Written and submitted by Bobby E. Roberts (Retired Houston PD)

 

What happens when an officer is “relieved of duty”?

What is it like? What are the mental and emotional strains placed on him and her? Horrors from my past recently came vividly back to my mind when I read a news article regarding Houston Police Officer Shane Privette.

The local news in Houston, Texas recently reported that the Houston Police Department (HPD) relieved Officer Shane Privette of his duties as an officer.  This action was taken because the Harris County District Attorney’s Office sought after and succeeded in obtaining a criminal indictment against Officer Privette.  The DA’s office has alleged that he committed the crime of “Aggravated Assault” while making the arrest of a fleeing, resisting, felony suspect during a narcotics investigation. 

I’d like to have been a fly on the wall in that grand jury session and have been able to hear how that story was presented.    

 

The TWIST in the story…

The interesting twist to this story is that the HPD Internal Affairs Division (IAD) conducted an investigation of the complaint and a finding of “Exonerated” was returned.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with HPD, I would have to say HPD exonerating one of its own rarely happens. HPD’s reputation is to punish officers if at all possible, whether fair or not.

To add to the twist, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has vowed his full support for Officer Privette throughout this ordeal. I thought an officer being exonerated was rare, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a Houston police chief doing this. This is interesting.

My personal belief regarding the situation of Officer Privette is that not by his own doing, he has been spun into the spider web of politics set forth by the DA’s Office in an ongoing battle with HPD and the Houston Police Officers Union.  It’s a sad, sad day and beyond shameful that this young man is being made to suffer for something he didn’t do so that others can play political games. We’ll probably see a lot more of that with others in the not too distant future.

Stand tall Officer Privette.  There is a mountain of folks behind you and for you.

    

Horrific memories..

When I learned of Officer Privette’s circumstances, it brought back some painful memories from my career with HPD. I too was involved in some highly political events and I too was relieved of duty, even suspended. I learned some very hard lessons about fairness, and the lack thereof. Even more so, I learned that the mental and emotional anguish one goes through during these times is horrific. Adding to the fears of what is going to happen is the ostracizing of the officer by the department and the potential betrayal.

If you are reading this, please pay attention. It does not matter how “good” of a cop you are. If the event you find yourself involved in is political, there’s no way of telling which way the wind will blow. Don’t think for a moment that your department won’t sacrifice you, as they like to say, “for the better of the department”. What that means is that the upper management of the department is going to do what they think is best for them, not you.

Fortunately in Officer Privette’s situation, the police department, the chief of police, and the HPOU are firmly in his corner. My prayers are that this bodes well for him because I believe he is completely innocent of any wrongdoing.

(Photo – Bobby E. Roberts)

 

What does “Relieved of Duty” mean? How does it happen and what are the effects of it?

So, what exactly does “Relieved of Duty” mean?

“Relieved of Duty” in the police world, means that an officer’s police powers are taken away from him/her.  This occurs when an Internal Affairs complaint is lodged against an officer and the chief and his legal staff decides to remove the officer’s police powers during the investigation. The officers police ID (credentials) are taken as are their badge and hat shield.  Their extra employment jobs are also suspended.

I can tell you from my own personal experience that “Relieved of Duty” status is one of the most humiliating, horrible, and mentally excruciating experiences I’ve ever been through. 

One moment you’re on top of the world experiencing the life you’ve always dreamed of.  The next moment everything you’ve worked so hard for is stripped from you and you are left to wonder, “What just happened? What’s next?” This is magnified ten-fold when you’ve actually done nothing wrong, like our friend Officer Privette.

Making matters worse is the impending financial struggles that come along as your ability to work extra jobs (EJ’s) is taken away. Your income is immediately affected and the fears of how you will keep you head above water mount. Financial stress destroys lives and many marriages, as most of us know.

 

Don’t be naive… “I’m a good cop”

Back in the day

I’m a good cop.” That’s what most of us think of ourselves and it’s tough when situations like this occur because we don’t understand why it’s happening to us.

Do not be naive. Do not believe that because you’re a good cop that good ole HPD will take care of you.  I fell prey to that notion as I always believed in my abilities and that I was a good cop.

On one occasion, I had an IAD lieutenant refer to me as arrogant. I wasn’t arrogant, I just believed in myself and was confident in my abilities. I firmly believed that my work ethic, my work product, and my reputation, etc. would be the things that would cause my chief and my department to support me. Wrong! What was I thinking?

Remember this if you don’t remember anything else. HPD will take very good care of HPD! You are an employee number, a means to an end, and easily replaced.

I’ve been around long enough to know that behind closed doors in the ivory tower decisions to relieve an officer, or suspend them, factor in the political climate. The decisions also factor in what the command staff and legal staff think is best for them, and/or what serves their own personal interest.  If that means sacrificing an officer, sergeant, etc. then it will be done.  Your best interest has nothing to do with their best interest. Add a ladder-climbing individual in IAD and your problems just get worse. 

  

What happens when you’re “Relieved of Duty”? Casualties of war…

So, what happens when an officer is relieved of duty? Here’s how it starts. 

An individual makes an allegation against an officer and it makes its way to the chief of police (HPD in this example).  The chief and his legal staff make the decision to relieve an officer of duty based on the type of complaint and a variety of other factors. 

I’ll give you an example of the “other factors”.  A close friend shared with me a quote from a certain assistant chief  (AC) that was made during an executive meeting regarding an investigation I was involved in.  My friend was in attendance in the meeting.  The AC was informed that the targeting of a certain individual would cause considerable harm to the careers of several others who were exceptional supervisors and officers.  Rather than take this information into consideration and have compassion for the rest of us, the AC callously responded, “casualties of war.” 

“Casualties of war”. Yup, you gotta love it.  That’s what we’d be.  That, my friends, is how the real world works. 

Once the decision to relieve an officer’s duty is sent from the chief’s office to IAD, a representative from IAD will contact the accused officer.  The officer may, or may not know what this turn of events is regarding.  The officer is told something like this:  ”I need you to report to the Internal Affairs Division and bring your police ID, your badge, and your hat shield.”  At that instant, a whirlwind of emotions swirls in. 

 

My personal experience…

The call I received came in around 5:00-6:00 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, my off day.  I was in the swimming pool outside my apartment relaxing.  My initial thought was that the call was a practical joke and I treated it as such.  I had several friends in IAD and I just knew they had to be playing a prank on me.  I knew that once I figured out the prank and who was responsible, we’d be laughing like crazy.  Cops love practical jokes. 

I will readily admit that I said some pretty awful things to that lieutenant as I pressured him to cough it up, to tell me who was behind the prank.  However, he stood his ground.  I can’t repeat the things I said to him and am sorry I said them, but I seriously thought it was a prank.  When I realized he wasn’t kidding, I was in shock.  Thousands of thoughts took over my mind and my head was spinning.  I’m surprised I made it out of the pool.  I was stunned as I knew then just as I know today, I had done nothing wrong.

 

Shock overcomes me… Anger sets in…

I got out of the swimming pool and made my way inside my apartment.  I showered and got dressed, but was in a daze.  My head was spinning and my mind racing as I was trying to figure out what was going on.  I knew the event that was being questioned, but again knew that I had done nothing wrong. 

I quickly became angry, very angry.  In my mind I questioned why was this happening to me?  I kept telling myself, “I’m a good cop, a good supervisor.  Why are they doing this to me?”

The drive to downtown Houston was a blur.  I seriously don’t even remember the drive.  When I arrived at 1200 Travis, I slowly made my way to the Internal Affairs Division.  As the elevator door opened, the lieutenant who had called me was standing in front of me.  He introduced himself and stuck his hand out to shake mine. I just stood there with a blank stare on my face.  Anger took hold of me and I refused to shake his hand.  Instead, I grumbled, “You are trying to ruin my career and you seriously want me to shake your hand?  Are you kidding me?” 

I should have controlled my emotions better but I was seriously in a state of shock. I don’t recall that lieutenant’s name.  But if you are out there and happen to be reading this, I sincerely apologize.  You were only doing the job you were tasked to do.  I know you didn’t like it any more than I did. 

 

Stripped of my status, my badge, my hat shield…

I walked into his office and turned over my badge that I had worked so hard for, my hat shield, and my ID that identified me as a police officer.  My emotions were getting the best of me as becoming a police officer was a life-long dream. This was something I had busted my tail for, something that I had earned, and it was being stripped from me. 

The lieutenant told me that I was being “Relieved of Duty” and instructed to sign some paperwork.  He didn’t tell me why I was being relieved, but I was required to sign the paperwork anyway.  The lieutenant also told me that each morning, I would be required to contact Sergeant J.C. Hall in IAD and check-in with him.  In addition, I was to remain at my home during the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., just in case IAD needed me. 

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Stripped of my supplemental income… Anxiety & the brink of depression…

The IAD lieutenant went on to say that I could not work any of my extra employment jobs as I was no longer considered a police officer.  Wow! 

I didn’t have much money at that time as I was recently divorced and paying a ton of child support.  I was working a minimum of 32 hours a week on my EJ’s to keep my head above water and if I remember correctly, I was making about $20 an hour. 

Thus, in the blink of an eye I had lost my life-long dream, my livelihood, and $33,280 of yearly income.  Not only that, I was given 40 hours a week of solitary confinement in my apartment to ponder on what may, or may not happen. 

I went into panic-mode, as I had no clue of what to do.  Anxiety set in and I was on the brink of instant depression.

 

Left hanging as the nightmare continued…

I bet your thinking that that good ole HPD provided me some insight as to how to handle my current situation, aren’t you?  Think again.  I was provided nothing in the way of advice, counseling, or anything for that matter.  I was just left to ponder on what was to come as I sit inside my prison cell of an apartment.

I drove home even more dazed than when I left my apartment.  I was in tears and still in a state of shock.  My mind began telling me that this was a bad dream, a nightmare, and that anytime I would wake up and find it over.  I was wrong.  This was reality.  This was really happening. 

 

State of intoxication…

Shamefully, I honestly don’t remember much about the next three weeks.  My faith in God was strong, but rather than go to God and believe that He had this under control, I made a poor decision and chose to go to the bottle instead.  I drank for three solid weeks, staying intoxicated most of the time.  Each morning I would wake up with thoughts that the nightmare was over.  Once I sobered up, I found that the nightmare still existed.

Did IAD or the Command Staff check on me?  You’re kidding, right?  I was a “casualty of war”, remember?  I should add that I wasn’t the only casualty; there were several other supervisors along with me.  I only knew two of them at the beginning of this fiasco, but the rest of us became pretty good friends before it was over.  We had to lean on each other.

 

Support begins rolling in… for a time

My phone began ringing off the wall as word of my being “Relieved of Duty” spread.  I was comforted by the support of friends, co-workers, subordinates, and some folks I didn’t even know. 

I had officers come to my apartment to visit from time to time, take me out to dinner, or invite me to go places with them.  Each of you knows who you are and I can’t thank you enough.  You kept me sane. 

The calls subsided as the months wore on, but the closest friends kept checking in on me. I would not have survived without them.

 

Sergeant Hector Ortegon & Officer Doug Griffith

Two of the most special friends in my life are Hector Ortegon (Retired HPD Sergeant) and Doug Griffith (Officer & HPOU Vice President). 

I have known Hector and his wife, Brenda, since our teenage years in high school and I have known Doug prior to his joining the police department.  I love both these men and value their friendships beyond measure.

I’m sure both Hector and Doug will be angry with me for sharing this story as neither seeks any attention for the Godly deeds they do. But, these guys are special and what they did for me during my time of need still brings a tear to my eye today.  Hector and Doug both knew my financial plight and each called me to tell me what they were “going to do”.  I repeat, what they were “going to do”.  They were not asking my permission. 

Sergeant Hector Ortegon & Officer Doug Griffith (Photo – Bobby E. Roberts)

Hector and Doug both told me they were going to work one of my EJ shifts each week and provide me the income.  Each stated they would not accept a denial of this generosity and told me if I didn’t accept it, they would be offended.  Their reasoning was that I was their friend and they knew I would do it for them. 

For six months Hector and Doug put money in my pocket and provided for me when I couldn’t provide for myself. God was working through them. I will never be able to repay these these men for their kindness and their generosity and I love them both dearly.

 

Reality begins setting in…

Once I got past the drinking stage, I finally resigned myself to the fact that this was not a dream.  It was really, really happening.  Many of you know the story and the politics that were playing at the time.  The investigation drug on for months and with it came a multitude of rumors.  Not only were there rumors, the “Monday morning quarterbacks” were coming out of the woodwork.

I finally began clearing my head and leaning closer to God as I should have all along and I found a peace like no other. Reality had set in and I had to figure out how to deal with it. 

Did I still have moments of anxiety?  You betcha. 

Did I have thoughts that I’ll never make it through this? Yup. 

Did I have thoughts that maybe I was better off being done with this life, suicidal thoughts?  Guilty as charged.   

“Two of the most special friends in my life are Hector Ortegon (Retired HPD Sergeant) and Doug Griffith (Officer & HPOU Vice President).” (Photo – Bobby E. Roberts)

 

The emotional roller coaster…

My life on the emotional roller coaster hit an all-time high.  My emotions would be on the mountaintop at 10:00 a.m. only to be in the valley by early afternoon.

In the morning I would receive a call from a friend saying, “Hey, I heard this was going to be over soon and you are going to be fine.”  The emotional high.

In the afternoon another friend would call and say, “Hey, I hate to tell you this but there is talk of you being fired.”  The emotional low and panic.

If you are reading this and have a friend who’s been “Relieved of Duty”, don’t be the rumor guy!  Just offer your support and encouragement.

If you are an officer in “Relieved of Duty” status, find an outlet to clear your mind and relieve your stress. 

 

Finding an outlet to relieve the stress & clear the mind…

I had to find a way to relieve stress and take my mind off of my situation as often as possible. My stress relieving outlet was weightlifting and softball. 

Initially, I would drive to the Southeast Command Station where I worked (or used to work) and work out in the gym.  Sadly, that lasted only a few weeks until I was ordered by the captain not to come to the station due to my “Relieved of Duty” status.  The hits just keep on coming. Not only was I sentenced to my apartment daily, I was being shut out from the place where most of my friends and support were. 

Fortunately, I had been working for Tilman Fertitta, owner of Landry’s Restaurants as well as the Houston Rockets basketball team, prior to being “Relieved of Duty”.  I worked at Tilman’s private residence with he and his family and I also coordinated the EJ at the Landry’s Corporate Office. Tilman stood by me throughout this entire ordeal and supported me in ways I can never repay. 

Landry’s Corporate Office was close to my apartment and had a gym that I was able to use. So I spent a lot of time there.  It didn’t matter the time of day; I just went when I was ready to work out.  I worked out twice a day, at least six days a week.  One of the few positives of this ordeal was that I was in very good physical shape.

 

Stand strong, seek God’s guidance…

I’ve rambled along and made this a bit more lengthy than I intended. What I’m really trying to convey to anyone who finds themselves “Relieved of Duty”, or just in a stressful situation is that’s its tough. It’s a horrible experience. But, it’s not the end of the world.

Stay strong in your faith. Regardless of the circumstances, lean into God’s word and fellowship with His people. Lean on your true friends and those who provide positive encouragement for you. Avoid the negativity. Vent when you need to and clear your mind.

Seek professional counseling if need be so that when those dark days come, you’re prepared.

Invest time in your family and your children.

Find other things (e.g. softball, weight lifting, etc.) to give your mind some free time away from the garbage and stress.

Create some kind of normalcy.

In the case of Officer Shane Privette, call him or send him an email or a text. Let him know that you are behind him and that you are supporting him. If you are friends of his family, his parents, do the same. These situations affect everyone. Your words of encouragement go much further than you could ever imagine.

Don’t be the “Monday morning quarterback”. Don’t be the “rumor guy”.

If you have not walked in these shoes, don’t pretend that you have.

Written and submitted by Bobby E. Roberts (Retired Houston PD)