Houston Police Chief Troy Finner resigns amid suspended-cases scandal

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Chief Troy Finner abruptly retired from the Houston Police Department late Tuesday, giving his notice to Mayor John Whitmire amid a newly reopened probe into why the department suspended thousands of criminal investigations.

At issue is an internal department code that police used in 264,000 cases to suspend investigations due to a lack of personnel. The crimes included roughly 4,000 sexual assault cases.

Finner’s sudden departure came after local media obtained an email that showed the chief had been aware of that code as early as 2018. Finner previously had said he learned of the code in 2021. The revelation threatened to entangle Finner in an investigation that only last week seemed to be ending.

Whitmire said Finner’s decision to retire ultimately was the chief’s, but it was made in “dialogue” with the mayor.

related to pollution Did HPD neglect ‘suspended’ cases? We asked 24 crime victims about their experience. by Monroe Trombly/ Staff Writer

In a late-night email to city employees, Whitmire named Assistant Police Chief Larry Satterwhite as acting chief of police, saying he had full confidence in Satterwhite’s abilities to “lead and uphold the high standards of our department.”

Whitmire repeatedly had voiced support for Finner and, in fact, began his City Hall tenure with an overnight ridealong with the chief moments after being sworn in at midnight on Jan. 1. His public support continued throughout months of headlines about the suspended cases, even as he set up an independent committee to conduct a review of those cases and the police department’s actions.

The “final straw” that prompted Whitmire’s decision to accept Finner’s resignation, he said Wednesday, was the newly surfaced email. Despite Finner’s protests that he did not recall the email, Whitmire said the revelation would prolong the cloud hanging over the department.

“I consider Troy Finner a friend, a colleague,” Whitmire said. “It’s not an easy decision to see a public servant retire. I am very confident it was in the best interest for Houston, the department and for Chief Finner. It had become – it being the investigations and new materials – had become disruptive to the department.”

Executive Assistant Chief Larry Satterwhite speaks to media after Day of Prayer service at Houston Police Department Headquarters, Wednesday, May 8, 2024, in Houston. (Antranik Tavitian / Houston Landing)

Whitmire now will be faced with the high-stakes decision, which he said he would make alone, about who should serve as his permanent chief in a period of dropping crime rates but persistent concern about public safety.

Council members laud Finner

Finner served as top cop for three eventful years after the abrupt departure of Art Acevedo in March 2021.

The nation still was dealing with the pandemic and the after effects of protests over the murder of George Floyd. The Houston Police Department, moreover, was grappling with fallout from Acevedo’s rocky tenure, including the infamous Harding Street raid.

A Fifth Ward native and product of Houston public schools, Finner joined the force in 1990, and worked his way up through the ranks before former Mayor Sylvester Turner tapped him as chief.

Whitmire said during his campaign last year that he would keep Finner, while adding that he expected the chief “to be better.”

On Wednesday, a series of council members praised Finner. Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex-Tatum described him as a “consummate professional.”

“Quite frankly, I have got mixed emotions about it all,” she said. “Chief Finner, in my opinion, has operated with the highest level of integrity. For 34 years he served HPD, and I did not want his 34 years of dedicated service to not be recognized by this council, by this city.”

Turner, the former mayor, paid tribute to Finner on X.

“Chief Troy Finner gave 34 plus years of his life to HPD,” Turner said. “…His departure is a loss to HPD and our City.”

Several council members said they believed Finner when he said he did not recall receiving the 2018 email referencing suspended cases.

District D Councilmember Carolyn Evans-Shabazz noted that even in that 2018 email thread, Finner had described the suspension of a case as “unacceptable.”

“I want to challenge anyone anywhere that can remember one email back in 2018,” she said. “But what was consistent here was the fact that he said it was unacceptable.”

Finner did not respond to a request for comment. In a comment on X, he thanked citizens and department employees.

“The last few months of my career were, perhaps, the most challenging yet most rewarding,” Finner said. “It was painful because some victims of violent crime did not receive the quality of care and service they deserved. But, it was also beneficial because we implemented measures to ensure this never happens again.”

Investigation reopened

On April 30, Finner publicly announced the high-profile investigation into hundreds of thousands of closed cases had come to an end. An outside review panel appointed by Whitmire was set to discuss its interim findings at council Wednesday, the mayor said.

Instead of wrapping up, however, the investigation has been relaunched thanks to fresh scrutiny on a letter from Executive Assistant Chief Chandra Hatcher.

In that February letter, Hatcher requested the department launch its probe into the suspended cases and claimed she had attended a command staff meeting in late 2021 where “heightened concern” about investigating sexual assault cases was raised.

Hatcher may have been out of town during that meeting, according to reporting last week by KPRC.

By Friday, the probe into the suspended cases had been reopened. Then came the revelation of the email chain involving Finner.

“There’s people wanting to ask for an investigation of when Chief Finner got the information,” Whitmire said. “So, the tough call is, what’s in the best interest of Houstonians, the department and Chief Finner, certainly in terms of public safety, and he chose to retire yesterday afternoon.”

Douglas Griffith, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said the Hatcher letter called into question the very foundation of the investigation into the suspended cases, which already has led to the demotion of two assistant chiefs.

“It appears that this discovery letter was factually inaccurate, but still used as a basis to conduct a very quick, one-sided investigation, leading to a list of former assistant and executive assistant chiefs being blamed for the code and for allowing it to continue,” Griffith said in a blog post last week.

The internal investigation into the creation of the label used to suspend hundreds of thousands of investigations loomed larger over Satterwhite’s first appearance as chief in a press conference at HPD headquarters.

Fielding multiple questions on what he knew and when, the interim chief repeatedly insisted he only vaguely remembers first hearing about suspended cases between the end of 2023 and early 2024. He said he was “still getting caught up on a lot of things.”

“I’m struggling to go there and remember all of that, so I don’t really have a good answer for you,” he said Wednesday.

The investigation, he said, has been reopened – and the force is going through each case, starting with the most violent.

“We still have real victims, OK,” Satterwhite said. “And for that, we need to do everything we can to help them to try to bring resolution to as many as we can and try to just own this and go forward.”

Well-known replacement

In Satterwhite, Whitmire selected a highly visible member of HPD’s command staff who drew praise from several council members for his responsiveness – and from the police union.

Satterwhite is a “good man” who “leads by example,” Griffith said. “I think he will do a fine job here as the interim chief,” he added.

Griffith himself was recently placed under investigation by the department in connection with a letter that called into question the validity of the investigation, according to ABC 13.

Satterwhite was head of field operations before his appointment as acting chief. On Wednesday, he said Finner was a friend who had attended the police academy with him. It was difficult to replace him, Satterwhite said.

“It’s hard. It’s hard. Troy’s a friend,” Satterwhite said. “I didn’t want to be standing here, certainly not under these circumstances. I care about him, but I care about all the men and women of the police department.”

The mayor projected confidence in Satterwhite, whom he said he has known for years.

“He was actually the acting chief when Chief Finner would leave town, so I know the department and Houstonians are in good keeping with Chief Satterwhite. I want to thank Chief Finner for his many years of public service,” Whitmire said.

The mayor said he had not made a decision about the department’s next permanent chief, but he was not ruling out internal or external candidates.

In response to questions from news media, Whitmire said he could not detail a timeline for picking a new chief. However, he said that he would not appoint a search or advisory committee, which he said often were used largely “for show.”

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