HOUSTON – During the worst times of Hurricane Harvey, when families were at risk and homes and businesses were being destroyed, there were vultures preying on people. We are talking about looters, the people arrested for stealing from homes and businesses during the disaster.
"I hope karma gets them," homeowner Elizabeth Burnham said.
The Villages of Bear Creek on the Westside near bloated Addicks Reservoir was a neighborhood devastated by flood waters and worse.
"There was also five feet of sewage on everything," Burnham said.
Burnham salvaged what she could on her front lawn only to have it disappear piece by piece. She even had signs up asking people not to take items from her yard.
"I don't know how people can do that, and I don't know how they can sleep at night," she said.
"Like it or not, there are evil people out there that are aware this is easy pickings," said Andy Kahan, the city of Houston's crime victim advocate.
Kahan's home also flooded, and he witnessed looting as he was boarding a rescue boat.
"We need to do something," he said. "We need to let the world and the public know who these quote 'looters' are and who got arrested."
That's what we did. KPRC Channel 2 News has spent weeks combing through documents and looking into the arrests made during the hurricane. Kahan has taken a special interest in the cases.
[Scroll to bottom to see interactive map of many looting locations and mugshots]
"There are multiple convictions -- people are on bond, one particular person was paroled December 2016 after doing half of his 20-year sentence," Kahan said.
In Northeast Houston on Lockwood near Cavalcade on Aug. 29 it was an absolute free-for-all at a hair shop. Dozens of people can be seen on store surveillance video walking through knee-deep water and taking whatever they wanted. The video shows a black Tahoe so loaded up with items that the people who did the stealing couldn't even fit inside. More people were later seen coming up on a boat to burglarize the business.
"Me count (sic) about how many people come in," said the store owner, who did not want to be identified. "Me count (sic) about 300 people -- 300!"
Of those 300 people, KPRC found two men who have so far been charged: Patrick Davenport, 31, and Alex Townsel, 23. Hundreds of others may never be brought to justice.
"The offenses that occurred during that time period by and large have been investigated, and we're proceeding on them," said David Mitcham, from the Harris County District Attorney's Office. "There may be some outlier cases in the coming weeks and months."
In some cases, the suspected looters almost seemed as if they were asking to get caught.
"Basically, I was checking the shop to see how bad it was getting," said Derrick Martin with Gardner & Martin Inc. "I happened to notice somebody had a flash light in the corner looking around; I knew that wasn't right."
Martin knows a red flag when he sees one. His family-owned flag company in Pasadena got flooded, then looted. He watched it unfold on his phone and called the Pasadena Police Department. Officers arrested Drake Boren, 20, at the scene of the crime.
"Everyone is in panic, you know? It's survival mode and someone takes advantage of that. That's not right," Martin said.
Harris County prosecutors requested a higher bond for Boren and dozens of other suspected looters.
"We find it intolerable and we are taking a hard line," Mitcham said.
Enhancement charge for looting
In Texas, there is no criminal charge called looting. Instead, when burglaries, thefts, robberies and assaults happen in declared disaster areas the penalties can be stiffer. It's called an enhancement charge.
"If it's a burglary of a habitation for instance, and it was charged as a second, it could be enhanced up to a first degree," Mitcham said.
Two to 20-year sentences are replaced with five to 99-year sentences. The Harris County District Attorney's office said hundreds of suspected criminals -- not all looters -- initially appear to be eligible for Harvey-related penalty enhancement.
"These individuals need to go to prison," Kahan said. "There's no if, ands or buts -- send a message loud and clear."
KPRC will continue to follow these cases through the courts to see what convictions are eventually handed down.
You can look at the names and faces of many of the suspected looters who were arrested by clicking on the flood looters slideshow.
We've also made an interactive map that shows many of the looting locations along with mug shots and names of the people arrested at each location.