Constable Precinct 1 sexual harassment lawsuit goes forward

I’m rooting for a settlement.

A lawsuit against Harris County alleging that female Precinct 1 constable deputies were picked for undercover vice operations where they were molested and traumatized will move forward after a federal judge recently ruled against a motion to dismiss the suit.

Attorneys representing the county had filed the motion, arguing that the county was immune as constables weren’t technically countywide policymakers, said Bill Ogden, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the case.

“Frankly, the law created a little bit of a legal quagmire, because constables aren’t necessarily the policymakers for the entire county,” Ogden said. “They represent their precinct in the county. But because of that, it could read as if the county is never responsible for anything done by the constables.”

Ogden Friday told the Chronicle he was happy a judge decided against that argument, and that he was optimistic about what the plaintiffs might find as the case moves forward with depositions and other motions.

Legal representatives for the county did not respond to a request for comment about the judge’s decision. A spokesperson for Precinct 1 provided a statement explaining that Constable Alan Rosen had been dismissed as a defendant in the case in August 2021 and that the facts of the case haven’t yet been litigated.

“We are hopeful the law will be applied, and the court system will see that the County is entitled to the same outcome,” according to the statement. “This civil lawsuit is now in the hands of Harris County and we will continue to work hard every day for the people of our community.”

The recent flurry of court activity stems from a lawsuit first filed in May 2021, making a host of allegations against the county’s largest precinct.

Claims included prostitution stings devolving into “booze-fueled playgrounds.” Separately, a Precinct 1 Constable Office’s employee was fired after she reported the alleged misconduct to the department’s internal affairs division.

According to the lawsuit, the supervisors of the constable’s office’s human trafficking unit decided to change operations to perform “bachelor party” stings. The plan was simple, according to the lawsuit: deputies set up surveillance in a hotel room, and male and female deputies — all undercover — pretended to be party goers, with some of the female deputies posing as prostitutes.

The initial suit named Rosen and two other office employees, but all three have since been dismissed from the case. Only the county remains as a defendant, according to court records. The alleged incidents occurred in the department’s human trafficking task force in 2019 and 2020.

See here, here, and here for some background. Not sure I like the county being the sole defendant here – given that each Constable is an elected official, there’s only so much oversight a Commissioners Court can have – but if nobody else is the defendant, then I guess it’s the county by process of elimination. Maybe that will incentivize a settlement, I don’t know. On the other hand, I’ve said all along that I want to hear what these plaintiffs have to say, and a settlement won’t accomplish that. Right now I just hope that everyone has absorbed the lesson that this kind of “sting” operation was an exceptionally dumb idea.

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