Michael Mabe and his mom, Linda, first met former Texas City police officer Linnard R. Crouch at the emergency room the night their father and husband, James, died of heart failure.
He had something for them, a little clear plastic baggie full of James's belongings that Crouch found at the scene where Mabe's heart went out behind the wheel of his pickup truck, on the side of a busy road in Texas City. Crouch had brought James's cellphone, his wallet and a stack of money with a single $100 bill on top
"Mrs. Mabe and I thanked Officer Crouch for helping our loved one," Michael wrote in a letter to Texas City Police Chief Robert Burby in February — before launching into the rest of the narrative: Later that night, when Linda opened the bag, she discovered that the $2,400 she had just given him at her office one hour earlier was missing, and that instead, the money had been replaced with single dollar bills. It was supposed to be used to purchase Christmas presents for the entire family. The Mabe family connected the dots and soon believed that, in fact, Officer Crouch must have robbed their father while he was slumped in the driver's seat, unresponsive and dying.
Now, after obtaining an internal memo from the Texas City Police Department that supports the family's belief, the family has filed a lawsuit against Crouch and Texas City, claiming Crouch performed an illegal search and seizure on James Mabe in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
"As my husband clung to life, a police officer who is charged by law to protect and serve robbed my husband when he needed help the most," Linda Mabe said at a press conference Thursday. "I am overwhelmed and shocked that my husband was victimized by an officer of the law at such a critical and vulnerable time. What happened to Jim haunts me daily. I can't accept it."
According to an internal memo dated January 17, which was an exhibit in the lawsuit, Assistant Chief Joe Stanton tells Burby that review of Crouch's own body camera footage shows that he "removed money from Mr. Mabe's right front pocket he appears not to have reported." Stanton recommended that the case be forwarded to the Galveston County District Attorney's Office's Public Integrity Unit for review.
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But for the next six months, the Mabe family said, they heard nothing from the Texas City police or the DA's office about the status of the investigation. It was not until Thursday, when reporters began inquiring with the police department about Crouch's case, that the Texas City police put out a press release about the investigation. It was a surprise to Lisa and Michael Mabe.
According to the release, Crouch — who already had a long disciplinary history for failing to use his body camera and for sloppy record-keeping — resigned January 30. With little elaboration, the police go on to say Crouch "is facing criminal charges of Theft and Possession of Controlled Substance" — despite the fact that according to Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Ott of the Public Integrity Unit, Crouch has not been charged with any crimes and is still under investigation. She would not clarify why he was under investigation for possession of a controlled substance, or whether it was related to the Mabe incident. (The Texas City Police Department did not return calls asking for clarification on its confusing news release.)
The Mabe family's attorney, Randall Kallinen, said the fact that the investigation has dragged on is unacceptable, adding that the body camera footage of Crouch taking the money should have been enough evidence for criminal charges. "If that was you or I," he said, "we would have been arrested the next day." (Ott declined to elaborate on why the investigation was still ongoing or what was outstanding.)
Criminal charges and this lawsuit, Kallinen said, need to send a clear message to hold police accountable. "Maybe then police departments won't have officers who steal money from dying or dead men," he said.