In the past two days, District Attorney-elect Kim Ogg said she has been getting calls from crime victims concerned about the future of their cases — and she said at a press conference Tuesday that she has reason to believe some of the 37 prosecutors she intends to fire might have something to do with it.
Ogg said at least three crime victims have either received misinformation about their cases or were directed by prosecutors to complain to her. And the prosecutors working all three cases just so happen to be three prosecutors Ogg has decided to let go. As a result, Ogg said once she takes office in January, she intends to open an investigation into these prosecutors for the crime of misuse of official information. (Ogg later said she has yet to find any proof of misconduct.)
In the meantime, she assured crime victims Tuesday that their cases will be handled professionally and without any unnecessary delays due to the staffing changeover.
"It appears that these prosecutors are involved in contacting victims and deliberately providing them misinformation that upsets them," Ogg said. "Several of these crime victims have sobbed. They've been distressed...For anyone to have used them as pawns is reprehensible, and I will get to the bottom of it."
Prosecutors who offered their side of the story to the Houston Press, however, say Ogg has it all wrong.
In the first case, Ogg said a sex trafficking victim called her and was upset to learn that the defendant in her case was offered a plea deal for a much lower punishment; the victim told her that prosecutor Justin Keiter, whom Ogg has fired, told her that she should complain to Ogg. Ogg said she was not sure why Keiter would have directed the victim to her, given she had no involvement in the case.
In a statement, Keiter called Ogg's allegations that he misled a sex trafficking victim defamatory and patently false, demanding that she retract her accusations and apologize to him and his family. Keiter said Ogg did not bother to contact him before holding the press conference.
“To suggest I have done something criminal is outrageous, reckless, and irreparably damages my repuation [sic] and character. I have done nothing of the sort,” Keiter wrote. “If Ms. Ogg wanted the truth, she could have contacted me.”
Shortly afterward, Ogg received a call from a mother in New York whose daughter was a rape victim. The mother said she got a call on a crime-victim hotline called VINE and was told that the offender would be released from jail. The prosecutor on the case was Nick Socias (who came under fire earlier this year for jailing a mentally ill rape victim and is one of the 37 fired prosecutors), although Socias did not contact the victim himself, Ogg said. (Socias told the Houston Press he would like to comment on this and we will update with his comments as soon as we hear back.)
Ogg said another mom, whose daughter was a victim in a capital murder case, called her late last night and said she received a phone call from a person who identified as a prosecutor. That anonymous prosecutor "made allegations political in nature and also gave her misinformation about the status of her case," Ogg said. The prosecutor who worked on the case is Gretchen Flader, who will also be let go, and according to Ogg is Socias's domestic partner.
Flader's side of the story, however, calls into question why Ogg would need to do any sort of “investigation.”
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In an email to the Press, Flader admitted to 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 said 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.
“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: “I have always tried to be ethical and have never been a win-at-all-costs prosecutor. I have done what I thought was right and just every day. I am saddened and sickened by all that has happened.”
Flader said that Ogg did not contact either her or Socias before her press conference Tuesday.
Ogg conceded that she does not have any proof that these prosecutors actually orchestrated any of these phone calls. Asked why, then, she decided to name them, Ogg said: "I named them because the evidence looks bad, and lawyers are expected to avoid appearance of impropriety. I am not making a direct accusation; I am simply saying they have been named by these victims. I will not draw any conclusions about their participation or their guilt until I've had a chance to see all the evidence."
Ogg takes office January 1. She says outgoing District Attorney Devon Anderson has refused to meet with her in the meantime. Ogg has alerted First Assistant Belinda Hill (who will also be let go) about the phone calls and is requesting that Anderson curtail the access Socias, Flader and Keiter have to official information.