HOUSTON – The parents of two men killed in confrontations with Houston-area law enforcement have a question: When should a police officer who shot a civilian be allowed to return to the streets?
An investigation by the KHOU 11 News I-Team revealed that department policies for both the Houston Police Department and the Harris County Sheriff's Office allow police officers and deputies to return to duty before being cleared of criminal charges.
"That was my baby boy," recalled Lois Roy. "My only child and I miss him so much."
Roy's son, Charles Roy Jr., was shot and killed by a Harris County deputy in March 2011.
"Thirty-three years old" said Roy. "There was no reason, no reason for that."
Investigators say the deputy went to Roy's apartment to check out a noise disturbance. Official reports say Roy fought with the deputy and took his Taser. That's when the deputy told investigators that he shot and killed Roy, a father of three.
But it's a chain of events that the Roy family never believed.
"His demeanor wasn't like that," said Roy's father, Charles Roy Sr. "I wouldn't believe it in a million years."
But what the KHOU 11 News I-Team discovered shocked the family. County records show the deputy who shot Roy had been involved in another shooting eight months earlier, and had not yet been cleared by a Harris County grand jury in that shooting when he shot Roy.
"Amazing," said Charles Roy Sr. "That's not right. How could you be back out there and shoot someone else when you're not cleared in the first case?"
"Everyone's innocent until proven guilty," said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union. Hunt says it doesn't make sense to wait months or even a year for a grand jury decision before returning an officer to duty.
"There's no reason for someone to be sitting at home and not doing their jobs that the citizens are paying them to do simply because the grand jury hasn't yet gotten to that case to look at it," Hunt said.
But Audry Releford disagrees.
His son, Kenny, a diagnosed schizophrenic, was shot and killed by a Houston police officer in October 2012. Investigators say Kenny Releford refused to the show the officers his hands and then charged the policeman.
Investigators later determined Releford, a Navy veteran, was unarmed.
But before a grand jury could hear that case, records show the same officer that shot Releford shot another suspect.
It's one of seven cases since 2010 in which the KHOU 11 News I-Team found an officer who was involved in a shooting had not been cleared in an earlier shooting case.
"It's just hard to figure you're giving a man a gun and he hasn't been cleared of the first incident," said Audry Releford. "That's just saying to the public, 'We have the right to do what we want to do.'"
It's that perception by the public that worries Philip Stinson, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University who has studied police shootings.
"We can look at all the safety issues and that sort of thing," Stinson said, "but maybe we need to look a little bit further than that."
Stinson says in most cases a department can quickly determine whether an officer acted appropriately. But, with recent police protests still fresh on many minds, he believes law enforcement agencies need to take public perception into consideration before sending an officer back to the streets.
"I think it is important that we think how is this going to be viewed?" said Stinson. "How is the conduct of the agency, how is the reputation of the agency (going to be viewed)?"
But Hunt, the union president, believes the record speaks for itself.
"I don't recall any of those seven cases where they came back and said that one of those seven cases wasn't justified," Hunt said.
That includes the shootings that killed Roy and Releford. Grand juries ruled both of those shootings, as well as the officers' other shootings, were justified.
But for the Roy family, the decision to put officers back on the streets to shoot again should wait.
"They're letting them out too quick," said Charles Roy Sr.
"I would like to see some changes made," added Lois Roy. "Because it's just not right. Just not right."
The Harris County Sheriff's Office says deputies must be deemed fit for duty by a mental health professional and a medical doctor before being returned to regular duty.
A spokesman for Harris County Precinct 3 Constable's Office said the decision to return a deputy to duty is made on a case-by-case basis by the constable.
The Houston Police Department issued the following statement about returning its officers to duty following a shooting:
"An HPD officer involved in an incident that causes death or serious injury to any person is immediately placed on temporary restrictive duty by the division commander for a minimum of three work days. The officer is also required to contact Psychological Services within two days of the incident to schedule an appointment.
Before returning to active duty, the Psychological Services professionals and officer's commanders must evaluate and then make the determination if he or she is fit to return to active duty.
The decision to relieve an officer of duty by either administrative assignment or at home is done on a case by case basis. That status can change for a variety of reasons as the investigation progresses. An officer being relieved of duty does not mean he or she did anything wrong, but is done because the department feels it is in the best interest of the officer, the department and the public.
All discharges of duty weapons by HPD officers that result in serious injury or death are investigated thoroughly by the HPD Homicide and Internal Affairs Divisions, as well as the Harris County District Attorney's Office."