231 – Internal Investigations

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Purpose

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) has established general rules of conduct that are identified throughout the department policies. The HCSO will investigate any report of improper or unprofessional conduct received against an employee in order to ensure:

  1. The citizens of Harris County are served by public servants who are professional and responsible in their actions,
  2. HCSO employees are protected against false allegations and groundless complaints,
  3. The good name of the HCSO is protected by the enforcement of internal policies and administration of internal discipline, and
  4. An effective procedure exists to provide feedback and accountability in HCSO operations for Harris County citizens. [CALEA Standard 26.3.1]

Definitions

Improper or Unprofessional Conduct: Any act or omission made by an employee that:

  1. Violates a federal, state, county, or municipal statute, regulation, or ordinance,
  2. Violates a court order, or
  3. Violates any HCSO policies, procedures, or rules, including, but not limited to: the department policies, any bureau procedural manual, and any applicable HCSO or bureau memorandum. [CALEA Standard 26.3.1]

Internal Affairs Division (IAD): Division responsible for conducting internal investigations at the direction of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) commander.

Procedure

Tracking

All investigations shall use a case number generated and issued by the OIG. The case number shall be included on all OIG and IAD forms.

Forms

All investigations shall use specific forms designated for administrative investigations made available on the HCSO Intranet.

Time Limitations

Excluding cases with criminal implications, IAD and bureau-level investigations should be completed within one hundred eighty (180) days of assignment with a ninety (90) day review to include an IAD justification letter. [CALEA Standard 26.3.3]

Notification

Sheriff

Complaints or incidents that include deputy-involved shootings, deaths in custody, or are of a criminal nature shall immediately be brought to the attention of the Sheriff or his or her designee. [CALEA Standard 26.3.2]

The OIG commander or his or her designee will have direct access to the Sheriff or his or her designee to inform him or her of both newly-initiated complaints and the status of ongoing investigations. [CALEA Standards 26.2.1, 26.2.3, 26.3.2, 26.3.3]

Employee

When a complaint or allegation of misconduct is brought against an employee, verbal and written notification to the employee will be given informing the employee that he or she has become the subject of an administrative investigation. The written notification will include a written summary of the allegation(s) lodged against the employee along with the employee’s rights and responsibilities relative to the investigation. [CALEA Standard 26.3.5]

If knowledge of an investigation would impede the investigation, notification to the employee may be withheld.

Employee Requirements Related to an Internal Investigation

During the course of an internal investigation, the HCSO may require an employee to submit to or disclose the following: [CALEA Standard 26.3.6]

  1. Provide a sworn statement;
  2. Medical or laboratory examination at County expense;
  3. Photographs of the employee;
  4. Participate in a line-up;
  5. Disclose any item of the employee’s property, income, assets, source of income, debts, or personal or domestic expenditures (including those of any member of the employee’s family or household) if that information is necessary and material to the investigation, unless disclosure is prohibited by state or federal law; and
  6. Polygraph examination.

Failure to Cooperate

Failure to cooperate with any internal investigation may result in the employee’s immediate suspension from duty or termination.

Temporary Suspension from Duty

The Sheriff or his or her designee may determine an employee shall be temporarily suspended during the course of an internal investigation for the good of the HCSO and the welfare of the citizens it serves. [CALEA Standard 26.3.7]

Records Retention

The HCSO will maintain records of all complaints against the agency and its employees.

All complaints and investigations involving the HCSO and its employees shall be kept in a secured area within the OIG.

Access will be limited only to those personnel assigned to the OIG.

The original investigation (master) file will be retained by the OIG. [CALEA Standard 26.2.2]

Reporting

The OIG commander will compile an annual statistical summary of administrative investigations, with case tracking numbers that will be available to the public and HCSO employees. The report is due on the last day of February and will be forwarded to the Sheriff. [CALEA Standard 26.2.5]

Findings

Upon completion of the internal investigation, the IAD investigator or the bureau supervisor who conducted the investigation will present the investigation to the Administrative Disciplinary Committee (ADC). The ADC shall examine the facts of the case and determine the disposition, policy violations, and recommend punishment in accordance with HCSO Department Policy #301 – Corrective Actions and Disciplinary Procedures.

Bureau-Level Investigations

A bureau-level investigation is an investigation that may result in a corrective or disciplinary action disposition in accordance with HCSO Department Policy #301 – Corrective Actions and Disciplinary Procedures. [CALEA Standard 26.3.1 a]

Processing

When a possible violation of HCSO policy is brought to the attention of a HCSO supervisor, the supervisor receiving the information or witnessing the incident shall notify his or her chain of command in writing without unnecessary delay. Depending on the circumstances or the nature of the alleged conduct or violation, the bureau commander shall confer with the OIG commander and:

  1. Approve the initiation of an internal bureau-level investigation,
  2. Refer the complaint or allegation to the subject employee’s assigned bureau commander for follow-up investigation as deemed necessary, or
  3. Make recommendation and request the OIG to initiate an investigation into the allegation or incident.

Personnel Early Warning System (PEWS) Review

When the bureau commander receives a formal complaint against an employee, he or she shall direct a review of the employee’s PEWS history to determine if a PEWS alert should be initiated in accordance with HCSO department policy. This review shall be documented as part of the internal investigation.

Relief of Duty

The bureau commander (or ranking supervisor in his or her absence) or the OIG commander (or his or her designee) may temporarily relieve an employee from duty with pay and benefits.

The bureau commander or his or her designee shall issue a written order relieving the employee of duty, and a signed copy shall be provided to the Sheriff.

Any employee so relieved from duty shall surrender his or her badge and identification card to the relieving supervisor or OIG designee.

The relieving supervisor or OIG designee shall forward the surrendered items as soon as practical to the employee’s bureau commander. [CALEA Standard 26.3.7]

Polygraph Examinations

Supervisors conducting bureau-level investigations must have approval from the OIG major or captain before having anyone submit to a polygraph examination.

Records Retention

Upon completion of the internal investigation by the bureau supervisor, the bureau commander will forward the original investigation and all supporting documents to the OIG commander.

All bureau-level investigations shall be reviewed every thirty (30) days to determine the status of each investigation. The OIG will send each bureau commander a monthly list identifying all known active bureau administrative investigations under their command in an effort to facilitate this review.

After the investigation is complete and the final case disposition is issued, the complainant will receive written notification by mail informing him or her of the internal investigation outcome. [CALEA Standards 26.3.4 c and 26.3.8]

Internal Affairs Division Investigations

An investigation conducted by the IAD may result in a corrective or disciplinary action finding in accordance with HCSO Department Policy #301 – Corrective Actions and Disciplinary Procedures. [CALEA Standard 26.3.1 a]

Processing

When a complaint is received by the HCSO and the OIG, it will be formally compiled within a file. This file shall contain the sworn statement of the complainant and any supporting documents relating to the complaint (incident reports, supplement reports, supporting statements, photographs, etc.).

Investigation Assignment

A copy of the original file will be forwarded to the assigned IAD investigator to conduct the investigation, or the OIG commander may refer an investigation to the bureau level. [CALEA Standards 26.2.1, 26.3.1, 26.3.1 a]

Personnel Early Warning System (PEWS) Review

When the OIG receives a formal complaint against an employee, the IAD investigator receiving the case file shall conduct a review of the employee’s PEWS and IAD history to determine if a PEWS alert notification should be initiated in accordance with HCSO department policy. After the review is complete, the investigator shall complete an OIG / IAD PEWS notification form for inclusion in the case file along with all available supporting documentation.

If a criterion for a mandatory PEWS notification is present, the investigator shall e-mail the completed OIG / IAD PEWS notification form (delivery and read receipts requested) to the subject employee’s bureau commander. A copy of this e-mail message shall be secured in the IAD case file. If no criterion requiring a PEWS alert is present, the OIG / IAD PEWS notification form shall be completed by the investigator by indicating there were “no criteria” present. This completed form shall be secured in the original case file.

Investigation Classifications

The IAD shall conduct investigations or review of investigations relating to issues involving:

  1. Violations of state and federal law,
  2. Allegations of excessive force involving injury or alleged injury,
  3. Deputy-involved shootings,
  4. All Title VII (Civil Rights Act of 1964) workplace allegations,
  5. Multiple personnel who are assigned to different bureaus, and
  6. In-custody deaths.

Records Retention

Upon completion of the investigation by IAD, the investigator shall ensure all original investigation and supporting documents are placed in the OIG master case file. [CALEA Standard 26.3.1 b]

Authority

The HCSO may also be listed as a complainant in internal investigations. This may occur when the OIG is notified that an employee may have engaged in conduct that is criminal in nature or engaged in conduct that is in direct violation of HCSO rules, regulations, or procedures.

If this type of behavior is alleged to have occurred, the HCSO may be listed as the complainant when:

  1. There is no actual person who has brought forth the complaint, or
  2. There is legitimate belief that a person with the information may fear retaliation, is otherwise unavailable, or is incapacitated.
  3. The Sheriff, his or her designee, or the OIG commander may order the IAD to open an investigation into this alleged activity. [CALEA Standard 26.2.1]

Investigation Review

The supervisors assigned to the OIG will review on a monthly basis all cases assigned to the investigators in the division. An extension of the ninety-day period will be granted upon approval from the OIG commander.

Complainant Notifications

Upon receipt of a citizen’s complaint, the OIG will send the complainant a letter of acknowledgement.

Included in the letter of acknowledgement will be the name and contact information for the investigator assigned to investigate the complaint or the name and contact information for the bureau commander if the complaint is to be investigated at the bureau level. [CALEA Standard 26.3.4 a]

If an investigation takes more than ninety (90) days, the complainant may be contacted to inform him or her of the status or to obtain additional information if needed. [CALEA Standard 26.3.4 b]

After the investigation is complete and the final case disposition is issued, the complainant will receive notification by mail informing him or her of the internal investigation outcome. [CALEA Standards 26.3.4 c and 26.3.8]

Accused Notifications

After a case has been reviewed by the ADC, the accused employee will be notified of the findings.

If the ADC determines disciplinary action will be taken against an accused employee, the employee will be notified of the findings from his or her bureau commander.

If the ADC determines NO disciplinary action will be taken against an accused employee, the employee will be notified of the findings from the OIG.

Revision

This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

April 21, 2009

December 19, 2011

January 5, 2012

January 15, 2013

April 23, 2013

October 21, 2015

December 7, 2017

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