A veteran Houston Fire Department officer may face discipline after traffic tickets were dismissed following a stranger's request on Facebook, Local 2 Investigates reported on Monday.
It all started on a web page devoted to firefighter issues on the social networking site when a 21-year-old Houston woman posted, "Can anyone of you help me.[sic] I am hoping one of you fireman out there may know a HPD Office that can help get some tickets fixed."
She wrote that she was pulled over in the 700 block of North Shepherd and given four citations: speeding, no insurance, obstructed license plate and a cracked windshield.
She also named the officer and wrote, "He gave me a hard time and did not believe that my dad had just died and that I was heading home from helping make the arrangements."
The woman then wrote her father was a Houston firefighter.
Eight hours after her posting, arson squad employee Alison Stein replied, "Hi.I am a Chief Investigator for the Fire Department and I know (the officer who wrote the tickets) well I will give him a call to see what I can do to help you out. I am so sorry for your loss, your Dad was a great guy!"
Five minutes later, Stein posted that she had called the officer who wrote the tickets. She inquired about getting the pink copies of the tickets and said, "It will be taken care of."
Four hours after that, Stein posted that the officer just called her back and, "Told me that all four tickets were ripped up."
Stein, who was hired in April 1994, declined to answer questions from Local 2 Investigates.
Houston Municipal Court records show all 4 tickets do not exist, meaning the officer never submitted them for processing despite a strict HPD policy on how tickets must be submitted after they are written. HPD policy spells out that supervisors and senior department leaders must sign off on any request by an officer to void a ticket that has already been written.
When a citizen wishes to plead a hardship such as a death in the family, they can request a jury trial on traffic charges or they can ask prosecutors to consider the merits and dismiss the tickets before trial.
"In this case, the complaint is being drafted and will be turned over to (the city's Office of Inspector General)," said Patrick Trahan, a spokesman for HFD. "The concerns are both legal questions and ethical questions that need to be answered."
A message was sent by Local 2 Investigates to the Facebook user who requested that her tickets be fixed, but she did not respond.
The officer who wrote the tickets said he would not have written the tickets to begin with had he known the driver's father had just died. He said, "I would have shown discretion. She was under emotional distress."
He said the driver did not mention the death, and said he only found out when Stein called him in response to the Facebook posting.
Trahan said Stein's actions, as opposed to her Internet postings, may get her in trouble.
"The real issue here is whether or not the actions the individual took were appropriate or inappropriate," he said.
The Facebook flap marks the latest in a string of Local 2 Investigates reports on city of Houston social networking missteps.
In March, workers in the Houston Mayor's office posted details of joy rides in Houston police helicopters, including some who posted aerial photos of their apartments and favorite landmarks.
In June, an HPD internal affairs investigation was launched when Local 2 Investigates reported that an officer posted rants about arresting anyone of Honduran descent that might give her an off look. That officer also posted other disparaging comments about Hondurans, and she also posted photos of the computer screen in her patrol car so she could make fun of people who called police for help.
The police department started drafting a social networking policy in response to that June report. The officer declined to comment.