Judge's Opinion in HPD Shooting Death Isn't Tethered to the Facts
Sergeant Curtis W. Hampton was cleared in the shooting of Blake Pate.
A Houston federal court judge based his recent dismissal of a wrongful death case on a misreading of toxicology results, relying on HPD's Internal Affairs officers' use of Wikipedia to determine drug levels, and chiding the plaintiffs for questioning the judgment of the officer at the center of the case, a man who once assaulted a woman -- a fellow officer -- to such an extent that she had to bite his penis in order to escape his home and call 911.
According to the Houston Press' reading of documents filed by Patsy Pate, whose son Blake Pate was shot to death by an HPD sergeant on Christmas Day in 2011, some HPD authorities coddled a man with a history of sexual violence toward his fellow officers. After Patsy Pate raised the issue of how those officers said Hampton made them fear for their lives, the judge admonished her by writing off Hampton's predatory behavior as "character assault." Yet Hampton's record speaks for itself -- not character assault, but character description. The officer's lack of judgment in those incidents dovetail with a judge's bizarrely written opinion dismissing Pate's wrongful death case and call into question just what happened the night Sgt. Curtis Hampton shot Blake Pate to death.
Pate, 24, had left his parents' home on Christmas Day 2011 in a borrowed Camaro, when for some reason he hit a car in front of him, then struck a tree before running the car into a ditch near the Lakecrest Village Apartment Complex, in the 9300 block of Tidwell.
Pate exited the car and appeared to be in a daze as he walked down the street. Hampton was just exiting the apartment complex, after finishing work on an unrelated call, when he witnessed the accident. He approached Pate. Witnesses, and Hampton, reported a struggle, and Hampton shot Pate to death. A Harris County grand jury found no wrongdoing. (Houston Chronicle reporter James Pinkerton included the Pate case in an excellent 2013 series on police shootings).
It was no surprise that a grand jury cleared Hampton -- and not a huge surprise that the federal suit was dismissed as well. What's surprising is the tone and content of Judge Hughes' opinion, which at points diverges sharply from the facts presented in the case. It also chastises Pate for daring to question the judgment and training of an officer who terrorized two colleagues, and for questioning the culture of a system that apparently protected one of its male officers at the expense of two female officers.
Judge Hughes' Opinion Conflicts With Forensic Evidence
Hughes writes in his January 15, 2014, opinion that Pate "tested positive for alcohol, marijuana, and a cough medicine with psychological effects similar to phencyclidine -- PCP -- when enough of it is ingested."
Well, Hughes was 33.3 percent right.
The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences' toxicology results show that no alcohol was detected. As for the levels of DXM -- the "druggy" ingredient in cough syrup -- the examiners listed "presumptive positive." We asked a HCIFS spokesperson what that meant, and we were told this:
Presumptive positive means that a drug is seen as being present but in an insignificant amount. Therefore it is compared against a computer library match but not compared against an official standard or measured during that particular test. If it was present as a significant amount, it would be measured against a standard and recorded in the toxicology report.
We wonder why Hughes even addressed what effects a drug could have on a person if they consumed "enough." We thought all that mattered is what a person had in their system at the time. A driver may have a .002 blood-alcohol content, but if that driver drank enough alcohol, they could exceed the legal limit.
The report did indicate that Pate had smoked marijuana at some point, but the effects of marijuana do not generally align with Hampton's statement that Pate "let out a loud, deep, animal-like growl and gestures very similar to the 'Incredible Hulk' when he gets angry."
The case file shows that HPD investigators -- the Internal Affairs department, according to attorney David Hodges -- printed out the Wikipedia entries for "tetrahydrocannabinol" and "dextromethorphan" as part of their investigation. We have nothing against Wikipedia, but -- call us crazy -- we'd prefer that serious internal investigations not rely on it.
In Hughes' opinion, he chides a plaintiff's expert's report for allegedly being "untethered to the facts." We have no idea what Hughes' opinion was tethered to.
Read about the Houston Police Department's total misunderstanding of sexual assault on the following page.
The Houston Police Department, the Houston Police Officers' Union, and the City's Legal Department Cannot Grasp the Concept of Violence Against Women, Part I
David Hodges, who represented Patsy Pate in the wrongful death case, argued in his petition that Sgt. Hampton had a history of poor judgment. In particular, Hodges cited two instances where two female colleagues accused him, in graphic detail, of sexual assault. Hampton was twice disciplined (lightly) for his treatment of two female colleagues. In a 2007 incident, a fellow officer who had a previous romantic relationship with Hampton spent the night at his house. She testified in depositions and hearings that Hampton woke her up to give her a glass of vodka.
Both the officer and Hampton agree on what caused the officer to wake up next: she was handcuffed to the bed, Hampton was on top of her, a pair of pantyhose pulled over his head and waving his gun. She told him to stop, so he muffled her screams with a pillow.
Hampton maintains he was merely initiating a role-play fantasy that the two had acted out in the past. The officer says she was raped.
Hampton was suspended for five days in 2008 -- then-Executive Assistant Chief Charles McClelland was the only member of the Administrative Disciplinary Committee who felt the punishment was too light. The order against Hampton read in part:
"Sergeant Hampton again failed to use sound judgment when, during the role play fantasy, he placed a pillow over [the officer's] face while she was telling him to stop. In his administrative statement dated December 26, 2007, Sergeant Hampton admitted that [the officer] said, 'Don't do this to me.' Sergeant Hampton then states, 'as usual, I placed a pillow over her face to muffle her...'"
After Hampton contested his suspension in 2010, an arbitration hearing report noted that:
It took the victim biting the Appellant's penis and drawing blood before he stopped to consider whether or not she had consented to having sex with him.
It also noted that:
In no way can the Appellant's behavior be defined as reasonable or prudent. He used a gun, handcuffs, and a pillow to muffle the Complainant's cries while he attempted to have sex with her without gaining her consent.
Throughout the arbitration hearing -- and in all official reports describing the incident -- the phrase "sexual role-play fantasy" is used. So, while acknowledging that the officer had to bite Hampton's penis to extricate herself, and while acknowledging the officer never gave consent, the incident is never described as a sexual assault. And, in fact, Hampton was ultimately given a five-day suspension not for forcing himself on a handcuffed woman, but for playing with his gun.
According to arbitrator John Barnard, "This case is not about sex in the bedroom. This is about an officer using a weapon as an inappropriate and unacceptable manner" and "at the heart of this case is the question of whether or not HPD has the right to discipline Sgt. Hampton for using props during a sexual role-playing fantasy."
As Barnard noted, "nothing in Department policy prohibits an employee from engaging in" -- wait for it -- "sexual role-playing fantasies, using props during sex...or using a pillow to muffle the noise of a boisterous sexual partner."
So, the officer's repeated and muffled pleas for Hampton to stop forcing himself upon her were merely the sounds of a "boisterous sexual partner."
Ultimately, Barnard ruled that Hampton's suspension was justified, but he reduced it from five days to two, and ordered that Hampton be reimbursed for those three days.
So why did Barnard feel the suspension should be reduced? Well, here's one of a few reasons he gave: "Given the fact that this occurred in the privacy of Hampton's bedroom, I believe a lesser penalty is appropriate here."
Understandably, that officer who says Hampton assaulted her did not want to deposed by Hodges in the recent federal wrongful death suit. She dodged subpoena service. The judge had to issue a bench warrant, and she only appeared for the deposition after she was arrested by U.S. Marshals. She testified that she drove from the Mykawa station after her shift to Hampton's home past Channelview because she had to sign insurance papers that Hampton, who sold insurance on the side, prepared for her.
She testified that she decided to crash on the couch, but that Hampton carried her to the bedroom. She awoke to find an armed, masked man straddling her:
"I started screaming and he started covering mouth and attempting to maybe handcuff me at that time. So I'm not sure where the gun is at that moment. But I'm screaming, I'm confused about what's going on. I have literally been waken up out of my sleep by someone with a mask on their head and a gun -- I mean, a mask on their face and a gun to to my head..."
Hampton eventually handcuffed the officer, and then:
"I began to scream and struggle, and he put a pillow over my face. Because my thing is maybe scream loud enough, maybe a neighbor will hear me....And I even told him, because I was confused about what was going on, you know, 'think about what you're doing. Just think about what you're doing'....So we continued to struggle, what have you like that, and he eventually got me off the bed. And I believe this is at the point where he's able to pull my pants down. And he's pressing my face into the bed and I can't breathe...Well, at this point, he would assault me, using his fingers in my vagina, in my anus. He continued to do that in and out. He even performed oral sex, I remember..."
She said he then penetrated her with his penis:
"...at some point during the intercourse or what have you, I went frozen.... in my mind, I was, like, I've got to think of a plan to get myself out of this situation. Amazingly, I got myself in this situation. So at some point in time, I made a motion to him that, oh, you know, let me perform oral sex on you. And that's when I bit his penis. Then that's when we begin to struggle again. And we end up falling onto the floor, still struggling. Blood from his penis was spewing all over the sheets, what have you..."
She then went into the bathroom, and came back out to grab her gun:
"And I thought no one is ever going to believe this story. I should really and truly just shoot him now and call it self-defense. And I couldn't bring myself to even take another human life, despite what had just happened to me."
She then fled and filed a complaint with the Harris County Sheriff's Office, which triggered the HPD investigation.
In their response to Patsy Pate's complaint, city attorneys acknowledged that "Hampton experienced a cut on his penis, caused by the girlfriend-subordinate female officer during consensual 'role playing.' However, Defendants deny the girlfriend-subordinate female officer bit Hampton's penis in fear or as an escape or defensive tactic."
Read about another female officer's complaint against Hampton on the following page.
The Houston Police Department, the Houston Police Officers' Union, and the City's Legal Department Cannot Grasp the Concept of Violence Against Women, Part II
Court records also show that, in 2009, Hampton stalked a female officer who just recently graduated from the police academy. A 2010 arbitration hearing report shows that Hampton bought the officer a bra and pair of panties from Victoria's Secret and tried to give them to her in person. He showed up at her home, but no one came to the door. Hampton then tried to get her to meet him at a restaurant so that he could give her the lingerie and a $60 pair of work boots. Hampton went to the restaurant, but she didn't
"Sergeant Hampton knew, or should have known, that [the officer] was not interested in a sexual relationship with him, but he continually pursued a sexual relationship with her," hearing officer Maretta Comfort Toedt noted in the report.
Toedt also wrote that Hampton did not deny that in December 2008, he somehow worked his way into the officer's apartment on the pretext of having her sign a work-related form:
"Somehow, both Sgt. Hampton and [the officer] ended up in her bathroom. For reasons that Sgt. Hampton could not explain, [the officer's] demeanor 'seemed to change at this point, but I had no idea why.' [The officer] then fled the bathroom to the bedroom, where another chase ensued, and she 'scooted across the bed and left the room.' In his his statement, Sgt. Hampton wrote that: 'I wasn't sure what kind of game she was playing, but I was done with it.' [The officer] fled her apartment and waited outside for Sgt. Hampton to come out. When Sgt. Hampton left [the officer's] apartment, he then put his arm around her and kissed her forehead. Sgt. Hampton's administrative statement suggests that he believed that his encounter with [the officer] that evening was either welcome and/or consensual. [The officer], on the other hand, wrote that she was scared and thought she was going to be raped."
In Toedt's decision to uphold Hampton's 15-day suspension, she cited Hampton's earlier suspension, and wrote that:
"It is to be hoped that the length of the suspension here will impress upon Sgt. Hampton that his conduct as a sergeant of police is and must be judged by a higher standard, for the sake not only of the Department, but ultimately of the public he has sworn to protect."
In that officer's 2013 deposition for the wrongful death case, she said that Hampton had been hounding her to sign a W-9 form, and she finally relented. When he came to her apartment, she said, he barged into her bedroom and then the adjoining bathroom:
"So I was -- went in there to start directing him out, like pushing him out my bathroom, and that's when he grabbed right in the middle of my pants and just pulled my pants down....And then he pulled me closer to him -- he's like, 'Oh, yeah, you ready. You want this.' That's when he pulled me closer to him and then he turned me around to where, like, my butt is on -- on him, and then his left hand was holding me, and his right hand was in-between my legs, touching me....For a while he was saying, 'Oh, you have nice lips. Yeah, you're ready for this. You want this,' and I can remember him laughing. And I remember him -- hearing him take off -- unbuttoning his pants, and I could see in the mirror of my bathroom that he pulled his pants down, and I could see his testicles hanging from under his shirt. And all I could think of [was] 'How can I get away? He has his gun with him and my gun is in the closet.'"
In their response to Patsy Pate's complaint, city attorneys denied that Hampton pressured the officer into a sexual relationship, chased her around her apartment, or cause her to "flee into the street." They acknowledged that Hampton was suspended for 15 days, "but only for having a relationship with a subordinate female officer."
To be clear, we are not saying whether or not Hampton was justified in shooting Blake Pate on Christmas Day in 2011. We are saying, however, that any such judgment should be based on the facts. And that doesn't appear to have been the case here.
We find Hughes' blanket dismissal of Hampton's shocking history to be troubling. In his opinion, Hughes writes -- under the heading "Character Assault" -- that "Instead of addressing the facts of the event itself, the plaintiff has poured through Hampton's police and personal life to denigrate him....The worst event she could find is: Eight years before Hampton shot Blake, he shot at another person."
We disagree. We believe the worst events Patsy Pate found were this: one police officer said Hampton raped her; she had to draw blood to save herself; and she had to grab her weapon to defend herself from a further attack. And another officer said Hampton tried to rape her, and she said she feared for her life because, while Hampton attempted to stick his penis inside her against her will, her gun was out of reach.
Quite remarkably, Hughes' opinion also finds alcohol where medical examiners didn't; he also cites a substance's potential effects, when the toxicology results show that Pate had such an insignificant amount of DXM in his system that it could not be measured using official standards.
That is the finding of the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, not a defense attorney's desperate speculation or a mother's desire to protect the memory of her dead son.
If there is a reason to doubt or disregard the findings of the Institute, then the public has a right to know what that reason is. That's why we reached out to Hughes. And that's why we don't expect to hear back.
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