Message from Sheriff Ed Gonzalez – Stop Domestic Violence

On Monday, in the span of less than 24 hours, two domestic violence-related incidents turned fatal. In northeast Harris County, a mother was preparing her three children for their first day of school when her estranged husband showed up at her home and attacked her. He was killed during the attack. Later that evening, a woman’s brother and her ex-boyfriend got into a fight that escalated into a shooting at an apartment complex on Cypress Station.

Our deputies are entrusted by our community to protect them. At the Sheriff’s Office, we take seriously our duty to help those who are being hurt by someone who is supposed to love them.
We thoroughly investigate cases of abuse and assist victims in navigating the aftermath of a crime and the criminal justice process.
In 2017, we launched our Victim Assistance Unit to support victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. This specialized unit assesses a victim’s needs and provides immediate crisis intervention, working collaboratively with our domestic violence partners in the community to find emergency shelter, legal resources, and other critical services that help victims on their journey to become survivors. From January to July of this year, our advocates served 670 victims and placed 2,535 calls to victims to offer our services. In 2020, our advocates reached out to 5,802 victims and served 1,308.

“Victims want to know what’s going on and where to get help,” said Sgt. Hulsey, who oversees the team of victim advocates. “They want to know about the progress of their case. They want to know about the status of the suspected abuser.”

Addressing a person’s emotional needs is always the first step, said Melissa Ramirez, a victim advocate assigned to Patrol District 3 in east Harris County. From there, advocates are able to walk victims through the next steps.

“The help spans from obtaining a protective order and trauma counseling to plugging them into emergency housing and utility assistance,” Ramirez said. “We also help victims connect with pro-bono divorce attorneys and offset the cost of funeral arrangements.”
In 2019, we launched a multi-disciplinary program called the Sheriff’s Mobile Advocacy Response Team, or SMART, to amplify our efforts in reducing domestic violence and sexual assaults. A deputy investigator is paired with a violent crime advocate. The pair respond to active scenes across Harris County.

Our agency is also part of the Harris County Domestic Violence High-Risk Team, a group of regional public safety partners that review cases that are most at risk for homicide. They then close gaps in service and protection.

“We actively monitor calls for service, proactively search our databases for repeat calls for service and victimization and take on referral cases from our Domestic Violence Unit,” said Deputy Investigator Mook. “We are often the first support system for abuse victims.”

He added, “Our job, and really mission, is to get victims the resources they need immediately. Not tomorrow, not week, not next month. We are out in the field establishing relationships with them and talking them through everything. In many ways, we’re the liaison between our frontline personnel and the victim. We are their go-to person for every step in their case and the path to a safer life.”

When our patrol deputies arrive on a scene, they are assessing the incident and making quick determinations about which agency assets to deploy. Beyond securing the crime scene, determining what happened, and collecting evidence to support the investigation, our first responders are thinking about addressing the needs of victims and their families.

Our Victim Assistance Unit team members work their regular jobs within the unit but are also on call to respond to active scenes as needed. SMART teammates work around the clock on the weekends when the need is the greatest.

We see this experienced team focused on serving victims as a valuable component of our agency’s overall response efforts. Their training and backgrounds are as important to the incident as the other specialized units.

Contact Us

If you want to report abuse, reach out to our Victim Assistance Line at 713-274-9369 or find a victim advocate in your patrol district here. For more information about victim resources, click here to download our brochure.

During this challenging time, many victims may feel compelled to cling to their homes and family. But no one should feel obligated to remain in an abusive relationship of any form.

This type of violence was a public crisis long before the pandemic and is believed to be an underreported crime. There have been 73 murders since January – 19 of those murders were family violence related. And several other homicides involving domestic violence have been referred to a grand jury.

As a community, we can keep an eye out for potential victims and pay attention to whether a situation seems dangerous for a neighbor, friend, or family member. When you suspect something is happening, trust your instincts and say something.

We encourage victims to come to us for assistance or to reach out to one of the many organizations in our region whose mission is to end domestic and sexual violence for all. We are here for you.

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Message from Sheriff Ed Gonzalez – Meet Our Boarding Home Detail

For many of our struggling neighbors, boarding homes are a last resort to avoid homelessness. These residential facilities can be a viable, low-cost housing option for the working poor, elderly, disabled, and those with mental health issues. A properly run boarding home offers community, safety, and shelter to people in need.

The state defines boarding homes as facilities housing at least three people who are disabled or elderly and not related to the owner. The homes offer basic services to the tenants but do not administer the same level of care provided by state-licensed assisted living facilities.
Although our region has a reputation for housing affordability, there are still housing challenges and a need to provide more affordable housing opportunities. We need boarding homes, so we must work to make sure they’re safe.

Over the past year, the discovery of boarding homes with deplorable living conditions and rampant exploitation and neglect motivated state legislators and county officials to crack down on violators and take a closer look at boarding home regulations beyond the city.

Earlier this year, Texas lawmakers passed boarding home reform bills that enhance the penalty for operating a home without a permit to a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail or a $2,000 fine. It also included a measure that created a Class A misdemeanor for failing to report abuse in a boarding home. The new laws take effect on Sept. 1.
In March, Harris County Commissioners Court approved regulations that require a permit to operate a boarding home in unincorporated areas. In response to the mandated occupancy restrictions, background checks, and annual safety inspections, the Sheriff’s Office formed a Boarding Home Detail to serve as the permit administrator for the county. It’s the first of its kind for our agency.

Our Boarding Home Detail proactively identifies, permits, and addresses any ongoing issues associated with boarding homes throughout Harris County. The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office inspects the homes before the permits are granted.

“We’re doing all we can to ensure the boarding home facilities receive a permit and are in compliance by September,” said Deputy Investigator Lowry, one of two investigators assigned to the Boarding Home Detail. “We’re sharing the state model standards, providing mock inspections, and educational touchpoints.”

“The first step is contacting the homes to see if they meet the definition of a boarding home. Then we work with them to get them permitted. At the end of the day, these facilities are providing some of our most vulnerable neighbors with a home. We just want to ensure that every operator has the well-being and safety of its residents in mind.”

Sgt. Tschudy, who leads the newly formed investigative team, says the detail initially identified more than 100 facilities that may fall under the state’s definition of a boarding home through research, reviewing reports, and outreach. After further research, BHD says there are about 60 boarding homes that will all need a permit by the time the law takes effect.

The detail has two dedicated deputy investigators who work collaboratively with our Crimes Against Elderly and Disabled Unit to target crimes of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. They also partner with the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, Texas Adult Protective Services, Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and other public safety entities. We also serve as part of a multi-disciplinary team called the Senior Justice Assessment Center to provide services to seniors through assessments, treatment referrals, and education to address the unique needs of elder abuse.

Before the regulations, it wasn’t uncommon for our deputies to learn about a boarding home and the conditions in them during a call for service. Left unchecked, the residents in these homes can find themselves living in difficult circumstances.

Many of the new regulations address the general condition of the homes – from fixing appliances that don’t work to providing sufficient space for residents to secure their clothing and personal belongings. As part of this permitting process, owners, staff, and volunteers register with the county and undergo criminal background checks.

Deputy Investigator Lowry added, “We’re walking them through the online permitting process and using the Texas Boarding Home model standards as a guide for what we inspect for and what is required. It’s a time-consuming process with many parts, but we are taking the boarding home operators through every step.”

“We’re also talking to the residents that live in these homes about their experiences. We want them to feel like it’s their home. That’s the goal.”

We’re proud to take a holistic enforcement approach to these regulations. For more information about our newly formed Boarding Home Detail, visit our website here.

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Message from Sheriff Ed Gonzalez – In Loving Memory of Deputy Shaun Waters

Our Sheriff’s Office family is saddened by the heartbreaking loss of our brother and teammate, Deputy Shaun Waters, who fell victim to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, we stood with our extended law enforcement family at the City of Southside Place Police Department to salute a remarkable public servant, husband, and father. The honor cordon and funeral procession were uplifting reminders of our camaraderie and promise to forever be by each other’s side.
Deputy Waters was part of a family of public servants. His wife, Arsolanda, is a sergeant with the City of Southside Place Police Department. She began her law enforcement career at the Sheriff’s Office as a detention officer inside the county jail and later swore the same sacred oath as her husband when she earned her deputy badge.

Deputy Waters joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2010 and served in many capacities throughout our agency, including as a detention officer, a patrol field training officer in west Harris County, and a firearms instructor at our training academy.

Deputy Waters’ profound impact on those who knew him was evident in the many stories and memories shared by his teammates over the past week. He was most remembered for his endless love for helping others.

His greatest passion was teaching and mentoring the next generation of deputies. Whether it was in the field, inside the classroom, or at the firearms range, Deputy Waters was known as a true servant leader. He always made himself available to his teammates.

Firearms Range at Sheriff’s Office Training Academy with Senior Deputy Delaine

When Deputy Delaine, a firearms instructor at our academy, met him several years ago, he jokingly remembered that Deputy Waters wasn’t always a proficient shooter.

“But he kept trying,” Deputy Delaine said. “He had a relentless interest in getting better and took it upon himself to improve. He listened. He worked hard. It’s who he was.”

Deputy Delaine added, “He trained some of the best deputies in our ranks. He wanted them to know every aspect of the job. Whether it was patrol training or firearms tactics, he was known as a pillar of knowledge.”

Deputy Waters at the Firearms Range

Sgt. Robbennolt, our patrol training coordinator, says Deputy Waters was part of a proactive joint effort a few years ago that made our Field Training Program what it is today. It included writing positions for the role of Field Training Administrator, teaching more classes at the academy, and evaluating our patrol tactics and procedures. It was about being more efficient, innovative, and safe.

He talked to his fellow field training officers about ways to better help new deputies who needed to improve in certain areas, such as traffic stops. People cared for him well beyond his work here at the Sheriff’s Office.

He set an example of safe and professional weapons handling and firearms training. And he drove home the responsibility for public safety and personal safety to cadets, laterals, and deputies.

Leadership Development Institute Graduation, 2020

Deputy Waters was also a proud graduate of our agency’s Leadership Development Institute (LDI), a selective leadership program for rising team members that teaches a culture of servant leadership accountability. He embodied LDI’s mission and shared a commitment to learning and growth.

Deputy Waters touched many lives, and his legacy lives on through the countless deputies he guided and mentored to be tomorrow’s leaders. We will keep our sister in blue, Arsolanda, and their two children in our hearts and prayers.

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Message from Sheriff Ed Gonzalez – Missing in Harris County Day

In 2020, 10,524 new missing person cases were filed in Harris County. 7,355 of those cases were missing children. Missing person cases can include runaway children, family abductions, victims of kidnapping or other violent crimes, and persons with mental disabilities who have wandered.

On Saturday, August 7, we join the Texas Center for the Missing and other agencies with a mission to find missing persons for Missing in Harris County Day. This annual event brings together law enforcement agencies, social service organizations, and missing person networks to help our community navigate the missing person system through connections, resources, and support.

Missing in Harris County Day
Saturday, August 7
10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Children’s Assessment Center
2500 Bolsover St. Houston, Texas 77005

You can complete the 3-step process for filing a missing persons report, and learn about the next steps to take:

  1. Report a Missing Person
  2. Missing Persons Database Entry
  3. Voluntary Identification Swab Submissions

A Joint Effort To Bring Our Loved Ones Home

  • The Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Houston Police Department will take reports for missing persons and updates from the families of the missing.
  • A representative will enter missing person information into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) information clearinghouse and resource center.
  • Forensic professionals will collect voluntary familial DNA identification samples onsite to submit into a missing person database.
  • Bilingual staff will be in attendance to help Spanish speakers access resources and complete a missing person report.
  • Family members with a missing loved one can participate in a private roundtable discussion and support group.
  • There will be panel discussions addressing the issue of missing persons.

What To Bring

Loved ones should plan to bring information to the event for data entry or information updates in the national missing persons database.

  • Photos of the missing person with any identifying features, such as tattoos or birthmarks, or personal items, such as favorite earrings
  • X-rays, dental or medical records
  • Police reports or other identifying documents that can be filed
  • At least one biological relative from the mother’s side of the missing person to submit DNA identification samples via cheek swab
  • Photos, posters, or literature to display on the Wall of the Missing to commemorate missing loved ones and for all event attendees to view information on the missing persons

Collaborative Approach

The Texas Center for the Missing is a valuable partner that plays a significant role in impacting the issue of missing persons through awareness, prevention education, training, and emergency programs. Our partners at TCM understand the need for shared resources and strategic collaborations.

“It’s a privilege to put this badge on every day and do what I do,” said Investigator O’Leary, who focuses on cold cases in our Missing Persons Unit.

“For me, staying in contact with the families of the missing, no matter how much time passes, lets them know someone still cares about finding their loved one.”

Our Missing Persons Unit takes a coordinated approach to search for and locate people who have disappeared.

Our investigators gather critical information to locate the missing person, conduct thorough interviews, identify the circumstances of the disappearance, and initiate the collection of DNA samples from the missing person’s family members.

They work with law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal levels, such as Texas DPS and the FBI, and advocacy organizations.

Our hearts are with the families of every missing person. May you find hope and strength as you continue your search for answers. We are with you. For more information on Missing in Harris County Day, visit the TCM website or email support@tcftm.org.

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