The Goforth Investigation Is Starting to Sound Like a Telenovela

In the immediate aftermath of the murder of Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth last August, local law enforcement officials blamed more than just the mentally ill sometimes-homeless man charged with ambushing Goforth and firing 15 rounds into his back as the deputy gassed up his cruiser.

In an emotional press conference following the shooting, District Attorney Devon Anderson connected Goforth's killing to the growing national movement to hold police accountable for the shooting and killing of unarmed citizens, saying, “There are a few bad apples in every profession. That does not mean that there should be open warfare on law enforcement.” Sheriff Ron Hickman was more explicit, saying the increased scrutiny of law enforcement (“rhetoric,” as he put it) had led to the “calculated, cold-blooded assassination of police officers.” While Shannon Miles was the suspect accused of pulling the trigger, Hickman told CNN “it isn't a very far stretch to believe that that kind of rhetoric could influence someone” to commit such a crime.

It's still not clear what motivated the slaying – that is, other than the possibility of untreated mental illness (Miles, who has a history of state hospital commitment, was ordered into psychiatric treatment earlier this week by a judge who declared him incompetent to stand trial). But five months after law enforcement officials laid partial blame for Goforth's murder at the feet of Black Lives Matter protesters and the like, the actual developments in the case continue to cast a shadow onto the Harris County Sheriff's Office's investigation into the killing.

The first bizarre twist came weeks after the murder, when prosecutors disclosed (in a required, routine legal filing, it should be noted) that an eyewitness to Goforth's killing told investigators she'd been in a sexual relationship with the deputy. Miles's court-appointed attorney, Anthony Osso, seized on the opportunity, arguing that Goforth wasn't technically on duty at the time of the murder (even though he was in uniform) and was instead meeting up with his mistress — depending on how you look at it, either a defense attorney doing his job or a nauseating attempt to skirt the death penalty in the assassination of a police officer in a public place.

Then things got even weirder two months after the shooting when Sheriff Hickman fired a homicide investigator who admitted to having “consensual sexual contact” with the same woman. The investigator, Sgt. Craig Clopton, was one of many from the department's homicide unit who assisted with the initial investigation into Goforth's murder. While the sheriff's office has claimed with a straight face that Clopton's misconduct had nothing to do with it, HCSO recently implemented a new policy clarifying that deputies can't have sex with people in custody or witnesses involved in an ongoing investigation (because evidently such things need to be clarified at HCSO). 

And then on Wednesday, in what Hickman has called “a never-ending cycle of conduct that's embarrassing to every professional peace officer,” the department fired deputy M. DeLeon over his relationship with the same witness. “The ongoing investigation by our Internal Affairs Division concluded that Deputy DeLeon was untruthful during the course of their investigation,” the department said in a prepared statement.

By late Wednesday, local stations were reporting that yet a third officer is being investigated for his relationship with the same witness. Hickman told KTRK that, like Clopton and DeLeon, that third officer (who's yet to be named) will likely be fired. It's unclear if any of this will help Miles's attorneys make their case once they return to court (Miles is expected to be transferred to a state hospital this week for competency restoration).

In August, Hickman and others pointed the finger at criminal justice reformers who contend that public confidence in law enforcement has eroded, saying they helped create the climate that led to Goforth's death. Yet since then, what we've learned may only erode confidence in the department tasked with investigating the tragic death of one of their own. 
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Michael Barajas
Contact: Michael Barajas