HPD auctions off crime victims' property

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by Jeremy Rogalski/Investigative Reporter

khou.com

Posted on September 14, 2011 at 10:01 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 15 at 10:57 AM

HOUSTON -- The KHOU 11 News I-Team is discovering more trouble with how Houston police handle recovered stolen property. Instead of returning it to the rightful owner, the department actually put it up for sale in some cases.

The finding comes after the I-Team first exposed how recovered stolen items in hundreds of cases would sit on shelves for months and months, or even longer.

“Well over a year,” said burglary victim David Callier.

That’s how long Callier’s two stolen guitars were locked away at the HPD’s multi-million-dollar property room. Yet the man who had stolen them had pleaded guilty, and the case was closed, long before.

"A total slap in the face--like being victimized twice you know," Callier said.

But at least he finally did get his stuff back.

That wasn’t the case with victim Elfi Stanzel, who called police after her car window was smashed.

“They took a report, I explained to them the items that were missing," Stanzel said.

Stanzel said those included two rings and a watch. According to HPD property room records, those items were recovered, and HPD listed Stanzel as the owner.

But she never got them back.

Instead, they were put up for auction on www.propertyroom.com, where they sold to the highest bidder.

"You know you're stolen from once, and then you're basically stolen from again," Stanzel said.

She's not the only case the I-Team found. Records show HPD arrested Jose Jimenez on burglary charges and recovered a pricey digital camera.  But when it came time to notify the owner, the detective made just two phone calls. A week later, HPD auctioned it off.

Assistant Chief John Trevino concedes department policy was ignored.
 
Trevino:  “They're required to send out a certified letter to the owner of the property.”

 I-Team: “Was that done in this case?”

 Trevino: “No it was not.”

 I-Team: “Should it have?”

 Trevino: “It should have been done."
 
As for the Stanzel case, Trevino said “we obviously are sorry that that happened."

HPD said it did return some items, but claimed she never informed them about the watch and two rings. It’s something Stanzel flatly disputes, given their significance.

"The anniversary ring was a gift from a friend that had been friends for years and years and years, and that had a lot of sentimental value, especially since my friend has passed away since," Stanzel said.

Assistant Chief Trevino added that the department handles more than a million items every year, and overall has a good track record of returning recovered stolen property.

“We’re going to make some mistakes, but we’ll improve and learn from those,” Trevino said.

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