Sharon Russell: Mom Sues HPD (Again) for Auctioning off Evidence Related to Daughter's Suspicious Death

Approximately three years ago, the Houston Police Department auctioned off evidence that prosecutors planned to use in a tricky case against a disgraced lawyer named Shawn Roberts. Roberts's girlfriend, Tara Sganga, was found dead in her apartment in March 2007, and prosecutors planned to use Sganga's computers and cell phones in their case against Roberts.

The evidence had been placed in storage, but Houston police officials later said it had inadvertently been sold. Roberts was acquitted on charges that he injected Sganga with a fatal dose of heroin. Sganga's mother sued the Houston Police Department and lost. Now she's trying again.

When Houston Fire Department medics were called to the apartment Roberts shared with Sganga, they noted a hematoma on the back of the 31-year-old's head, a bleeding laceration on her right elbow and a cluster of contusions along her jaw. The floor of the bathroom where she was found was littered with the shards of a broken glass candlestick. After Roberts told police Sganga had recently taken Xanax and Vicodin, investigators apparently chalked up Sganga's death as an ordinary overdose. Had they actually searched the apartment, they would have found bloody clothing -- evidence her sister found that evening, and evidence which disappeared along with Sganga's laptops, cell phones and two expensive rings, which were family heirlooms. She's asking for at least $200,000.

"I wanted to give one ring to my daughter Maria, and I wanted one," Sganga's mother Sharon Russell told Hair Balls.

Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland told KRIV that "with over a quarter of a million pieces of property contained in the building, can an item be lost, misplaced? Yes."

In 2010, a Harris County District Judge agreed with the city's contention that, under the rule of sovereign immunity, HPD could not be held liable; the case was dismissed.

Frankly, we were surprised to learn that Russell is trying the same thing with the same lawyer -- a guy whose phone goes straight to voice mail with every call, and who doesn't like responding to messages, unless you leave one suggesting he's just trying to milk a still-grieving mother dry. Then he'll call back right away.

We were so excited to finally get Ernest Powell III on the horn, because we wanted to understand why he thinks he has a stronger case this time. When he told us it's because this suit was filed on behalf of Sganga's estate (the first was filed on behalf of Russell), we asked him to elaborate. After all, this latest petition was identical to the first, right down to the typo that listed Sganga's death as 2009 instead of 2007. It appears the dude just did a copy-and-paste. Why, legally or strategically, would having a different plaintiff work?

Powell told us, "Well, for instance, if...let's say that someone stole your property, and someone else may have had a cause of action because of the events that occurred, for instance...there was a tort against a third party, that third party may have rights, and you may have rights, even though it surrounded the same set of circumstances."

Uh, okay.

Powell then offered another example: "If you have two people in a vehicle, someone runs a red light and hits that vehicle, both parties may bring a lawsuit against the culpable party, correct?...In essence, this is the same thing."

Powell told us he hasn't taken a payment for this case. And, unfortunately for Russell, we think she'll get her money's worth.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow