By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
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By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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"Most departments that don't have civil service fire the officer," says Hunt. "But we have it, which means the department has to relieve them of duty pending the outcome. Civil service is huge for us because they can't arbitrarily fire you. Other agencies can say, 'We don't even want the stigma of an officer who's been charged,' and just fire you. It prevents the 'good ol' boy' system, where if someone doesn't like you they can get rid of you. Especially with the constables, who are political."
A Precinct 4 deputy, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, says that Hickman fires anyone who is charged with a crime. Hickman does that, the deputy claims, because the constable has a small staff and can't afford to hold onto employees who are unable to perform their full range of duties because they're under indictment.
The deputy says that over the years, Hickman has hired some people back after they've been acquitted, and there are others who were cleared whom he hasn't rehired. If the constable's office had a civil service system, he says, Serges would likely have already gotten his job back.
Enter Stan Jolly, who could end up being a shining knight for Serges and others who face his situation at the constable's office. As vice-president of the Coalition Of Police and Sheriffs, or C.O.P.S., Jolly is helping spearhead a drive to get a civil service board in place for the constables' employees. His group is collecting signatures from county law enforcement officers who don't have civil service, and he says that if he can get roughly half of county workers to sign, he can present it to Commissioners Court for consideration.
Jolly, who also happens to work at Precinct 4, says, "We want to have the same rights and privileges that the sheriff's department has when it comes to hiring, firing and procedures. In Harris County, there are nine different law enforcement agencies with nine different policies and regulations, and it's not fair. We should all be hired and fired and punished the same."
Once Commissioners Court has the required signatures, Jolly says, it can either grant the request for a civil service board or put the question on a ballot and let county voters decide.
"It's important," says Jolly. "This way you can appeal a firing, and a hearing board can decide if it's just or not, and people don't get fired or not rehired just because someone doesn't like you, or whatever reason."
When Serges received a certified letter in the mail last May notifying him that the constable was not going to hire him again because he didn't meet the "standards for employment," with no further explanation, Serges immediately wrote back, asking why he wasn't being considered. But he never got a response.
Determined not to let a rash of unsubstantiated allegations ruin his career, Serges decided to fight back.
First, he filed a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission, which tried to get Serges and the constable to mediate. Serges says he agreed, but Hickman and the county did not. However, because Hickman's office refused to tell Serges why he was no longer qualified for employment, the commission gave Serges permission to sue.
It took several months, but Serges eventually did just that, filing a lawsuit on March 1 against Harris County in Harris County District Court, demanding back pay and his old job at Precinct 4.
"I did not commit these crimes," says Serges, "and for me to throw in the towel, that's admitting defeat, that I'll let these false allegations destroy me. And I refuse to do that."
In addition to claims made in Serges's lawsuit that the county will not rehire him because he is black, Serges also believes that the prosecutor has been proactively working to keep him from getting rehired.
"During the rehiring process," says Serges, "I got a call from a captain at Precinct 4 telling me the reason the process had been taking so long was because the DA called his office saying there were pending charges against me. So my lawyer and I called the DA, and we found out that there were no pending charges, meaning to me that the prosecutor had meddled and lied."
The Harris County District Attorney's Office did not respond to questions concerning the allegations.
Serges believes that race, or perhaps the DA, could be the reason the constable won't give him his job back, but truthfully, he says, he filed the lawsuit in part to find out why.
"Is it because I'm a black male?" says Serges. "Or is it because I don't, according to their letter, meet the standards? Well, I met the standards at one time. And the only difference now is the allegations, and I was exonerated at trial. So I don't know. I have nothing against Ron Hickman or the constable's office, no animosity; I just want to know why I can't have my old job back."
Many law enforcement agencies, including the Harris County Sheriff's Office and Constable Trevino's Precinct 6, say they terminate officers for violating internal policies or regulations and not solely because of pending criminal charges. One time, says Trevino, he fired a deputy, who had been indicted on a murder charge, for refusing to make a statement following the deadly shooting.