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Lawsuit filed over dog scent evidence

Three men have filed a federal lawsuit against Fort Bend Deputy Keith Pikett and his use of “evidence” gathered by scent dogs, which they say led to them being falsely accused of and imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit.

The men — Cedric Johnson, Curvis Bickham and Ronald Curtis — ask for compensatory and punitive damages for months spent in jail awaiting trial for crimes they did not commit. Charges against them eventually were dropped. Also named in the lawsuit are Fort Bend County Sheriff Milton Wright and the Houston Police Department.

Jeff Blackburn, attorney for the three, is leading a campaign against the use of dog scent evidence to charge people with crimes. Pikett and his dogs have been employed by prosecutors and police in thousands of Texas cases, in some instances providing the primary link between a suspect and a crime.

Blackburn is general counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, which in September issued a scathing report on the use of dog scent evidence, calling it tantamount to junk science. The project works on behalf of wrongly accused people.

You can read that report here (PDF). I’ve blogged about this before here and here, and of course Grits is a comprehensive resource. It occurs to me that this is the sort of thing that the Texas Forensic Science Commission ought to be looking into, to help establish a statewide standard, or at least a set of recommendations and best practices, for local law enforcement agencies to go by. Too bad Governor Perry’s meddling in the affairs of the Commission over the Cameron Todd Willingham case has screwed the pooch on this, so to speak. Maybe some day, when we have a Governor that puts the best interests of Texas ahead of his own, that can happen.

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5 Comments

  1. Baby Snooks says:

    I guess all those scent dogs that find missing bodies just got lucky.

    I would say that The Innocence Project needs to go back to defending the OJ Simpsons of the world but it appears from time to time that is all they defend. Victims of domestic abuse/violence and stalking victims are not vengeful people but they also have no use for OJ Simpson or for those who defended him. Which Barry Scheck did. Nicole Simpson was a victim of domestic abuse/violence and a stalking victim and a testament to what happens when stalking is not taken seriously.

  2. You need to read more closely, BS. Nobody is objecting to the use of dogs to track or find people. What’s in contention here is whether or not a dog can uniquely identify a person by sniffing an object that person had touched, and in effect testify in court to that. It’s quite clear from reading about this that the latter practice is highly unusual, and seems to be the province of one deputy in Fort Bend, who has been making claims about his dogs’ abilities that other police dog handlers have not made. To put it bluntly, this all stinks.

  3. Baby Snooks says:

    I can read. “Pikett and his dogs have been employed by prosecutors and police in thousands of Texas cases, in some instances providing the primary link between a suspect and a crime.” And I suppose all of the other thousands of people were also innocent, wrongly charged and wrongly convicted and wrongly sent to prison? Charges dropped. Charges not filed. Happens all the time. For all sorts of reasons. Not just because a dog had sinus problems that day.

  4. Baby Snooks says:

    Although I must add that as soon as the Justice Department cleans house in Harris County, they need to “move on down the road” and clean house in Ft. Bend County. I’m not holding my breath, as they say, for either to happen. Texas is a dangerous place to be the wrong color, the wrong religion, the wrong, well the list goes on and on.

  5. The FBI is mandated to investigate public corruption that affects the outcome of trials. The moment Pikett lied on the stand about his credentials, every utterance he made under oath became questionable, and became a matter of concern to the FBI. Now Pikett has been further discredited by DNA. The same held true for John Preston, another self-acclaimed “scent evidence expert” who lied on the stand about his credentials and was later DNA discredited. Preston testified nationwide until Geraldo Rivera discredited him on ABC’s “20/20” in 1984. Men are still behind bars over his testimony; men have been executed. There were three upset convictions in Brevard County, Florida where Preston was reported to have been involved in 100 cases. the FBI busted dogfighting rings in several states this year, prioritizing protecting “man’s best friend” ahead of actual men. Why won’t the FBI act and give hundreds of men – who have been waiting for decades – their first fair day in court? Because they used Preston themselves. The web page that defines their role and provides a tip link is http://www.fbi.gov/hq/cid/pubcorrupt/pubcorrupt.htm.