by: Laurie Johnson, January 10, 2007 12:01:00 am
On Sunday, Houston police officers shot and killed a mentally ill man who they say was attacking them with a hammer. The man's family members say he posed no physical threat to anyone. One day later, another man was shot and killed by an officer after attempting to evade arrest. The officer says the man struggled with him and tried to take his taser and use it against him. That's when the officer says he used deadly force. However, two witnesses say they saw the officer shoot the suspect after he was already subdued and handcuffed. Investigations are ongoing, but some Houston councilmembers are concerned that goodwill has been destroyed. Councilmember Jarvis Johnson says the city should ensure the community and police force aren't pitted against one another.
"I'm a little confused because when I look at the news and the police force is saying one thing but eyewitnesses are giving a depiction of others, it really puts us in a precarious situation as to how do we tell our citizens that our police force is forthright, they're upright, there's no corruption."
Johnson suggested to Houston Mayor Bill White the city should offer some type of meeting or dialogue between HPD and the community. Councilmembers Sue Lovell and Ada Edwards joined Johnson in calling for a townhall meeting. Edwards also asked the mayor to consider new strategies within HPD.
"I think that it's past the time of just another inquiry. I think that we really have to look at policies and procedures. And even if we have all the policies and procedures correct, we're still dealing with human beings."
A number of activist groups have denounced the department and it's leader Chief Harold Hurtt, with some even calling for Hurtt's resignation. When asked if Hurtt should resign, Houston Mayor Bill White expressed his support for the chief and the policies in place at HPD.
"Chief Hurtt is one of the leaders of this nation in community-based policing. Plus let's never forget that the interaction with the community that occurs every single day is not simply with self-appointed community leaders who purport to speak for whole bunches of people in big meetings where no criminals are caught, but it's in responding to citizens who have a problem where that police officer is there for them."
The Houston Police Department is investigating both suspect shootings and the Harris County District Attorney has also convened a grand jury to investigate. Chief Hurtt issued a statement in response to some of the accusations against the force, saying he wants to assure the community they will conduct thorough investigations in both cases and leave no stones unturned. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.