Charges dropped against Wenzel

All charges against Sgt. Ken Wenzel, the second former HPD officer indicted on five counts of official oppression stemming from the botched K-Mart raid last august, have been dropped in the wake of former Captain Mark Aguirre’s acquittal.

Prosecutor Tommy La Fon said a jury’s acquittal Monday of the raid’s commander, Capt. Mark Aguirre, after two weeks of trial was a key reason why he asked state District Judge Carol G. Davies to dismiss the five misdemeanor counts of official oppression against Wenzel.

La Fon said he also consulted with District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal about the matter.

“The strongest evidence we had was against Capt. Aguirre,” La Fon said. “The jury heard that and concluded that no criminal wrongdoing occurred, and acquitted him.”

No surprise there. Meanwhile, HPD Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford is under heavy fire due to the crime lab problems and other issues.

A majority of council members said a series of problems beyond the crime lab at HPD has damaged their confidence in Bradford, including last summer’s mass arrests at a westside Kmart and his trial on aggravated perjury charges, for which he was acquitted.

“He should take the high road and resign,” said Councilman Gabriel Vasquez, who has consistently raised questions about mismanagement in the Police Department. “He deserves an opportunity to explain himself to council and the public, but short of that, he should (go).”

Eight of Vasquez’s 13 fellow council members told the Chronicle they agreed.

The Houston Police Officers Union, which has long expressed its dissatisfaction with the chief, also called for his resignation.

“It’s time for him to step down,” said union chief Hans Marticiuc.

The three declared mayoral candidates are staking out their positions on the chief and HPD’s recent woes.

One candidate — City Councilman Michael Berry — said Thursday that Bradford should be asked to resign as a way to rebuild confidence in the Police Department.

Another — former Councilman Orlando Sanchez — has said previously that one of his first acts as mayor would be to replace Bradford.

The two other candidates — businessman Bill White and state rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston — are less pointed about Bradford’s future.


Berry said the Police Department suffers a “crisis of confidence among its police officers” because of the crime lab and other issues.

“I would bring him in and ask for his resignation,” Berry said. “He’s given too many good years to fire him. I would tell him that a resignation would help restore confidence in the police department.”

Sanchez said he would not speculate about how term-limited Mayor Lee Brown should handle Bradford. But Sanchez noted that he has already pledged to replace Bradford if elected.

“I happen to like Chief Bradford personally,” Sanchez said. “But as I have said, the Police Department needs new leadership.”

White said Bradford should be given the opportunity to explain his side of the story.

“In my administration, the chief would be held accountable for any serious management failures,” White said. “I’d give anyone an opportunity, then I would assess the evidence and make a prompt decision on management.”

A spokesman for Turner said he would not comment about campaign issues until he announces his candidacy July 9.

There are two dynamics at work here, both of which are mentioned in this article. One is that Chief Bradford is popular in the African-American community, which makes criticizing him easier for Sanchez and Berry and tougher for White and Turner. I fully expect Sanchez and Berry to hammer on this somewhat, since it not only causes discomfort for the other two candidates but it plays to their anti-Lee Brown base and to anyone else who might be looking for a real change from Brown’s tenure.

On the other hand, as noted in the Houston Area Survey (see Figure Three here), traffic is the big concern this year. By harping on Chief Bradford, Berry and Sanchez run the risk of spending too little time addressing what voters want to hear. There’s a limit to how often they can go to this well. Likewise, White and Turner can turn this around on them – “OK, we get it, they don’t like Chief Bradford. What do they plan on doing about traffic once they’re done firing him?”

Anyway, to get back to the original topic, this should be the last we hear of the K-Mart Kiddie Roundup until one of the civil cases comes to court. Let’s hope the city does a better job with that than they did in proving Aguirre’s criminal intent.

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One Response to Charges dropped against Wenzel

  1. one who was there says:

    Mr. Kuffner,

    You should have attended the trial instead of basing your opinion on what you read and see in the biased, unprofessional joke you call the Houston media. The Chronicle and KTRK and KHOU had a better story if they only reported on the prosecution’s side – which would lead the poor sheep of a readership in Houston to believe it was a travest of justice. 1) The Chief was lying when he said he knew nothing of the plan – court showed memo to the contrary – but then judging by his recent “I never got that memo” with regard to the HPD Crime lab and other memory lapses, only a houstonian would still believe him. 2) FBI agent was present and testifed that “he saw nothing illegal”, 3) One of the “poor arrestees” who brought charges against HPD for false arrest was proven to have lied – on camera no less – saying first she was at the Sonic getting a burger when first interviewed on camera and then saying, she was shopping at the KMart to the newspaper. Hmmm??? she is also the daughter of a lawyer – hmmm?? 4) the tow truck driver who was there every weekend for months reported that he saw all of the people run from the scene to Sonic and Kmart that night and that they had done this every weekend for months. 5) Houston radio commercial offering people “Sonic receipts” days after the incident, 6) Chief who lies, panics, panders and creates this PR nightmare for the City by nullifying legal arrests and releases them thereby opening the door to these inane lawsuits – several by individuals caught there many times before this incident.

    But then what do you expect when you promote someone from Sargeant to Chief (skipping Lieutenant, Captain,) which would have provided to Mr. Bradford years of administrative and leadershp training on how to run a city police department. You have exactly the moron your city deserves.

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