When disgraced ex-HPD detective Ryan Chandler began arbitration hearings last week to try to get his job back, he got an earful from his former colleague: veteran homicide detective Brian Harris, who testified that Chandler was wrong to blame his shoddy work on an unmanageable caseload.
Chandler was fired in April after an internal HPD investigation revealed that he had failed to properly investigate more than 20 cases. According to the Chron, Harris said Chandler had no excuse -- homicide investigators' caseloads were "very manageable." Harris said Chandler didn't follow leads, and bemoaned one case with a good suspect who was never arrested. That left us wondering why, then, Harris hasn't made an arrest in the 18 months he's supposedly investigated the murder of beer distributor Ash Rowell.
The day after Rowell, a 35-year-old father of three, was gunned down in the doorway of his Montrose home in February 2013, Harris told the Chron, "We believe the assailant knew the victim. We'll put together his business dealings and friendships. Who would want to hurt this man? Usually, the suspect will appear as being that missing piece."
When the Press "put together" Rowell's "business dealings," we found a nasty dispute between Rowell and his brother-in-law, Bryan Lam, who was fired from the Rowells' company after he was suspected of embezzlement. There was later a physical altercation between Rowell and Lam in which police were called. Lam later sued Rowell, and the transcript of Rowells' subsequent deposition contain Rowells' complaint that Lam, who was in the room, was eyeing Rowell while making throat-slitting motions.
Rowell accused Lam of recording him with his phone and "motioning that he was going to cut my neck. I've been threatened before, and I feel that he might be taking a video to send to someone else."
Rowell explained these alleged threats in that deposition: he said another brother-in-law, Ho "Rick" Lam, texted Rowell's wife the following messages: "I'm going to get your husband and his mom. They can't hide from me," and "If your husband doesn't handle this in a way that makes me happy, I'll take care of him my way." (Rick Lam would later plead guilty to federal fraud charges in an unrelated case).
The texts were enough to rattle Rowell's mother, Charlotte, who said she and her son filed complaints with police in Houston and Pasadena, where Rowells' company was located. A friend of Rowells' told the Press that Rowell didn't take it lightly: "I think he really felt threatened by Bryan."
We wonder if, given all of this information, a suspect or suspects have "appeared" to Harris yet. We don't know, because Harris wouldn't talk to us then, and he won't talk to us now.
Harris testified at Chandler's hearing that homicide detectives "receive an average of about 3.5 new cases a year," according to the Chron. But, as that story notes, Harris just inherited a few more -- he's "been assigned to continue the investigations into some of the homicides Chandler failed to complete."
We're glad Chandler's cold cases are finally getting attention. And based on what's been revealed about Chandler's failures on the job, we don't think Harris' criticisms were invalid. But still, we wonder if, as Harris testified about Chandler failing to follow leads and pin down a promising suspect, the murder of Ashley Scott Rowell ever crossed his mind.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.