Fighting crime or crossing the line? HPD vice cops caught on video at popular strip club

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by Jeremy Rogalski / KHOU 11 News I-Team

khou.com

Posted on October 30, 2012 at 11:34 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 31 at 10:25 AM

HOUSTON -- The City of Houston and Harris County are quick to call Treasures, the Galleria-area cabaret, a haven for criminal activity that needs frequent police attention.

But some say crime has nothing to do with it.

"They're in there drinking beer, having a good time and getting dances from pretty girls," said attorney Casey Wallace, who represents Treasures.

So who is Wallace talking about? Houston vice cops, who he claims come into Treasures not to police, but to partake.

"You can clearly see him groping her," Wallace said of a club security video, in which an undercover HPD sergeant is getting a table dance.

And it’s not just any dance, Wallace said.

"There you can see where he's kissing on her breasts in the club, in public," Wallace said.

Under the law,  that could be considered misdemeanor public lewdness, according to Wallace.

In the September 2009 video, the sergeant’s partner also is seen groping another dancer on the same night.

In fact, police records show during their investigation, the two cops over two days, bought alcohol and table dances totaling $850 of taxpayer money.

And the reason for all of it: “In order to keep from looking suspicious,” according to the police report.

And what was the result of the two-day operation?

“(There was) not a single arrest, not a single criminal charge, nothing but some officers inside having a good time in Treasures," Wallace claimed.

In fact, police records obtained by the I-Team reveal similar visits to the club. In April, three undercover officers got table dances, and "observed numerous sexually-oriented business violations,” but chose not to arrest anybody.  They did write "investigation to continue.” Three days later, the same cops went in again, and again they got table dances and observed violations. But again, no arrests were made. And again they determined, “investigation to continue."
 
And then there’s a case in May, where undercover cops came to the club and officers negotiated for two dancers "to engage in oral sex with each other.” But instead of arresting them immediately, the cops "observed the suspects" doing the sex act and "waited for this to be completed."

"Is this really where we need our city resources spent?" Wallace said.
 
He called it a pattern of targeted harassment.

"One hundred and seventy officers have been investigating Treasures for the past three years, 170 officers have not investigated any of the other clubs in Houston," Wallace said.

So what happens when police do make arrests?  The I-Team checked court records and found that three out of every four prostitution cases from Treasures are dismissed.

And yet, “It is the biggest whorehouse in Texas," according to Terry O’Rourke, second in command to Vince Ryan at the Harris County Attorney’s Office.

The County Attorney’s office recently joined City of Houston's attorneys, who've been battling Treasures for years in court. They call the club a public nuisance.

But the I-Team pointed out:

I-Team: "When prostitution cases were filed, a significant number of them were dismissed”

O’Rourke: “Whatever the facts are, yeah, I believe that's the case.”

I-Team: “But yet you still call it the biggest credit card whorehouse.”

O’Rourke: “It is, it certainly is."

Confused? So were we, until we asked Houston Mayor Annise Parker how the most recent court battle began.

"We had credible reports that, not just prostitution, but forced human trafficking was part of what was going on at Treasures,” Mayor Parker said.

Parker said human trafficking is “a huge problem” in the City of Houston. At first, the city and county legal tandem was determined to make Treasures a part of it.

But the problem? That charge didn't hold up and was dropped from their lawsuit.

Some observers say that left the governments’ attorneys looking for a way to save face. And so they pushed on.

I-Team: “Are you comfortable this is the best way to spend taxpayer money?”

Mayor Parker: “Absolutely.”

I-Team:  “You are?”

Mayor Parker: “I am."

As for the vice cops in those club security videos, Executive Assistant Chief Martha Montalvo said nothing illegal happened, but the two officers were transferred to another division for not following department policy.

In her statement, Montalvo said HPD has since revised its guidelines to ensure the behavior of its officers is appropriate.

The I-Team wanted to know how much the City and County’s legal battle is costing taxpayers, but neither Dave Feldman nor Vince Ryan could come up with any numbers.

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