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Director of Harris County Probation Department resigns amid drug test controversy

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
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Just days after a Harris County judge called for his resignation, the head of the Harris County Probation Department did just that.

Paul Becker sent a terse letter to all judges, saying simply, "Please accept my decision to retire as the director of Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department effective August 31, 2012.".

It wasn't exactly a surprise. He alluded to it last week.

"If a judge has lost confidence in my ability to run the department, that's going to make it very challenging for me to run the department in the future. So I will strongly consider my actions in terms of resigning," Becker had told us.

"I'm very pleased that he, on his own, at least decided to do the right thing and resign," defense attorney Lisa Andrews said.

Andrews stopped short of calling Becker's resignation a victory, but it has been a stunning turn of events. Last week, Andrews began an unusual hearing inside the courtroom of Judge Denise Collins. She laid out evidence showing at least 30 false positives in urinalysis testing of probationers by the department.

One of those probationers, Richard Youst, testified Friday that after the bad test result, he lost his driver's license, his apartment and his job.

Steve Harris, chief scientist at the vendor One Source Labs, said the county ignored his warnings and he knew of 31 occasions where a positive drug test was attached to the wrong person.

From inside the department Friday, Donald Martin, a 22-year probation employee, told Judge Denise Collins she may not be able to trust any Harris County drug test results.

The testimony was more than enough for Judge Collins to rule that she would no longer accept any positive urine drug tests from the Harris Co. Probation Department.

Speaking to us Tuesday, Collins called the problems at the department "shocking."

"I think it's absolutely unequivocally unreliable and the criminal justice system of due process have totally been ignored," she told Eyewitness News.

Since then, the district attorney's office has announced it will stop using all urinalysis results from the probation department until the problem is fixed.

But inside the courthouse, Becker still has his defenders.

"I think the intervention that it needs to be internal as to finding out how to correct mistakes," Judge Sherman Ross said.

Neither Becker nor other leaders in the department would comment Wednesday, but Andrews says this is just the start.

"Much more needs to be done to make this right," she said.

Various sources tell us that other officials also resigned Wednesday, but the probation department would not confirm that to us. It also did not comment about how it plans to improve its urinalysis department.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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