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HOUSTON, Texas -- A Houston police supervisor fired in the fallout after roughly 30 guns went missing from the property room won his job back Tuesday, arguing he had little control over widespread security failures though top HPD officials knew about the problems and did nothing.
During more than six hours of testimony before the Houston Civil Service Commission, Allen Baquet, a 25-year city employee, and his lawyer argued that lapses in security allowed people with criminal backgrounds to access the property room and swipe guns.
"HPD's own supervisors called conditions at the property room horrific today, and they want to place the blame for that solely on my client," Lloyd Kelley said. "When Baquet was sent to the property room (in 2004), it already was failing. It did not have the right security. It did not have the right personnel. People working there had criminal backgrounds."
The commission, which hears employee appeals of discipline, voted 2-1 that Baquet should receive a 60-day suspension and be reinstated.
Executive Assistant Chief Martha Montalvo, HPD's top-ranking official at the hearing, said she had no comment about Baquet's reinstatement.
HPD officials determined that more than 30 guns had gone missing over six months beginning in October 2006. During that time various people - including contract workers repairing phone lines and a temporary employee awaiting trial on aggravated robbery charges who police say took some of the guns - had access to the room.
HPD fired Baquet on May 9 after officials concluded that he had failed to take precautions when property room staff discovered guns were missing. Baquet opted to protest his discipline, culminating in Tuesday's long and heated hearing.
Raps chain of command
During one exchange, Kelley suggested that blame and punishment should fall on Montalvo, who is in charge of the division that performs employee background checks as well as the property room.
"It appears your whole chain of command is falling apart," Kelley said.
Montalvo later replied that Baquet failed in the most basic of his duties.
"There is no policy that says use common sense when you know there are problems," she testified. "I expect my managers to manage. That is why they are there."
Kelley also questioned one of Baquet's supervisors, Assistant Chief Norman Wong, asking why he did nothing to secure the property room after the first guns vanished. Wong said he believed internal affairs and other divisions were taking actions.
Chief Harold Hurtt first publicly acknowledged the missing guns in April 2007, when he said that Baquet would be suspended while the matter was investigated.
Suspected what happened
For months after Hurtt's comments, HPD refused to release details on how the guns disappeared, but according to records from HPD's internal investigation obtained by the Chronicle, employees suspected almost immediately what had happened.
In fact as early as March 2007, after property room employees discovered a missing Uzi sub-machine gun, Baquet suggested in a letter to Hurtt that investigators look at contract workers repairing city phone lines for Houston-based DC Services.
In May 2007, officers videotaped the repairmen pinching trivial items from a police substation where they were repairing phone lines. They confessed to taking items from other police facilities and suggested that a co-worker had taken guns.
HPD investigators also determined another temporary employee, awaiting trial on aggravated robbery charges "stole numerous weapons" and sold them on the black market, " according to HPD documents.
The reinstatement is on one level a welcome opportunity to continue his career, Baquet said, but on another level, he fears returning to HPD.
"I am not sure that I am better off than I was before," he said. "Are they always going to be watching me? Am I always going to have to walk on eggshells? We will see, I guess."