After receiving concerning phone calls from three crime victims, District Attorney-elect Kim Ogg made some weighty allegations at a press conference outside the criminal courthouse on Tuesday morning.
Each crime victim's case had belonged to prosecutors Ogg had recently fired, and the crime victims, Ogg said, had expressed uncertainty and confusion about their cases and were afraid they would not be handled properly going forward. So on Tuesday, Ogg suggested the prosecutors had made the phone calls to the victims or their families to intentionally provide misinformation about the cases to undermine her new administration, then directed them to complain to Ogg about it. Ogg said they were "sabotaging" the cases for political purposes.
Although she conceded she did not have any hard proof of misconduct and was not making a "direct" accusation, Ogg deemed the phone calls potentially illegal and said she was intent on launching an investigation into these prosecutors for the crime of misuse of official information.
Even though she had not bothered to call any of them to ask for their side of the story.
The Houston Press contacted each prosecutor Ogg implicated at the press conference Tuesday — Nick Socias, Gretchen Flader and Justin Keiter — and it turns out that their stories are quite different from the narrative Ogg presented.
Let's start with prosecutor Nick Socias (who anyone who turned on a TV this summer may remember was the prosecutor in the jailed rape victim case that Ogg capitalized on to boot current DA Devon Anderson from office).
Ogg said the crime victim's mother in Socias's case called and was distraught over the fact that the man who sexually abused her daughter was being released from jail. Ogg said the woman received a phone call from VINE, the victim notification system. As Ogg wrote to DA's office First Assistant Belinda Hill, Socias had dismissed the case and did not call the woman himself to tell her.
Using information about the defendant Socias provided us, a simple search on the Harris County District Clerk's website shows the case has not been dismissed; Harris County Jail records do show the defendant was released, presumably on bond. In an interview with the Press, Socias told us this appears to be a complete misunderstanding, and the email chain with the victim he provided to us appears to support his claims.
After she got the VINE call, the crime victim emailed Socias to say she had just been notified her abuser was being released, and she's not seeing any charges online. Here's his response, in full:
"Unfortunately the newly elected DA Kim Ogg has announced that I, along with I believe 37 other prosecutors, will no longer be working at the District Attorney's Office. Ms. Ogg will be assigning a new prosecutor to handle this case who she feels is more in line with her new goals in criminal justice.
If you have any questions Ms. Ogg can be reached at [redacted]. It was a pleasure to get to know you. I pray that Justo Castro gets what he deserves."
"That's kind of a standard email that I send. I've done it before with [District Attorney] Devon [Anderson]: I've said, 'I can't tell you what's gonna happen. Devon is the one who makes those decisions — here's Devon's direct number,'" Socias said, calling from Florida — where he thought he was safe from any more media drama. "I hope Kim didn't tell her the case was dismissed, because that would definitely freak her out."
Socias's girlfriend, Gretchen Flader, also provided her version of events in a lengthy email to the Press.
In Flader's case, Ogg said the mother of a capital murder victim called and said an anonymous prosecutor had called and "misinformed her about the status of the case and made false statements about me, including stating that I would never seek the death penalty in her case," as Ogg wrote in the email to Hill at the DA's office.
In an email to the Press, Flader admitted to (not anonymously) calling the mother, whom she said she communicates with frequently about the death-penalty capital murder case she's been handling for the past few years. Flader told the Press she called to tell the mother that both she and the other prosecutor on the case had been fired and new prosecutors would replace them. The mother, Flader said, was concerned about whether this would affect the prosecution's decision to seek the death penalty.
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“I told her that I did not know but that it was a possibility,” Flader said. “She asked who she needed to talk to and I told her that Kim Ogg is the new DA and would make the decisions. I told her I was sorry and wished her luck.”
Flader added that she has been blindsided by Ogg's decision to fire her, as well as the allegations that she was trying to "sabotage" cases and undermine Ogg politically. "I have always tried to be ethical and have never been a win-at-all-costs prosecutor," she wrote. "I have done what I thought was right every day. I am saddened and sickened by all that has happened."
The third prosecutor, Justin Keiter, who according to Ogg directed a sex trafficking victim to complain to her about the plea deal offered to the defendant in the case, did not provide his version of events to the Press. But he did say everything Ogg implied or claimed about him was false, calling Ogg's statements defamatory and demanding a retraction and apology. “If Ms. Ogg wanted the truth, she could have contacted me," Keiter wrote.
We reached out to Ogg later in the day to ask why she didn't simply reach out to the prosecutors to confront them with the allegations or ask about the cases. She sent her campaign spokesman, Wayne Dolcefino, to respond. Dolcefino maintained that Ogg has no obligation to talk with the trio before launching a criminal investigation, whether through a grand jury or otherwise, once she takes office. They'll talk during the investigation, he said.