Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office crime lab, innovative and dedicated
By Tana Ross
While most of us are glued to our television screens each week fascinated
with a slew of crime scene investigation shows, a small but significant group of
dedicated law enforcement officers in Montgomery County are working to solve
real crimes. Unlike the 60-minute solve rate our favorite television characters
enjoy, these real-life CSIs exercise skill and patience in solving crimes.
MCSO CSI Sgt. Butch Emmons uses the lab’s 4 x 5 camera to photograph
fingerprints and evidence.
“Television is not an accurate picture, it is a thumbnail version. It does
not realistically depict what goes into a case,” Capt. Peggy Frankhouser, head
of MCSO Staff Services Division said. “The crime scene is the least of it. Then
there is examination and preparation of evidence, entering of information into
the AFIS and IBIS systems and preparation for court, while at the same time you
are returning to the field on other cases.”
Frankhouser who came to the sheriff’s office in 1993 following a 26-year
career with the Houston Police Department is instrumental for bringing AFIS
(Automated Fingerprint Identification System) to Montgomery County. AFIS is a
statewide system used to identify defendants with criminal history records. In
all, the MSCO crime lab utilizes three print identification systems: AFIS, IAFIS
IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System) is a system
few agencies have, it links the department with the FBI for fingerprint
searches. AFIX (Automated Fingerprint Identification System Expanded) is a
unique system implemented by MCSO crime lab that records and searches not only
fingerprints, but palm prints also.
“At least 90 percent of the time at a crime scene, palm prints are found more
often than fingerprints,” Lt. Damon Hall supervisor of MCSO's crime lab said.
Although the state does not record or maintain palm prints, MCSO has
fingerprinted and palm-printed all Class B misdemeanor and above defendants
since 1990. To date, MSCO has electronic records and hard copies of more than
20,000 in AFIX. In addition, the crime lab maintains approximately 200,000 hard
copy fingerprint cards.
Automated print systems are just part of the 10,000-square foot crime lab at
the sheriff’s office. The lab also houses a photo lab for prints and evidence; a
powdering room for collecting prints; a ballistics lab with a water-filled
shooting tank; a climate-controlled garage for processing vehicles; a conference
room for meetings and crime scene video viewing; and a general lab. Since moving
into the new crime lab from a cramped 2,000-square foot facility in 2002, the
crime lab staff has also enjoyed the efficiency of private office space.
“Before, whenever an attorney came to review evidence the staff had to go on
hold because all the crime scene investigators were together in an open area.
Now they can work in their offices without interruption,” Capt. Frankhouser
CSI Joe Ashton, one of seven MCSO crime scene investigators, likes the
“I like each forensic division under one roof because it enhances our
communications on a case,” Ashton said. “In addition, all the CSIs are
cross-trained so that each investigator could follow any investigation through,
including crime scene processing, crime scene diagramming, ballistics, latent
prints, print photography, evidence processing and lab work.”
With a state-of-the-art lab and meticulously organized property rooms for
firearms and evidence, the MCSO crime lab accommodates every need. Officers
enter the property room portion of the lab through an outside door. Property is
logged and stored in secure lockers until processed. All weapons and property
are cataloged and stored until used as evidence, disbursed or destroyed.
MSCO crime lab enjoys a professional reputation across the state. In fact, on
a case-by-case basis the lab assists other investigating agencies when called
upon, which is frequent. But processing evidence, especially fingerprints, is
not the 30-second exercise most television episodes portray, as MCSO CSI Sgt.
Butch Emmons knows. A veteran investigator and certified fingerprint analyst,
Sgt. Emmons says print quality is key. The former HFD arson investigator once
got a print off of a burned vehicle that helped identify a killer, but it took a
while for the science to work.
“Proper procedure is essential,” Sgt. Emmons said. “With our last double
homicide it took two weeks to process evidence.”
Emmons also operates the lab’s 4 x 5 camera. The fixed camera produces 4-inch
by 5-inch photos of fingerprints and evidence.
Just as Emmons must compare individual characteristics of a print, Ashton
compares firearm cartridges and casings. Using IBIS (Integrated Ballistics
Identification System), a federal system through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms, Ashton compares the distinctive marks and characters of each shot
fired from case-related weapons into the lab’s $54,000 water tank. IBIS allows
exhibits to be compared online with hundreds of thousands in its database. When
a comparison produces a match, the microscope is used to further confirm the
“A lot of forensic science is exact, some is opinion. Sometimes we get into a
situation of dueling experts,” Lt. Hall said.
Last year the MSCO crime lab worked 239 cases compared to 273 cases in 1999.
Hall credited the sheriff’s auto theft task force for taking cases formerly
investigated by the lab, as the reason the number of cases has remained flat.
However, last year’s cases required 878 hours on the scene, compared to 531
hours in 1999. Moreover, crime scene investigators worked an additional 1,854
hours following up on case evidence in 2005 compared to 507 hours in 1999.
“The call load for the county has increased so much that we now qualify what
the crime lab goes out on,” Lt. Hall said.
Since 1999 technology has also changed and that has created more public
critique of crime scene investigators.
“The forensic shows have called attention to our jobs. The public expects a
case to be solved in 45 minutes. And too, the shows are educating the criminal,
they are taking precautions not to leave evidence behind,” Lt. Hall said.
Capt. Frankhouser believes the current focus on forensics offers a challenge.
“You have to be thick-skinned in this job because everyone is questioning you
from the beginning. Body odors, maggots, cannot bother you. We are very
different individuals,” she noted.
So what calls a peace officer to become a crime scene investigator when
patience is a prerequisite, scrutiny is the order of the day and squeamishness
is not allowed?
“Every day is new. Every day is different. You get the opportunity to learn,
you never stop learning,” Lt. Hall said.
Magnolia City Manager’s claims against former employer upheld by
By Denny O’Brien
May 9 was a day of vindication for Magnolia City Manager Roger Carlisle as he
addressed City Council during the public comment portion of the governmental
body’s regular monthly meeting. It had been 22 long months since Carlisle took
office amid concerns about his termination by the City of Murphy, Texas City
Council on July 19, 2004, following an investigation into his “official
Magnolia officials and citizens have praised the job that Carlisle has done
since coming on board, particularly his strict adherence to proper procedures
and documentation for everything from the handling of Council meetings to the
manner in which projects are planned and implemented.
Carlisle talked about the rulings of a federal magistrate judge, that were
later upheld by a federal district judge in the U.S. District Court in Sherman,
with regard to a lawsuit he had filed based on wrongful termination.
The judges denied several aspects of the motion of the defendants in the
lawsuit (the former mayor and four newly elected members of the Murphy City
Council who had taken office only four days prior to placing Carlisle on
administrative leave). The defendants sought to avoid a trial by seeking a
summary judgment against all the claims filed by Carlisle. Carlisle had to
present sufficient proof of his claims to justify a trial. In his ruling, the
federal magistrate judge stated that Carlisle had provided sufficient evidence
that the mayor had trumped up the charges in order to terminate him.
The rulings in favor of Carlisle, which bolster his case in advance of a
scheduled June 26 trial date, include that the city and/or the defendants: 1)
Breached an employment agreement, 2) Violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, 3)
Terminated him for reporting wrongdoing under the Texas Whistleblower Act and 4)
Violated his right to due process. The judges negated certain of Carlisle’s
claims, including defamation of character.
Carlisle spoke at length about what the rulings have meant. “I knew things
would turn around, because I deal in truth and honesty. These were trumped up
charges where the mayor and four new Council members concocted a story to have
me terminated,” Carlisle stated.
Carlisle talked about the tough road to get to where he is today, saying:
“They used city funds and the city attorney to try and destroy me. They thought
I would just walk away from this, but if I get bloodied, I will go to the wall
to see that justice is done. This had a tremendous effect on others also,
including the city secretary who was fired, and cost some employees their
careers and destroyed them. I’m here standing up for other city managers and
their staffs. Every City Council has a right to terminate. That’s why you have a
contractual agreement, but not the way this was done.”
Carlisle took the opportunity to thank Magnolia City Council members and the
directors of the city’s 4A and 4B corporations, noting: “If I had been in your
place and was aware of all these charges, I might not have voted to hire. I
thank you for taking a chance and standing up for me, for giving me the
opportunity to serve you.”
Mustangs to gallop for Magnolia West High School
By Denny O’Brien
After months of anticipation and speculation regarding what the mascot would
be for the new Magnolia West High School, rumors were put to rest last Monday
evening at the Magnolia Junior High stadium.
With an enthusiastic group of students, parents, teachers, MISD officials and
interested citizens looking on, it was announced that the mascot will be the
Current 8th graders and the future freshman that will initially attend the
new high school, due to open for the 2006-2007 academic year, were able to vote
on what they wanted as a school mascot. The field was narrowed to two: mustang
and wildcat, and in a run-off election, the horse outdistanced the cat.
It had previously been announced that Magnolia West’s school colors would be
maroon and gold.
A respectable crowd on onlookers witnessed the unveiling of the high school’s
Magnolia police identify suspects responsible for varied crimes
By Denny O’Brien
The Magnolia Police Department continues to deal with an increasing number of
crimes in the city, spanning a broad spectrum of illegal activities. During the
past couple of weeks, the department has been successful in identifying persons
responsible for a string of unrelated incidents.
Theft at Brookshire Brothers: On May 5, management at Brookshire Brothers
Supermarket on FM 1488 in downtown Magnolia reported to MPD that an employee was
apparently stealing cash from a drawer in the grocery’s courtesy booth. The
store manager forwarded the information to the parent company’s loss-prevention
division. After viewing the video surveillance tapes provided by the store, an
18-year-old female was identified as the perpetrator. The case has been referred
to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office where robbery charges are
Attempted burglary of a Habitation: Two white female juveniles, ages 13 and
14, decided to cut class on May 1, and proceeded to break into a residence at
114 Commerce Street. A witness had called police after seeing the girls lurking
around the home. The girls were apprehended, and later interrogated. The older
one refused to admit to any participation in the break in, but the younger one
finally confessed that the pair had indeed committed the crime. It was later
determined that one of them was on juvenile probation. Nothing was taken from
Theft at the old Community Center: On April 27, a woman attending a garage
sale at the old Community Building on Melton Street accidentally dropped her
wallet containing $200. She noticed Carmen Bautista, a 29-yearold Hispanic
woman, who lives on Winding Creek, leaving the building and suspected that she
had picked up the wallet. The woman reached into Bautista’s coat pocket and
produced the wallet, whereupon police were called. Bautista was charged with
theft of more than $50 but less than $500, a Class A misdemeanor.
Check Forgery: On April 20, a man reported that an individual had been
forging checks from his and his daughter’s joint checking account. The forged
checks had been used to make purchases at various locations, including
Brookshire Brothers and Mike’s Country Store. The man and his daughter were
shown a photo spread from a Brookshire Brothers’ surveillance video of a
19-year-old white male that Magnolia police suspected of committing the
forgeries. The pair identified the man as the perpetrator. The case has been
referred to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office for action.
Tomball High School WW II veterans honored with tree dedication
By Tana Ross
Eight Tomball High School graduates who never returned from World War II were
honored again on Saturday, May 6, with a dedication ceremony at the Tomball
Museum Complex. The veterans’ survivors, dignitaries, local officials and
supporters gathered to rededicate eight oak trees, planted at the complex in
The ceremony, hosted by the Tomball High School Alumni Association and the
Oil Patch Kids Association, was the culmination of an idea that came out of
several Oil Patch Kids reunions. Each year THS graduates Arlis Clepper, Class of
1951; Bill Webb, Class of 1952; and Roy Johlke, Class of 1950 would talk about
planting replacement oak trees to commemorate the loss of eight THS graduates
who died serving in World War II.
Last year after another schoolyard oak, at the Cherry Street School campus,
fell victim to high winds from Hurricane Rita the trio received donations from
THS alumni and the project was given means.
“In 1941 Tomball High School had 110 students. Of these 27 went to serve in
World War II, eight did not return,” Webb, who is THS Alumni Association
president and acted as master of ceremonies, said. “On February 28, 1947, the
students and faculty of Tomball High School gathered in front of the high school
building and honored those eight young men who made the supreme sacrifice for
their country, by dedicating eight trees.”
American Legion Post 586 Capt. Rudy Garcia presents a service flag to the family
of U.S. Navy E.M. 2nd Class J.C.Choate Jr. at the Tomball Museum complex
dedication ceremony, May 6.
At that time Tomball High School was on Main Street. The campus now houses
Tomball Intermediate School. In 1961 the high school building burned and the
trees were eventually replaced. Since then three of the Main Street trees died
and Tomball ISD administration suggested planting the new trees in a location
that would not be affected by the district’s future expansion. The oaks
dedicated this month replaced the eight original memorial trees planted in 1947.
Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Chris Adams, former chief of staff of
Strategic Air Command and a 1948 THS graduate, was keynote speaker for the
solemnizing event. Other officials who spoke at the ceremony included U.S.
Congressman Michael McCaul, State Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, Tomball Mayor Hap
Harrington, Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bruce Hillegeist,
Tomball Centennial Commission President Diane Holland and Tomball ISD Board
President Kathy Hanson. But it was Kip Coe who garnered the full attention of
the audience when he recited, “The Flag,” a patriotic poem.
With fans waving and umbrellas hoisted to protect against the 90-degree day,
Rep. Van Arsdale’s remarks brought focus to the event.
“As I was sitting here finding it a little uncomfortable in the afternoon
sun, I thought about how uncomfortable it was for these eight. I bet it wasn’t
comfortable in Germany in 1943. I bet it wasn’t comfortable on the island of
Guam in 1944. And I bet it wasn’t comfortable on Luzon in the Philippians in
1945,” Rep. Van Arsdale said. “Today, you and I don’t have to worry about
avoiding IEDs on Pine Street when we go home. But those fighting to protect our
freedom do. Like these eight they are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice.
That is why we are here.”
American Legion Post 586 offered a 21-gun salute and Webb and American Legion
Post 586 Capt. Rudy Garcia presented flags to the veterans’ families in
attendance. Sarah Kennedy of the THS Cougar Pride Band played taps before the
gathering disbursed to view the newly installed, individual veteran tree markers
and large marker noting the significance of the trees in Tomball’s history. Oil
Patch Kids Association Chairman Arlis Clepper dismissed the crowd.
Other participants in the ceremony included Tomball High School Junior Naval
ROTC who posted the colors and presented a drill exhibition, and the THS Cougar
Pride Band. Before close of the ceremony, Webb acknowledged donors and gave a
special thanks to Becky Clepper who coordinated the event.
The eight THS graduates who gave their lives in WW II, their rank and field
of service are: U.S. Army Sgt. Burl M. Owen, died June 25, 1943, Germany; U.S.
Navy Electronics Mate 2nd Class J.C. Choate Jr., died May 5, 1944, Pacific; U.S.
Army Sgt. Leldon W. Shead, died June 25, 1944, China; U.S. Marine Corps Sgt.
Gordon Hope, died June 1944, Guam; U.S. Army Sgt. Grady R. Horton, died March
14, 1944, Italy; U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. George W. Oliver, died March 1, 1945,
Iwo Jima; U.S. Army Pfc Bryant L. Mitchell, died March 10, 1945, Luzon; and U.S.
Army Sgt. Sanferd L. Caffey, died April 2, 1945, Adriatic.
Tomball ISD waiting on Texas lawmakers before completing budget
By Jessica Thomas
The special Legislative session in Austin is creating uncertainty with school
administrators, who are in the process of writing next year’s school budgets.
While Texas lawmakers are struggling to meet a June 1 deadline to reform public
school finance, local administrators are struggling with lack of revenue
information for the 2006-07 school year budget. “July was our target for budget
adoption, but we don’t know if that’s possible or not. We will try, if not we
may have to have a special meeting later on in July in order to adopt a budget.
We have no earthly idea how much money we will get, so how do you build a
budget? As soon as we know, you will know.” Tomball ISD Superintendent John
Neubauer said during a May 8 Board workshop. In a May memo to Neubauer, TISD
Chief Financial Officer Jim Ross detailed the district’s progress with the
Above, Coach Ron Jeggle of Northpointe Intermediate School Math and Number Sense
team presented his math contest students to Tomball ISD Trustees. The team was
recognized for their accomplishments at the TMSCA Middle School State
Championship on April 7 and 8.
“The first compilation of the Operation Debt Service and Food Service budgets
for the 2006-07 fiscal year is near complete. Now, we must continue to work on
prioritizing levels of these budgets and wait for the special session to close
to see what adjustments will be necessary to match the available revenue.” Chief
Financial Officer, Jim Ross said at the TISD Board meeting May 9.
Ross presented the new staffing information for the 2006-07 school year.
There are 21 new teaching positions throughout all schools, however Ross has
requested to fund 25 to accommodate growth in the district. Five new positions
are being requested for support staff, seven for educational aides, and 14 new
positions for auxiliary staff. This item was approved with a 5-0 vote during the
May 9 regular meeting.
Trustees also heard a presentation from Assistant Superintendent for
Administrative Services Huey Kinchen, concerning the Student Code of Conduct for
the 2006-07 school year. Excluding the format of the new code of conduct and an
amendment to the discretionary placement guidelines, there were no significant
changes. The new system clearly defines the conditions that the district will
take into consideration when deciding whether to order placement in a
Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP). These conditions include
self-defense, which is defined in the Code of Conduct glossary as: the use of
force against another to the degree a person reasonably believes the force is
immediately necessary to protect himself or herself. Other conditions defined
are intent or lack of intent at the time the student engaged in the conduct and
the student’s disciplinary history. Trustees approved this item with a 5-0 vote
In other business trustees:
- Awarded bid for Tomball High School Stadium repairs for 2006 to M&M
Waterproofing and Restoration, LLC with low bid price of $51,500.
- Approved the composition of the Facility Study Steering Committee, Board
Charge, and Parameters of the 2006 TISD Facility Study.
- Revised the instructional calendar for the 2006-07 school year, deleting
the staff development day on February 19, 2007 and scheduling a staff
development day on February 26, 2007.
- Approved the Board of Trustees and Superintendent Core values, Team
Operating Procedures and Annual Goals for 2006.
The next regularly scheduled workshop of the Tomball ISD Board of Trustees
will be Monday, June 12 at 5:30 p.m. The next regularly scheduled meeting of
TISD trustees will be Tuesday, June 13 at 5:30 p.m. Both meetings will be in the
boardroom of the TISD administration offices at 221 W. Main Street.
Business leaders vent frustration over new Magnolia water rates
Grand Oaks appealing rate increase to state
By Denny O’Brien
At the May 9 regular meeting of the Magnolia City Council, two prominent
local business leaders led off the meeting with strong words concerning the
recently passed and newly implemented Magnolia utility ordinance and the impact
on their water bills.
During the public comment portion of the session, Rene Hancock was the first
to speak, providing Council members with a history of his water bills, extending
back to October of last year. “I received the most recent water bill for $272. I
thought it was a mistake. I only use 1,000 gallons of water per month or less,”
Hancock emphasized. He noted that he was being charged $68 per tenant, rather
than for the single water meter at his business location. He further indicated
that two of the tenants are present only once or twice per month, and one of the
areas in the building is used principally for storage.
“If I have to pay a premium, that’s okay. But $272 is out of line. When I get
charged for electricity, I pay for the amount I’ve used,” Hancock stressed.
Next up to the podium was Dr. Preston Cutbirth, who strongly underscored
Hancock’s comments and concerns. Cutbirth’s and Hancock’s business centers are
located outside city limits, the area which receives the brunt of the new water
rate increases designed to pay back revenue bonds that will be used to finance
much needed improvements to and capacity increases for Magnolia’s deteriorating
water supply system.
Cutbirth indicated to Council that he had researched how both Tomball and
Conroe do their billing. “They bill based on the number of meters, not tenants.
What’s going on here is just not fair. I suggest that you grandfather existing
businesses with only one meter, and then apply the new ordinance to new
businesses when they enter the city,” Cutbirth said. He went on to say: “If you
see fit to leave it as it is, that means you are taxing me. This is taxation
without representation since we’re outside the city and can’t vote. You need to
at least hook up a separate meter for each tenant.”
The city is facing another dilemma as the Grand Oaks subdivision is appealing
the rate increase to the state, apparently in a letter sent to the Attorney
General’s office. Whether a lawsuit will be filed or not is yet to be seen.
After adjourning into an executive session to discuss water rate issues, Council
reconvened and indicated that it would retain counsel to advise the city with
regard to the Grand Oaks matter.
There was speculation last week that the city might consider turning off the
water to the subdivision. City Manager Roger Carlisle indicated Wednesday that
there were no plans to do so.