When a technical supervisor for the Houston Police Department discovered flaws in a popular method of breath analyzers, the District Attorney decided to try shooting the messenger. However, after presenting their case against the whistle-blower to a grand jury, the prosecutors have apparently found themselves targeted.
Amanda Culbertson, a technical supervisor at the HPD Crime Lab, noticed that the the mobile breathalyzer machines (known as BAT vans) she oversaw had maintenance issues that were leading to unreliable test results—potentially jeopardizing numerous DWI cases where they were used. As documented by emails, she told her supervisors who chose to do nothing. Culbertson then left her job and joined a local college where she continued doing the same duties for a lab contracted to support county-level agencies. She let people know her departure was over the issues with the HPD BAT vans. Defense attorneys noticed and had her testify before a judge. This made the District Attorney angry, and you don’t want to make her angry.
Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, instead of investigating the claims in the interest of serving justice, decided to take action against Culbertson and the horse she rode out on. The DA pushed the county to cancel their contract with the Culbertson’s new lab, in essence firing her. It then opted to take a case against Culbertson and the BAT vans to a grand jury. That’s when things went out of their control.
Several defense attorneys came to Culbertson’s aid and positions were stated to the grand jury. When a defense attorney critical of BAT vans was called to testify, the grand jury requested the prosecutors leave the room. The rare, but legal, move upset the prosecutors, as it implied they weren’t independent and likely the subject of the grand jury investigation. The prosecutors argued vehemently to stay in the room, but backed off when the grand jury instructed the bailiff to arrest them.
The prosecutors went to the judge who empaneled the grand jury and demanded she order them to let them back in the room, but she denied their request. An appeals court quickly agreed. Regardless of the eventual outcome, things are interesting in Houston.
With credit to Scott Greenfield!