Police watch bar video in hit-and-run probe

Victim accuses talk show host of hit-and-run

Author: Stephen Dean, Investigative Reporter, sdean@kprc.com
Published On: Feb 15 2012 09:08:55 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 16 2012 07:03:22 AM CST
Michael Berry at radio console
HOUSTON -

Security camera footage from a well-known gay bar has played a key role in a hit-and-run investigation of a former Houston City Councilman, who is now a conservative talk show host, Local 2 Investigates reported on Wednesday.

A Houston man reported to police that KTRH talk show host Michael Berry plowed his SUV into another car outside T.C.'s Show Bar on Converse near Fairview in the Montrose area about 11 p.m. on January 31st.

Tuderia Bennett, of Galena Park, told Houston police that he was working as a bouncer at the front door during a popular cross-dressing 'drag show' that was going on inside the club.   He watched the crash happen and told police he rushed up to the car after impact and got a good look at Berry behind the wheel.

"I said, 'That's definitely the guy.'  For sure, 100 percent," said Bennett.

Bennett wrote down the license number from the car that he said caused more than $1,500 in damage to his car.  Then, when HPD officers traced that license tag to Berry, the victim said he had no doubt it was him.   

He said he did not know who Berry was until HPD officers told him and he viewed an online promotional photo of Berry.

"In my statement, I said there's no question, 100 percent. I could line this guy up if he's standing out here with 50 people. I could walk right up to the guy and say, 'That's the guy who hit my car,'" Bennett told Local 2 Investigates.

HPD investigators quickly issued an internal "Significant Event Form" to notify department leaders of the former city councilman's involvement in the hit-and-run.

Titled "Incident Involving a Prominent Citizen," the report spells out that the victim "could identify the driver."

The report also states, "The ongoing investigation indicates that the suspect is Michael Berry, a local radio talk show host."

Managers of the bar then turned over security camera video from inside the club to HPD investigators, and they write in an e-mail to Local 2 Investigates that their video confirms that Berry was in their establishment that night.

The e-mail reads, "Mr. Berry is one of those customers who has been to our establishment. The video in question that shows Mr. Berry in our establishment is in our possession. The local authorities have requested this same video and they are in possession to assist with their investigation."

Bar managers declined to allow Local 2 Investigates to view the video.

"All the information points to you. There is no sort of information that makes you innocent in this," said Bennett.

"Videos don't lie.  They don't paint pictures that don't exist," he said.

The HPD accident report states that the SUV headed in reverse for about 70 feet on the street before colliding with the car and leaving the scene.

HPD officers involved in the investigation said that the Harris County District Attorney's office has declined to file criminal hit and run charges in the case, telling officers that no one can positively identify Berry being behind the wheel for the crime.

"I'd say that's the government at work.  I mean, that's corruption at its best," said Bennett.

Local 2 Investigates e-mailed Berry for his response to the hit-and-run allegations and the videotape showing him inside the club during that drag show, and Berry replied, "I don't respond to such things."

Houston police said the hit-and-run was still under investigation, adding that Berry was not listed as being charged with a crime at this point.

If additional witnesses are found, or if prosecutors change their minds about the video and the witness account, Berry could be charged with a misdemeanor crime of Failure to Stop and Give Information (FSGI).

The victim told Local 2 Investigates he believes the conservative activist is trying to avoid the issue entirely because of his public stances involving gay people. 

"If you're going to stand up and say anti-gay things and be conservative and be Mr. Good Guy, and then when something happens that points you out and puts you in a place with the exact business that you aim to shut down, it kind of makes it seem like I need this to go away and I need it to go away quickly," said Bennett.

A spokeswoman for the Harris County District Attorney's Office said she could not comment on the case.