Two truly persistent officers – Werner Stroehmberg and Brandon McDonald – were honored as HPOU Patrol Officers of the Month in August for capturing the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl on body cameras and finally making the case for first degree felony charges to District Attorney Kim Ogg.
HPOU President Joe Gamaldi presented the details of the case at the August general membership meeting. Both officers would agree it was truly a unique experience in more ways than one.
Stroehmberg and McDonald were conducting pro-ative patrol investigations in the Bissonnet corridor, which has been well publicized as a hang-out for young prostitutes, particularly those considered trafficked victims. TV stations and newspapers have carried stories alerting the general public of the nuances of this section of Bissonnet, making clear the community activism and the awareness of the victimization of young immigrant women forced to sell their bodies.
In their diligence, these two officers caught a 39-year-old suspect in the act of fornicating his 16-year-old victim in the backseat of his automobile.
“The complainant was lying face up on her back with her legs spread and in the air, while the suspect was upright in between her legs facing the complainant,” Sgt. Mark D. Contreras’ report said. The officers’ spotlight illuminated this act and at least one of their body cameras caught the event on tape. After they dressed, both parties were placed in handcuffs.
One would think that the suspect had been caught in the act. However, the assistant district attorneys on duty to take charges that evening initially refused to accept them, saying they required a completed investigation. HPD supervisors were involved – with no immediate success.
In this case, HPD was doing its job. The sex assault investigator was on the scene and had conducted his investigation while the 16-year-old runaway involved went to Texas Children’s Hospital for a sex assault kit to be completed. The suspect’s car also was towed to the Vehicle Examination Building.
A sex crimes officer interviewed the suspect and went to the DA for charges of sexual assault of a child. He also was turned down.
Sgt. Contreras then took the ball and ran with it, calling the chief assistant district attorney. “I even asked if he was willing to accept any lesser charge such as indecency with a child or public lewdness, which he refused and scolded me for trying to ruin the case.”
Contreras took exception to the ADA’s position that no charges are filed until the investigation is completed. “I told him I also was upset with his decision to let a predator roam the streets, completely unscathed, if even just for one day,” the sergeant asserted. “I told him I would contact my supervisor and Joe Gamaldi and let them handle it whichever way they see fit.”
The case went up the HPD administrative ladder with Assistant Chief Wendy Baimbridge getting involved. Eventually District Attorney Kim Ogg got personally involved herself and the sexual assault charges were accepted. The victim was in her mother’s custody and the suspect had been set free since the charges were not immediately filed.
HPD officers re-arrested him two days later.
Contreras said, “Officers McDonald and Stroehmberg should be heartily commended for their hard work, pro-active tendency and dedication to their profession, not rejected and told to do more despite being eyewieness to a first degree felony and capturing the entire incident on a body worm camera.”
HPOU President Gamaldi made these points clear at the general membership meeting in which the two officers were recognized as Patrol Officers of the Month.