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- A Texas prosecutor was fired on Friday after refusing to file sexual assault charges because he believed the victim was an unauthorized immigrant.
- According to the Houston Police Officers’ Union, the prosecutor asked a police officer, “Well, is the complainant illegal?” and said, “Because if he’s illegal, I’m not taking the charge.”
- The union said officers were “outraged” by the incident because they’ve been trying to build trust with the Hispanic community.
- “Regardless of your legal status, we want you to report crimes to us. And then the DA’s office pulls an act like this? No. He needs to be gone,” HPOU President Joe Gamaldi said.
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A Texas prosecutor was fired Friday afternoon after refusing to file charges against a sexual assault suspect because he believed the victim was an unauthorized immigrant, the Harris County District Attorney’s office announced.
The Houston Police Officers’ Union released a scathing statement November 5, accusing Assistant District Attorney John Denholm of asking a police officer whether a victim was “illegal” before deciding whether to file charges.
“It is wrong to ask about a victim’s immigration status; it is against our policy, and it won’t be tolerated,” Kim Ogg, the Harris County district dttorney, told The New York Times in a statement. “We treat everyone equally under the law, no matter how they came to be here.”
The union said the dispute began when an officer responded to an alleged sexual assault at a facility used to process jail inmates. The officer heard yelling, then saw a male inmate handcuffed to a chair, pointing at another inmate holding his erect penis in his hand, according to the union.
The inmate cuffed to the chair told the officer that the other inmate had pulled his head toward his crotch and “continued to grab the male’s shoulder until police stopped the attempted sexual assault,” the union said.
But the union said when the officer contacted Denholm about filing sexual assault charges, Denholm demurred.
An inmate in the Harris County Jail attempted to sexually assault another inmate, in front of police and on video. @HPOU's @JoeGamaldi speaks on Kim Ogg's (@kimoggforda) Office refusing sex assault charges, because of the victim's unknown immigration status. #VictimsDeserveBetter pic.twitter.com/dAVrliSbBy
— Houston Police Officers' Union (@HPOUTX) November 6, 2019
“The district attorney, out of nowhere, says, ‘Well, is the complainant illegal?'” HPOU President Joe Gamaldi told the Washington Post. “He goes, ‘Because if he’s illegal, I’m not taking the charge.'”
Denholm then asked the officer whether the victim had a driver’s license, and refused to touch the case when he learned the victim had only a Mexican consulate ID card, according to the union.
‘Our officer’s response was, “I didn’t ask, because it doesn’t matter”‘
The decision infuriated HPOU, which has been working to build trust with the local Hispanic community, Gamaldi said.
“Our officer was completely caught off-guard when the DA is questioning him, asking him is this person, the victim, illegal? And of course our officer’s response was, ‘I didn’t ask, because it doesn’t matter,'” Gamaldi told the local NBC affiliate KPRC. “We take every effort to bridge the gap with our Hispanic community and make sure they’re comfortable coming forward, that regardless of your legal status, we want you to report crimes to us. And then the DA’s office pulls an act like this? No. He needs to be gone.”
Por favor, ayuden a nuestros amigos, que sólo hablan español, a entender este documento. Gracias. pic.twitter.com/tZb90B87aK
— Houston Police Officers' Union (@HPOUTX) November 5, 2019
The Harris County District Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
“Our policy is for prosecutors to consider only relevant information when determining whether criminal charges are warranted,” the office told The Houston Chronicle in a statement. “It is improper for them to consider such matters as immigration status, race, gender or orientation.”
The incident sparked a local uproar, with the police union, rights groups, and at least one local politician calling for Denholm’s firing.
“An attempted sexual assault IS a sexual assault and the assistant District Attorney who failed to file charges for this crime shouldn’t be reassigned, he should be fired because he is a racist and menace to the Hispanic community,” the League of United Latin American Citizens said in a statement.
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