Tomball Magnolia Tribune News
 

May 15, 2006 Edition

Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office crime lab, innovative and dedicated

By Tana Ross
Tribune Staff

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 and AFIX.

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 said.

CSI Joe Ashton, one of seven MCSO crime scene investigators, likes the changes.

“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 match.

“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 federal court

By Denny O’Brien
Editor

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 conduct.”

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
Editor

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 mustang.

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 mascot.

 

Magnolia police identify suspects responsible for varied crimes

By Denny O’Brien
Editor

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 pending.

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 the residence.

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
Tribune Staff

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 January.

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
Tribune Staff

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 budget.


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
Editor

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.

 

 

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