The Harris County District Attorney's Office acknowledged Wednesday it is investigating the sheriff's office surveillance of two brothers who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the department over their 2002 arrest.
The prosecutor's office released a letter from District Attorney Ken Magidson declining an offer from the Texas Attorney General's Office to help investigate or prosecute the matter. Five state lawmakers asked the attorney general to investigate Monday.
In the letter sent Tuesday, Magidson told Deputy Attorney General Eric J.R. Nichols that his office opened an inquiry after the media reported the surveillance last week.
"At this time, I have no reason to believe that this office will need the Attorney General's assistance in conducting a fair and thorough investigation into those allegations," Magidson wrote in response to Nichols' offer earlier Tuesday.
Sean Ibarra said he had not been contacted by the district attorney's office or the grand jury, but he was pleased to hear an investigation was under way.
"It's about time," he said.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis said he normally would be concerned that the close relationship between prosecutors and the sheriff's office would color the investigation. But he said he had no worries this time because Magidson is an interim district attorney with nothing to prove and no incentive to protect anyone.
"I think he's a very independent guy," said Ellis, D-Houston, who spearheaded the request for an investigation.
The story also has news on a different matter regarding the Sheriff's office, which is apparently related to this as well:
An attorney representing investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino of KTRK (Channel 13) said Wednesday that he and his client believe an e-mail discussing the surveillance of the brothers exists and has been improperly withheld by the department.
Dolcefino has been battling the department for access to 750,000 e-mails erased from employees' in-boxes in a mass deletion between Jan. 12 and 19. The purge was executed a day after the reporter requested e-mails from the sheriff's office.
A judge ordered the department to hand over the e-mails but allowed them to withhold some information, such as messages that would interfere with the detection, investigation or prosecution of crime. Dolcefino's attorney, John Edwards, said he believes that exemption is being applied too broadly.
He said he asked the county attorney's office about the e-mail in question and was told it had been subpoenaed by a grand jury.
State District Judge David J. Bernal has scheduled an emergency status hearing on Dolcefino's complaints for Tuesday.
Barnhill said the county attorney's office already had agreed to review the e-mails being withheld by the sheriff's office to ensure the exemptions are being applied properly.
Edwards also accused the sheriff's office of dragging its feet in releasing the e-mails. The department pledged in April to turn over the e-mails on a rolling basis during the next six months. Since then, only 38,000 e-mails have been released. At that rate, it would take two years to finish the job, Edwards said in his request for the hearing.
Six deputies are working full time to review the e-mails and determine whether they can be released or must be withheld, [sheriff's office spokesman Capt. John] Martin said. He said he and three clerks, the special assistant to the sheriff and the network administrator are spending a good deal of their time on the project as well.
"It would be an understatement to say we have made a good faith effort to comply with the court's order," he said.