In Focus

Harris County DA responds to BAT van investigation controversy

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Harris County district attorney says she doesn't trust the Houston Police Department to handle DWI testing.

Pat Lykos' comments come days after we reported one of her prosecutors was ejected from a grand jury room ahead of testimony about those BAT vans.

Lykos tells us she still doesn't know what went wrong inside that grand jury room last week that nearly led to the arrest of two of her top assistants, despite the fact one of them was in the room with us during the interview. What she does know is that she no longer wants HPD supervising its own DWI vans.

"That's what perturbs me," she said.

Lykos told us Monday she's done trusting HPD to tell her the truth about DWI testing.

"We were never informed there were questions about whether the tests were valid," Lykos said.

For months, we've told you about the reported problems with the police department's mobile breath testing labs known as BAT vans.

13 Undercover reported about maintenance problems in March. A former HPD technician testified in court about potentially bad evidence in July.

Now it's nearly November and the DA says HPD still hasn't owned up to her about any of the problems. On Monday afternoon -- before she even told the chief of police -- she told us she wants DPS to take over the BAT vans.

"Do you trust the results coming out of the BAT vans?" we asked Lykos.

"I want the Texas Department of Public Safety to supervise the technicians so that we can be assured that everything is done according to protocol," she replied.

All of that addresses the larger problem of potentially sketchy evidence that could wrongly convict someone, but doesn't address the grand jury grandstanding that almost led to an imprisoned prosecutor.

"It came as a total surprise," Lykos said.

We told you Friday about Lykos' top assistants who refused to leave a grand jury room. The grand jury was about to hear from a witness about the BAT van issues, someone who might have even said that HPD or the DA's office didn't handle the evidence correctly. The prosecutors didn't leave until a bailiff threatened to arrest them.

On Monday, nearly a week after the incident and a few days after it was our lead story, she couldn't tell us what went down.

"I don't know," Lykos said.

"Oh, come on," we pressed.

"I don't," she replied.

The assistant was just off camera, but she didn't want him to take her place.

That grand jury is still working and may call more witnesses outside the presence of a prosecutor.

"Do you believe your office is being investigated by this grand jury?" we asked Lykos.

"I don't think so," she said.

"Have you done anything wrong?"

"Of course not."

We asked the Houston Police Department if the DA had asked them to give up supervision of the BAT vans and if they were willing to do it. They sent us the statement below:

"We acknowledged several months ago we were addressing maintenance issues pertaining to the bat vans and corrected those concerns. We then went a step further and asked scientific personnel at the Texas Department of Public Safety to take a thorough look at our intox equipment used in the vans to make sure it meets all standards."

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