By Chris Lane
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Deputy Guillory doesn't know why the constable decided not to rehire his friend. "They never should have let him go," he says, "and they should have rehired him after the trials. Anyone who knows him at the station thinks so. I have no idea why they haven't, but all I know is that other folks here have had similar type things occur and they got their job back."
Four months after Serges was arrested, a different member of Precinct 4 was standing trial in Harris County District Court. Then-Captain Tim Cannon was accused of hiding photographs of a crime scene that were evidence against a friend of his boss, Constable Rob Hickman. The DA was prosecuting him for tampering with evidence, a felony.
The trial lasted several days, but in the end, the jury found Cannon not guilty. Immediately afterwards, according to the Houston Chronicle, he vowed to get his job back at Precinct 4.
And he did. Today, Cannon is the Assistant Chief Deputy, third in command under Hickman, according to the Precinct 4 Web site. Cannon failed to respond to numerous requests for comment.
Then there was Deputy Richard Delgado, also at Precinct 4. Two months after Serges was indicted, Delgado was rung up on charges that he was running an off-duty security company without a license. He pled guilty to the charge and was sentenced to a one-year deferred sentence and a $500 fine.
Today, Delgado is back working for Precinct 4. When contacted by the Houston Press, Delgado said he had to get permission to discuss his case and his subsequent rehiring. He never called back.
The only difference that Serges can see between those officers and himself is that Serges is black. In a lawsuit filed against Harris County in state district court, Serges claims that the county won't rehire him because of his race.
"White officers with criminal charges and ones who plead guilty are rehired," says Serges's attorney, Andre Ligon, "and the only difference is that Mr. Serges is black and the others were not. That is the only difference."
Like his subordinates, Constable Hickman didn't want to talk, either. When asked about his general policies regarding rehiring, Hickman said, "Each case is unique," followed up by, "I don't really have any comment."
Serges says one of the reasons hardly anyone from Precinct 4 will talk is that they are afraid of being fired. Under the law, according to the Harris County Attorney's Office, constables can hire and fire at their pleasure. Serges claims that Hickman fires any deputy who's been charged with a crime.
"In the constable's office," says Ray Hunt, vice-president of the Houston Police Officers' Union, "you can show up one day as a deputy and the next day he can make you a captain. They have a lot of latitude with hiring and firing."
Victor Trevino is the constable for Precinct 6, covering central Harris County. He doesn't think it's fair to fire someone just because they've been charged with a crime.
"Maybe I'm too idealistic," he says, "but I believe that someone is innocent until proven guilty. I don't know where I got that from. You have to let due process take its course, and then you can make a decision."
That doesn't mean Trevino lets deputies who could be guilty of crimes freely patrol the streets. When one of his officers is indicted, Trevino puts him behind a desk, or sometimes doesn't let him work at all. But the officer is still employed. If the employee is found guilty, he's gone. If not, Trevino says, he'll more than likely take the officer back with open arms.
"I've even rehired people from other departments who have been terminated and then acquitted," he says, "and I've been criticized for that. But I follow the law, and the law allows me to hire them. Why would you fire someone just because they've been charged, without any other policy violations or anything else? It just doesn't make any sense."
"If someone is acquitted," says Robert Goerlitz, president of the Harris County Deputies Organization, "I don't see why he shouldn't be hired somewhere. Perception is everything with the public, and if the perception is that someone is guilty, then people hang onto that. And it affects your career because you carry that baggage even if you are innocent. Departments have to look at each case, and if there's some evidence, but not enough to convict, then just don't make him a school resource officer, but you shouldn't be denied completely."
Hunt says that HPD's policy is to relieve any officer charged with a crime pending the outcome of the trial. If the officer is found guilty, he is terminated. If not, and Internal Affairs doesn't uncover a fireable offense during its investigation, then the officer is reinstated.
For Harris County sheriff's deputies and Houston police officers, the matter is fairly cut and dried, as their departments are subject to a civil service board. This is a quasi-judicial agency that hears and decides appeals filed by officers concerning terminations, disciplinary actions and other such matters. Its goal is to ensure that employees receive fair and impartial treatment.