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Sheriff apologizes for racist emails

It’s a start.

Reacting to the latest controversy about his office in recent months, Sheriff Tommy Thomas today apologized in person to a local Muslim group for religiously insensitive e-mails sent by members of his staff.

Monday’s appearance before the Islamic Society of Greater Houston was Thomas’ second apology in recent days over staff e-mail, including one message from a top commander that mocks some of the Islamic faith’s core tenets.

“If anyone was offended, I sincerely apologize,” Thomas said. “I hope it’s not systemic of the department.”

Thomas said he planned to discipline the commander, Chief Deputy Mike Smith, who heads the office’s detention command. Thomas said he did not know when that suspension would begin or how many others may also receive similar punishment.


Smith said today that he regretted forwarding an e-mail he received with religiously insensitive cartoons. He said the sheriff docked a week’s pay.

“It was stupid for me to forward that. It was just cartoons, regarding Muslim terrorists,” he said. “I certainly have a great deal of respect for the Muslim community. They are a very law-abiding community. I regret that that’s being viewed as anti-Muslim because it’s anti-terrorist.

You can see the emails in question here and here. It’s not at all clear to me that Deputy Smith understands why his actions were offensive. Perhaps a little diversity training would be in order here, lest the lesson that gets learned is “only forward nasty stuff from the personal email address”.

The e-mails were revealed after KTRK-TV (Channel 13) sued to stop their deletion. The station reported last week on several e-mails that could be considered racist, insensitive or off-color.

The Sheriff spoke to KTRK as well, and though he whined about being “treated unfairly” by them, I give him credit for doing so. He’s got way more to answer for than this, and finally agreeing to talk to a reporter doesn’t come close to doing it. But it’s a step forward, and we’re the better off for it.

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