Four veteran Houston police officers who collected nearly $1 million in overtime pay combined since 2008 were recently suspended for listing one another as witnesses on traffic tickets to help themselves get overtime for testifying in court, according to records obtained Wednesday.
From 2008 to the present, the four officers who specialize in writing tickets together were paid $943,000 in overtime, city payroll records show.
The punishments handed down Sept. 4 by Police Chief Charles McClelland range from 20 to 45 days off without pay, concluding a lengthy investigation by HPD internal affairs triggered by tickets issued in April 2011.
An audit of traffic tickets written by the four officers showed they "unnecessarily listed other officers on tickets issued to citizens, or (were) unnecessarily listed on tickets issued to citizens by other officers, after writing multiple citations," according to disciplinary records.
As a result of the investigation, each officer admitted to breaking various rules, including failure to use sound judgment. They also acknowledged violating HPD rules against assigning themselves or other officers on citations "for the sole purpose of obtaining or accruing court overtime compensation," the records state.
The documents do not detail the number of tickets the four wrote or how many times they listed each other as witnesses.
HPD public information officer John Cannon declined to discuss the facts of the ticket case and results of the audits.
$347,000 for 1 officer
The lengthiest punishment was given to Sgt. Paul S. Terry, 44, an officer since February 1994, who agreed to 45 days off without pay. Terry has four previous punishments, including a reprimand in 2000 for an extra job violation, a two-day suspension in 2002 for not completing a report on a call, and a three-day suspension in 2006 for falsifying records to show he checked city jail cellblocks during his shift.
Terry, reached at home, declined to comment.
Senior police officer Matthew L. Davis, 40, who became an officer in February 1997, agreed to a 30-day suspension. Last year, Davis was suspended for a day for improperly voiding traffic citations for a woman at the request of a Houston city official. He was reprimanded for causing many cases to be dismissed in municipal court.
Davis has earned $347,000 in overtime alone since 2008. He did not return calls for comment.
Police officer Steven L. Running, 41, sworn in as an officer in August 1998, also received a 30-day suspension. Running has four previous disciplinary actions, including a two-day suspension in 2003 for releasing a burglary suspect who falsely claimed he had permission to be in a burglarized residence, two minor auto accidents and skipping a municipal court appearance. Running could not be reached by phone for comment.
Senior police officer Kenneth L. Bigger, 39, who became an officer in March 1999, agreed to a 20-day suspension. In 2002, Bigger was suspended for two days for not filing charges against a suspect arrested for credit card abuse after he transported him to jail. Calls left at his residence were not returned.
Internal affairs began investigating the officers after there were apparent inconsistencies in two traffic stops that all four officers were involved in. In one stop, an officer drove himself to the city jail where a suspect had already been taken, but listed himself as a witness to one traffic violation he did not observe, his disciplinary record noted.
The four officers agreed to the suspensions under a "last chance agreement," which means McClelland agreed not to fire them in hopes of salvaging their careers.
In exchange, the officers give up their right to appeal the suspensions and signed documents acknowledging any another offense could result in termination.
Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officer's Union, said defense attorneys often challenge citations if not all officers involved in the offense are not listed on the citation. "I'm confident none of those officers put (themselves) on it for the sole purpose of getting overtime," Hunt said.
Anita Hassan contributed to this report.