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Sebastian Prevot watched helplessly as three police officers advanced on his wife. Prevot was handcuffed and bleeding in the back of a cop car. Half of his left ear dangled where it had been torn from his head. The Houston Police Department doesn’t deny that its officers gave Prevot these injuries during a late-night arrest in January 2012. The only dispute is whether he earned them.
What’s rare is for the Houston Police Department to punish its officers for excessive force. An eight-monthTexas Observer investigation found that during the past six years, Houston civilians reported officers for “use of force”—the department’s term for police brutality—588 times. The Internal Affairs division investigated each complaint and dismissed all but four.
More surprisingly, HPD rarely believes even its own officers when they claim to have witnessed unjustified violence against citizens. In the same period, Houston cops reported other officers for excessive force 118 times. Internal Affairs dismissed all but 11.
In total, Internal Affairs sustained just 15—or 2 percent—of the 706 police abuse complaints the past six years, according to department records the Observer obtained through public information requests.
Out of 706 complaints about excessive force, HPD disciplined only 15 officers. For 550 shootings, HPD disciplined none. The message is clear: Either Houston police almost never abuse their power, or they abuse it with impunity.