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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Fired Tampa police detective denied reinstatement

Tampa police on Monday denied a request by fired Detective Eric Houston, who is under federal investigation, to be reinstated to his $86,000-a-year job.

Houston was placed on administrative leave on April 3 and fired on April 24 after the department learned he was the target of a federal grand jury investigation into identity theft and income tax fraud. Police Chief Jane Castor said Houston’s behavior was “egregious” and that he did not deserve to wear the uniform.

As the federal probe continues — it might be September before it is concluded — Houston filed a grievance to get his job back. Two weeks ago, he and his Police Benevolent Association attorney attended a half-hour hearing pleading his case before high-ranking police officials.

On Monday, the city officially denied Houston’s request.

Owen Kohler, the PBA attorney who represents Houston in the labor dispute, said late Monday afternoon he had not had a chance to speak with Houston and was reluctant to answer questions.

He wouldn’t say the response from the department was expected.

“I don’t know how to answer that,” the attorney said. “We filed the grievance and hoped for the best.”

The response said that a week after the hearing, Kohler presented six questions for clarification, including who filed the complaint and when was it filed. It also asked if there were any reports and if the department considers its administrative investigation complete.

The response said the initial complaint was filed by the department along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is the agency conducting the federal probe. The department first learned of the probe on April 3, the day Houston was placed on administrative duty. He was fired on April 24, after federal investigators met with Castor to reveal to her the focus of the grand jury investigation.

Court documents say Houston, 53, pilfered personal information from victims, defendants and witnesses of homicide cases at the department and used that information in a wide ranging tax-refund fraud scheme.

Two weeks ago, Kohler said his client wanted to be reinstated to work administrative duty and not be involved in criminal cases. The attorney argued Houston was fired without being criminally charged and there was no guarantee that he would ever be charged.

Houston can appeal to the city the department’s decision to deny his request, Kohler said.

“I’d have to discuss this with Eric first,” the attorney said. “If he wants to appeal this, we will appeal it.”

Houston, a 24-year veteran of the department, has worked some of the more notable homicide cases in the city over the past several years, and the federal investigation has forced police and state prosecutors to review 21 cases in which Houston played an investigative role.

Those cases included the homicide cases against Dontae Morris, convicted last year in the shooting deaths of two police officers, and Julie Schenecker, convicted a month ago in the murders of her two teenagers.

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