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Endorsement watch: Time for a change, part 2

The Chron endorses Ed Gonzalez for Sheriff, after indicting incumbent Sheriff Ron Hickman for a litany of failures.

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez

At the beginning of this campaign we believed that Sheriff Ron Hickman should get the benefit of a doubt on his challenging task. The longtime Precinct 4 constable was appointed to his position by Commissioners Court when Adrian Garcia decided to run for mayor in May 2015. Since then, we’ve seen a series of problems created more by policy choices than inexorable jail conditions. A scandal in his former constable’s department places these problems in a wider pattern of questionable management. Because of these issues, we encourage voters to support Democratic challenger Ed Gonzalez for sheriff.

More than 100 cases have been thrown out at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center because Precinct 4 improperly destroyed more than 20,000 pieces of evidence. People may even have been wrongfully incarcerated. Federal investigators are still trying to figure out exactly what happened, but some fingers are pointing to a single officer who apparently had been inappropriately destroying evidence since 2007 – well within Hickman’s time as boss. We still don’t know what Hickman knew, when he knew it, and what he could have done to prevent this cascading failure of criminal justice. Could Hickman stop a similar problem from happening on his watch as sheriff?

He certainly didn’t predict the consequences of replacing jail guards with deputies: fewer patrols, overtime skyrocketing by 500 percent, exhausted employees and low morale. The budget has been pushed to the limit, and it is putting the county’s crime-fighting abilities at risk.

This personnel change may have been worthwhile if it made the jail safer. Yet this past May, Chronicle reporters James Pinkerton and Lauren Caruba documented four inmate deaths from assaults or head trauma suffered in the jail, including one man held on misdemeanor charges killed by another inmate.

Garcia used every trick in his book to squeeze the budget and prevent jail overcrowding. Hickman put that book back on the shelf. That’s the attitude that we’ve come to expect from Harris County’s eight constables, which often serve more as political fiefdoms than well-oiled law enforcement agencies.

I had wondered if Hickman’s role in the unfolding Precinct 4 evidence scandal was going to get some attention. The Chron has some nice things to say about Gonzalez, though they’re not as effusive as they were about Kim Ogg. Mostly, though, this is about how Hickman has fallen short, and why he needs to be replaced. That case is clear, and the Chron lets Hickman have it.

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