HOUSTON (FOX 26) - The integrity of the Houston Police Department and city officials who commanded it has suffered a serious and very public blow.
In a civil rights case that spanned eight years, the United States Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court finding that HPD committed both discrimination and retaliation against its own officers.
"The court determined that there was a code of silence at the City of Houston in their police department for retaliating against officers, for reporting any kind of wrongdoing what so ever," said Randall Kallinen, a civil rights attorney who participated in the case.
At the center of the case is officer, Chris Zamora whose father and fellow officer Manuel Zamora filed a discrimination suit back in 2007 on behalf of 25 Hispanic officers. The action sparked retaliation against Manuel's son Chris, who after speaking out, was suspended on trumped-up allegations and labeled an "untruthful officer."
"By being held to be untruthful by his own department they basically labeled him a liar for speaking out," said Kim Ogg, Zamora's attorney.
But Chris Zamora had secret recordings of the threats and in court turned the tables on both his supervisors and the city's legal team.
"They spent millions of dollars since 2007 to fight our claim of discrimination within the Houston police department," said Domingo Garcia, President of the Organization of Spanish Speaking Officers.
"This victory is loud and clear that discrimination and retaliation exist within the police department," added Johnny Mata, leader of the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice.
District attorney candidate Ogg led Zamora's legal fight and says this final decision represents a compelling win for good cops and the necessity of transparency.
"A government that is willing to violate one of its own police officer's rights is likely to violate the rights of its own citizens," said Ogg.
Police Union leader Ray Hunt said, "If Kim Ogg thinks there is a code of silence she doesn't have a clue."
Meantime the City Attorney's Office offered the following statement:
"“The United States Supreme Court denied the City of Houston’s petition for certiorari in the case styled City of Houston v. Christopher Zamora, No. 15-868, leaving the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in effect. In an opinion issued in August 2015, the 5th Circuit deferred to the jury’s findings, and held that the Houston Police Department’s multi-layer disciplinary review process did not afford adequate protection from retaliation against Sgt. Zamora in this instance. Now that the Supreme Court has denied review, the 5th Circuit’s opinion likely will make it much more challenging for employers-both public and private-to insulate themselves against liability in “cat’s paw” retaliation claims. In the discrimination context, the theory means that an employer-like the duped cat-can be liable; If the ultimate decision maker was “duped” by a biased supervisor who reports an employee for misconduct; and, the reports from the biased supervisor were untruthful. Nonetheless, the City of Houston and HPD remain committed to fair, equal and honest treatment of their employees and the citizens of Houston.”