February 21, 2008
Lawsuit against Sheriff's office begins

The lawsuit against the Harris County Sheriff's office that led to the discovery of Chuck Rosenthal's email collection (and its missing pieces), which had been delayed due to a motion to recuse the presiding judge, is underway.

Two brothers who claim they were wrongfully arrested by Harris County Sheriff's deputies who stormed into their homes without probable cause and destroyed film in their cameras are seeking $5 million in damages, a federal jury learned today.

Sean Carlos Ibarra and Erik Adam Ibarra say deputies burst into their southeast Houston home after one of the brothers took pictures of an officer during a drug raid at their next-door neighbor's residence.

But attorneys for Harris County and four deputies involved in the arrest said the Ibarras cannot offer any medical records, pictures of injuries or proof of lost wages to prove they suffered any harm. The county's lawyers also argued the deputies' actions were justified because they feared for their safety.

The jury in U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt's court got a first look at the civil case as attorneys made opening statements today.

"This case may permanently change things here in Harris County and may change the way law enforcement operates here and across the nation," said Lloyd Kelley, the attorney for the Ibarra brothers.

Four deputies targeted by the lawsuit -- Preston Foose, Dan Shattuck, John Palermo and Sgt. Alex Rocha -- violated the Ibarras' First and Fourth Amendment rights when they carried out the arrest on Jan. 4, 2002, Kelly said.


Sheriff Tommy Thomas also is being sued by the Ibarras because he failed to investigate the deputies' actions after they were brought to his attention, Kelley said.

But attorneys defending Harris County and the deputies said the officers worked in an undercover capacity and feared having their faces exposed.

They also suggested the Ibarras are only after money -- not trying to change policy.

"This is a case about whether an officer has the right to ask questions about something he sees that could endanger the life of a fellow officer," said Cliff Harrison, attorney for the deputies.

We'll see how it goes. I suspect there may yet be a surprise or two lurking, though with Rosenthal now on the sidelines, some of the drama has been lost. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 21, 2008 to Local politics