Two Houston city workers have been disciplined for a traffic ticket fixing racket that was uncovered by Local 2 Investigates.
A ranking Houston Fire Department arson investigator has been issued a written reprimand for answering a post on Facebook from a stranger who asked for help with fixing four traffic tickets she has received from a Houston police officer.
"You used your position within HFD to influence a Houston Police Officer to dismiss four traffic citations he issued to a private citizen. In doing so, you not only violated the rules and regulations of the Houston Fire Department but also the City of Houston's Code of Ordinance," Fire Chief Terry Garrison wrote in his reprimand.
Local 2 Investigates reported in August that Arson Investigator Alison Stein answered a stranger's request on Facebook, writing that she knew the officer who had written the tickets and would try to help the stranger. The officer promptly voided all four citations.
Despite being written up for breaking the law, no suspension was levied against Stein. She has declined to comment about her actions.
Chief Garrison wrote in the
, "The Houston Fire Department is a professional organization that holds its members to a high standard of conduct. Your failure to comply with the fundamental principles to which the department holds its members accountable, not only flaunts an unprofessional attitude that is out of line with that high standard, but is also clearly detrimental to the department's good order."
The ticket fixing did not sit well with people who had to take time off from work to fight traffic tickets that they had received.
"I wish I could go on Facebook and post something and I can get off, but hey," said Thaeron Oaks, who said he had to miss a day of work and pay a $200 lawyer. His ticket was dismissed after he appeared before a judge, but he still had strong feelings about the uneven treatment.
"It's not fair at all. It's not fair that she should be able to get away with it. You know, she breaks the law, she should be held accountable like everybody else," he said.
When Local 2 Investigates first reported on the arson investigator's maneuver, fire department spokesman Patrick Trahan said, "That would be inappropriate and improper. We don't have people doing this on a regular basis and there's no history of that type of thing taking place."
The Houston Police Department Internal Affairs Division has also completed its investigation into the officer who voided the tickets, and the department levied a one-day suspension without pay. The officer was cited for abusing his conduct and authority and also violating laws against fixing tickets.
The officer admitted to Local 2 Investigates that he voided the tickets without going through the proper channels, which require high-level HPD supervisors to sign off any time a ticket is voided. He said he would not have issued the tickets to begin with, had he known that the motorist was dealing with the death of her father at the time.
The city's human resources department said the officer chose to burn off a vacation day without pay to serve out his suspension.
The Houston Police Department issued new rules known as general orders about social networking in response to a series of misconduct by officers exposed by Local 2 Investigates. Officers are now on notice that they can be punished for posting messages, whether on duty or on their private time, if those messages violate certain standards.
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