HOUSTON – Some people say a former Houston police officer got a slap on the wrist when he was given probation after admitting he stole from innocent citizens during traffic stops.
That officer will not spend a day in jail and one of his victims feels used.
Karim Saleem’s nickname is “The Dream.” However, when he walks Houston streets, “The Dream” feels like a target for those sworn to protect him.
“It is funny how my testimony and the duties I did as a citizen was ignored and everything I did is just irrelevant,” Saleem said.
Last May, Saleem was pulled over and robbed of $800. His complaints filed against Houston officer Stefan Riha triggered an internal affairs investigation. Riha, who has since resigned, was caught taking $1,100 from an undercover officer during a sting operation. Riha pled guilty to theft. Tuesday, he was given a two-year probation, $500 fine and 120 hours of community service.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Shelby Stewart, a former officer and current member of the Houston Justice Coalition.
“(Prosecutors) pretty much let the guy off like nothing had ever happened, which is disrespectful to me and everyone else he did this to,” Saleem said.
On Friday, community activists called a press conference to express outrage over what they called a “sweetheart deal” cut by Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lycos.
“She’s sending a bad message,” said Deric Muhammad, a community activist. “It says to other officers, if you are caught in similar behavior, you don’t have to worry about being prosecuted harshly.”
Some in the group believe race was a factor because Riha targeted people he thought were undocumented immigrants.
“Being poor, being black, being Latino, that’s always a factor,” said Deloyd Parker, director of the SHAPE Community Center where the press conference was held.
“Do you think (Riha) may have gotten a harsher sentence if he had been committing the same offenses in River Oaks, in Memorial or in West University,” Muhammad asked. “Had (Riha) pulled over the daughter of former mayor Bill White or Bob Lanier’s niece and robbed her of $800 from her purse, we believe (Riha) would have gotten a lot harsher sentence.”
The district attorney’s office defended its actions in a statement.
“(Riha) will never work as a licensed peace officer in Texas again,” said Steve Morris, Governmental Integrity Bureau Chief for Lycos’ office. “(Riha) has lost his right to vote. He will be closely supervised for two years and any violation of probation could subject him to up to two years in the state jail.”
Activists are not satisfied. They are demanding a meeting with Lycos to better understand her decision. They also expressed concern about other plea deals cut by Lycos’ office.
For his part, Saleem is waiting for police and prosecutors to return the $800 stolen from him last year.