HOUSTON - U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has called for a congressional inquiry into the state's most populous county, saying recent events show that its legal system "has been tarnished."
The Democrat primarily cited a recent Harris County grand jury decision not to indict a suburban homeowner who shot to death two men he suspected of burglarizing a neighbor's home.
"As far as many are concerned, justice was not rendered," said Jackson Lee, speaking at news conference Sunday. "There needs to be a question about how the case was presented. Was there no basis for this individual to be tried by a jury of his peers?"
Jackson Lee said her call for a federal inquiry also was spurred by a string of other controversial cases and scandals involving Harris County criminal justice agencies.
"With the many misgivings surrounding the Harris County legal system, it is fair to say that this local judicial system has been tarnished," Jackson Lee said. "It is time for all officials to be held accountable and true justice and democracy to be restored."
Jackson Lee also cited a recent controversy involving the Harris County Sheriff's Office, where top commanders were disciplined for sending racially insensitive e-mails, including some that mocked Islam.
Other issues have included the Harris County Jail, which is the subject of a federal civil rights probe, and the resignation earlier this year of former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, who left office after sending explicit e-mails on his county computer.
Jackson Lee also pointed to ongoing problems with the Houston Police Department crime lab, which forced suspension of DNA testing twice since 2002. Since then, three men convicted with faulty evidence have been exonerated.
The pattern of behavior raises questions about bias in the system, Jackson Lee said.
"With the enormous fractures in the system, until we take a broom and sweep it out, there won't be evenhanded justice," she said.
Jackson Lee said she is seeking congressional hearings to investigate possible systemic bias in the Harris County justice system. She also called for a federal investigation of the sheriff's department.
"I believe Harris County has set up an infrastructure that begs investigation," Jackson Lee said.
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