. He wasn't reprimanded.

Instead, he retired with full benefits several months later. Before he stepped down, the county commissioners commended him for his service.

Spokesman Van Pelt declined comment; Borchers, he said, has retired, and there is nothing further to say.

Robert Amboree started working for the sheriff one year before Charles McRae. Like McRae, Amboree has a thick personnel file, but his is significantly less juicy. Over his 20 years with the department, he was given a series of reprimands: tardiness, wearing the wrong shoes, "unsafe and erratic driving" and too much sick time.

Unlike McRae, Amboree is black.

Other than a five-day suspension in 1987 for dozing on the job, Amboree never faced serious discipline. His evaluations weren't always stellar, but they seemed to be steadily improving in the late '90s: average and above average in 1997, a note that he'd "improved tremendously" in 1998, praise for his "positive, friendly and relaxed attitude" in 1999.

And then, as president of the Afro-American Sheriff's Deputy League, he began speaking out. About the way the department treated black deputies. Against Houston's bid to host the Olympics. (The county, he said, should clean up its racist act first.)

In 2001, he was fired. Unlike McRae, there would be no friendly major to step in and let him off the hook.

On the day that signaled the beginning of his end, Amboree was in the jail's floor control center. Just after noon, one inmate slugged another with a small kitchen appliance called a hot pot. The victim started bleeding profusely, and other inmates quickly pushed the doors closed to separate the two.

Amboree called for help and medical attention. Backup deputies arrived while he was still on the phone, but Amboree turned the wrong switch to let them in. The deputies thought the door wasn't working, so someone called maintenance. Eight minutes elapsed from the time of the fight until the deputies got into the cell, although no further blows were exchanged.

The officer who investigated the incident, Sergeant S. Morrow, noted that Amboree didn't intentionally fail to open the door; it was merely "a mistake on his part." However, Morrow wrote that Amboree had been working the floor for five months; he should have known better.

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