D.A. issues moratorium on using probation drug tests

Investigation, review of probation cases latest in fallout

HOUSTON – Harris County prosecutors have stopped using any drug tests performed by the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department as evidence in any case. District Attorney Pat Lykos announced the moratorium Tuesday, one day after a District Court judge ruled those tests were no longer credible.

"This moratorium will remain in effect until I am assured of the accuracy of the department's test results," Lykos said in a statement.

The fallout comes after days of testimony showing a long list of problems, errors and mix-ups in the way the county's probation department tests probationers for illegal drugs. In some cases, positive drug tests were linked to the wrong people. Local 2 Investigates reported last week that at least one probationer went to jail in part because of an erroneous drug test result.

Along with the moratorium, Lykos says her office will start a full review of all potentially-affected probation cases.

"Defense attorneys who believe their clients have been negatively affected are invited to bring their concerns to our specific attention," said Lykos.

Monday, District Judge Denise Collins ruled she will no longer allow any drug test results provided by the probation department her in court. She also called called for department director Paul Becker and three top assistants, Ray Garcia, Gilbert Garcia and Kim Valentine, to resign immediately.

Those administrators had no comment Tuesday when contacted by Local 2 Investigates.

Also on Tuesday, Judge Belinda Hill, administrative judge for all Harris County criminal courts, said the county's board of judges is currently reviewing the transcripts and testimony from the hearing. Without a resignation, she tells Local 2 Investigates that the board would have to make the decision to remove probation department leadership. Right now, there is not a special meeting planned to discuss the matter.

Defense attorney Lisa Andrews uncovered the drug testing problems during what's usually a routine probation revocation hearing involving urinalysis tests performed by the probation department. Andrews called several probation employees to the stand who testified they told supervisors about the continuing problems with the collection and monitoring of drug tests and the computer database used to record results. Still, widespread changes were ever made by administrators.

"It seemed there was no part of the process that was exempt from error after error after error," Andrews said.

Probation department leaders admitted they never told prosecutors or even judges about the problems, even when they knew probationers with erroneous tests went to jail.  

Lykos says her office routinely reviews similar situations for any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Her office would not comment on any existence of an investigation in this case. However, members of the DA's public integrity unit were in court monitoring the hearing.