HOUSTON -- Before Jessica Tata fled the country, the Houston Fire Chief said her lawyer told investigators that he would make her available for an interview, but an attorney close to Tata’s family said he thinks the chief is mistaken.
Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison said he is frustrated during a news conference held Wednesday.
"The slipup was we trusted the attorney. We trusted Ms. Tata. They trusted Ms. Tata with the lives of their children,” he said. “We trusted her attorney to have her stand accountable for that and we were all deceived."
Mike Monks said he believes that the attorney Garrison referred to is probably him.
Monks said Jessica was in his office on Friday.
Monks has represented members of the Tata family twice. Investigators looking into Thursday’s fatal fire at the home day care run by Tata knew that, too.
A Houston Police Department homicide detective called Monks Friday before he met with the family.
"I told him, if I am retained, if I am her attorney, then I will contact you. And that was it," Monks said.
Investigators continued their work looking for evidence and Monks met with Tata and her family.
"The only thing that I can say is she was very upset," Monks said.
He said the meeting lasted 30 minutes.
"They left the office and I assumed that they were going to hire me," Monks said. "I was never retained by the family."
Monks said he was not officially Tata's attorney.
“The worst thing we did is we believed Ms. Tata and her attorney,” Garrison said. “They were going to talk to us on that day, and then we couldn't reach them."
Monks said that is not the case.
"I think that it is misguided for him to indicate that he trusted me, or that I deceived him when I had clearly not been retained by the family," Monks said.
Monks said he was as surprised as anyone that Tata apparently fled to Nigeria.
He said Tata did not give any indication that she might flee.
Tata is wanted by U.S. Marshals on a federal charge -- flight to avoid prosecution. She is wanted worldwide on an Interpol Red Notice. The red notice means that if Tata were to try to leave any country her name would immediately be flagged as being wanted for extradition.
That will likely get her detained virtually anywhere in the world. It also opens up cooperative doors for FBI agents in other countries, like Nigeria.
It is possible that the Houston Fire Chief was referring to another attorney. We don't know for sure, because the fire department did not return our calls.