The curious case of Ruben Carrizal -- the investigator forced out of the Harris County District Attorney's Affice for misconduct only to be rehired by the sheriff's office three days later -- just didn't seem right to us when we first saw KPRC's report earlier this week. We just didn't understand how failing to get a judge's signature on a search warrant on a murder case, executing that search warrant, and then tampering with the search warrant to make it look legit wasn't enough to keep Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia from re-hiring someone as a homicide investigator.
Turns out what we've got here is a failure to communicate. According to sheriff's officials, the Harris County District Attorney's Office never told them about allegations against Carrizal before they re-hired him days after the DA's office let him resign in lieu of firing him over him backdating a search warrant.
First a little background: Carrizal worked with the sheriff's office for over a decade before leaving to become an investigator with the DA's office on October 7, 2013. That very same month a prosecutor noticed Carrizal didn't get a judge's signature before executing a search warrant in a murder case the year before, presumably for a case he investigated while still with the sheriff's office. The DA's office claims that when a prosecutor pointed out the problem (the problem being that judges are supposed to sign search warrants before they're executed), Carrizal got the signature, and then backdated the document in apparent effort to make it look legit, as was first reported by KPRC.
Jeff McShan, a spokesman for Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, says a disciplinary committee recommended firing Carrizal. However, Anderson's office let him resign on January 10, 2014, a Friday. By Monday, January 13, Carrizal had been re-hired as a homicide investigator. A sheriff's office rep told KPRC that they contacted the DA's office and found nothing that would prevent Carrizal from being rehired as a homicide investigator.
Well, that's because the DA's office didn't tell them about the backdating allegations, according to a spokeswoman for Sheriff Garcia. "We were not aware of the allegations surrounding Dep. Carrizal at the time of his rehiring," Christina Garza told us in an email today. Given that McShan with the DA's office told us "HCSO supervisors became aware of the allegations against our investigator the same day we learned about it," the rest of Garza's statement is even more stunning:
"Had we been aware we would not have considered rehiring him until the investigation was complete. As a matter of fact, during our normal background checks, our recruiting office contacted Dep. Carrizal's direct supervisor at the DA's Office. He stated that Mr. Carrizal was a fast learner and performs his duties and responsibilities, does not require constant supervision and has proven himself during his short time at the DAO. He said he would love to recommend Mr. Carrizal for a position with the HCSO but their policy prevents him from doing so."
Which, we guess, answers why the sheriff's office rehired Carrizal. While the DA's office let the investigator resign in lieu of firing, the allegations were serious enough to warrant a grand jury investigation to see if charges for tampering with government documents were warranted. The Galveston County District Attorney's Office confirmed to us this week that they sent a special prosecutor to take on the case in March, to avoid any conflict of interest issues with the Harris County DA's office. A Galveston prosecutor presented the case to a Harris County grand jury around August 11. The grand jury ultimately decided to take no action, McShan says. As to the difference between a "no-bill" and a grand jury "taking no action," McShan's explanation was this: "There's no qualitative difference between a no-bill and a decision to take no action. One is just a little more public than the other." (Just to clarify, the "no-bill" would have been the more public choice.)
Garza says the sheriff's office knew nothing about that grand jury investigation. And Carrizal's error wasn't exactly benign. The murder case on which Carrizal fudged the search warrant had to be punted to a special prosecutor out of Montgomery County due to conflict of interest concerns.
Yet court documents show the DA's office didn't let defense attorneys handling cases Carrizal worked on know about this whole deal until August, seven months after its own internal disciplinary committee recommended that the DA fire Carrizal due to his conduct. Here's McShan's explanation: "If a criminal investigation related the misconduct is ongoing, we generally wait for the resolution of that investigation before deciding whether the accusation raises a Brady issue" (in reference to the U.S. Supreme Court Case Brady v. Maryland, which declared that prosecutors by law must disclose any evidence or material that's potentially beneficial to criminal defendants). McShan further said "to do so before then would be inefficient and unfair to the officer, who may ultimately be exonerated of the misconduct accusation upon close examination."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
But in this case, the DA's own disciplinary committee had already examined the accusations against Carrizal and thought they were grounds for firing him. Why wait until August to warn attorneys to watch out for cases Carrizal had worked on? "Notifications were not sent out until later because we generally wait for the resolution of criminal investigations. In this case, the investigation handled by the Galveston County DA and a Harris County Grand Jury."
We'll update this post if and when we get an explanation from Anderson's office why the sheriff's office's version of events surrounding Carrizal seems to clash so clearly with DA's version of things.
Update, September 13, 1:30 pm: The DA's office still contends that Harris County Sheriff's officials knew about the allegations that Carrizal backdated a search warrant before re-hiring him as homicide investigator (despite the sheriff's office telling us yesterday in no uncertain terms that they knew "nothing" before re-hiring Carrizal in January). Jeff McShan with the DA's office tells us today, "The Harris County Sheriff's Office was involved in the investigation of Carrizal and the backdated document from the beginning. We provided names of deputies who were involved to the HCSO."
So, it would appear someone's not telling us the truth. Your guess is as good as ours at this point. We'll update when we learn more.