KHOU 11 Investigates: HPD email shows Chief Finner knew about suspended cases code earlier than he claimed

The Houston Police Department conducted an internal investigation to review the 264,000 suspended incident reports, the department said in April.

KHOU 11 Investigates: HPD email shows Chief Finner knew about suspended cases code earlier than he claimed

HOUSTON — An internal Houston police memo obtained by KHOU 11 Investigates shows Chief Troy Finner knew about a controversial clearance code more than three years earlier than he has publicly claimed. The “suspended—lack of personnel” code, used to shelve about 264,000 cases, has thrown the department into scandal and prompted Houston Mayor John Whitmire to form an independent oversight panel to review an ongoing internal affairs investigation.

The July 20, 2018, email centered around a hit-and-run “road rage” incident on April 8, 2018, in which a citizen complained that their case was not being investigated, despite having workable leads. It was written by then-Chief of Staff George Mixon and sent to HPD command staff, including then-Chief Art Acevedo, Assistant Chief Sheryl Victorian, Vehicular Crimes Division Commander Kevin Deese and Troy Finner, who was Executive Assistant Chief at the time.

“On May 24, 2018, the case was “Suspended—Lack of Personnel” by Senior Officer Danh Nguyen even though there is a full license plate and suspect description provided within the report, to include a statement by the witness that they can ID the suspect,” Chief of Staff Mixon wrote.

Mixon sent the email just before 5 a.m. Around 8:30 a.m. the same day, Finner replied to everyone “Kevin, this is unacceptable, look into it and follow up with me.”

The newly surfaced email contradicts what Finner has repeatedly said publicly since the scandal broke this year. At news conferences on Feb. 22 and March 7, Finner said that November 2021 was the first time he was aware of the code being used. The chief repeated that claim April 2, during a 2-hour off-camera availability with the media and community leaders.

When questioned about the email on Tuesday, Finner said he did not remember the email.

“Do you expect anybody to remember everything in every email that comes through? That's totally, totally unreasonable,” he said. "To try to tie that to, like, you know, I’m being untruthful or something like that, it’s not going to work.”

At the time, Finner was over patrols and knew little about the case management coding process, he said.

“This is one thing that happens when people are leaking out information and then you don't get the true context of the entire investigation,” he said.

Update on Internal Affairs Division investigation into the suspended – “lack of personnel” code.#hounews https://t.co/OFWFp6JUaV pic.twitter.com/JTQxJHPWEV

— Houston Police (@houstonpolice) May 2, 2024

The internal affairs investigation into the code’s inception and when it was brought to Chief Finner’s attention it is still going through its review process.

[video_shortcode_youtube src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gVOzuGkCq7Q?rel=0" itemprop="image" content="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gVOzuGkCq7Q?rel=0" data-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gVOzuGkCq7Q?rel=0"]

KHOU 11 Investigates shared the email with the Houston Police Officers Union Tuesday.

“So he has to answer for why he either doesn't remember or how he claims that he didn't know about this code when we obviously it’s in writing that he was informed about it in 2018,” said HPOU President Doug Griffith.

“How can you sit there and preach that other people should be held accountable when you're not holding yourself accountable? Obviously, he knew well before 2021,” Griffith said.

The first public comments on suspended cases were made in a tweeted statement on Feb. 16, which said Finner “learned a significant number of adult sexual assault cases were suspended due to ‘lack of personnel’ which is unacceptable … this should have never happened and will not continue.”

HPD Chief @TroyFinner's Statement on Internal Review of Adult Sex Crime Investigations: pic.twitter.com/AjC4aU1HLY

— Houston Police (@houstonpolice) February 17, 2024

Then, at a Feb. 22 press conference, Finner announced as many as 4,017 sex crime cases had been suspended and said he first learned about the code in 2021. And on Feb. 26 he tweeted that they found another 260,000 cases were suspended with the code.

HPD Chief Troy Finner statement on 2018 email: pic.twitter.com/gzr5xTLIad

— Houston Police (@houstonpolice) May 7, 2024

And during a March 7 news conference, he reiterated that “November 2021 was the first time I was made aware of this code being used in a briefing by Special Victims Division. At that time, I told them the code was unacceptable and never use it again.”

Since then, Finner has announced that all the sex crimes cases have been reviewed and about 100 have DNA hits. HPD had reviewed more than a third of the 260,000 other cases as of last week. Most had no leads and 54 charges had been filed.

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