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Man sues Harris County for $20 million

Tuesday, April 13, 2010
In February 2008 veteran Harris County Sheriffs Deputy Craig Miller died in a car wreck while he was on duty heading to a surveillance operation after his county owned car was hit by a box truck

In February 2008 veteran Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Craig Miller died in a car wreck while he was on duty heading to a surveillance operation after his county owned car was hit by a box truck

A man who spent months in jail for a collision that killed a sheriff's deputy is now suing the county for millions, saying he was falsely accused and was used as a scapegoat.

The crash killed Deputy Craig Miller back in February 2008. The other driver, José Vieyra, was arrested, jailed and kept behind bars even after the investigation revealed Deputy Miller had been driving drunk. There are actually two lawsuits -- one filed in federal court and the other in civil court -- more than two years after that deadly crash. The Harris County attorney's office says these allegations are far too serious to ignore.

In February 2008 veteran Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Craig Miller died in a car wreck while he was on duty heading to a surveillance operation after his county owned car was hit by a box truck. The driver, José Vieyra, spent months in jail after he was charged with criminally negligent homicide, even though blood tests revealed Miller was three times over the legal limit for alcohol.

While the charge against Vieyra was dismissed nearly two years ago, after a sheriff's office investigation, Vieyra is now suing Harris County for defamation and asking for more than $20 million.

According to the lawsuit, Vieyra claims former Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas and former Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal conspired to "protect Miller and the members of Thomas' special Sheriff's Department Squad and to cover up the fact that Miller, allegedly on duty at the time of this death, was highly intoxicated."

First Assistant Harris County Attorney Terence O'Rourke said, "This is as serious as it gets in law enforcement."

O'Rourke says the county attorney is so concerned that the office has since launched an investigation into the allegations outlined in the lawsuit.

"Especially in light of the Ybarra case we have to take extra measures to make sure about the integrity of our own system," O'Rourke said.

KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy says in order to win, Vieyra must prove malice, which could be difficult.

"He's going to have to be able to go into the computers of Harris County and see emails discussing a scheme to defame him," Androphy said.

Vieyra also claims his civil rights were violated after he was arrested and held in jail for months on those false charges.

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