TPD Chief Castor: Homicide detective fired

A Tampa Police Department homicide detective was fired Thursday following the revelation that he was a target of an ongoing federal grand jury investigation.
 
Eric Houston had been with the agency 24 years, spending a decade investigating homicides. He was placed on administrative duty on April 3 after the investigation began. 
 
The nature of the allegations he faces aren’t yet clear. The police chief refused to give details about what Houston is actually under investigation for, referring to a provision that says federal grand jury proceedings must be kept confidential until there is an indictment.
 
“It’s clear Houston’s alleged behavior is so egregious that it is necessary to take this step immediately,” said Police Chief Jane Castor after a meeting Thursday at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
 
Houston worked on high-profile cases involving convicted cop killer Dontae Morris and Julie Schenecker, who is scheduled to go on trial next week on charges she killed her two teenage children.
 
He has 19 open cases, but Castor said she doesn’t believe they are in jeopardy as a result of the grand jury investigation. In three of those cases Houston served as the lead detective. Those will be reviewed, and two will be re-investigated in light of this news. 
 
One of those cases that will need to be re-investigated is the death investigation surrounding Russell Alonzo, 20. The USF student died April 5, 2013, after falling seven stories to his death at the Malibu USF Apartments in Tampa. According to the medical examiner's office, Alonzo was under the influence of the designer drug 25i. 
 
When ABC Action News told the Alonzo family that Houston had been fired, they were shocked. 
 
"He was compassionate and he was professional. I find it absolutely shocking," the victim's dad Vincent Alonzo said. "Let's just say I'm extremely worried. I don't want to see a year's worth of investigation go down the tubes for something stupid."
 
After the TPD news conference, legal expert Jeff Swartz weighed in on how these allegations could impact cases Houston has been involved with.
 
"Any case that took place before the conduct, it's not going to affect it. Any case that took place after the conduct, but before the State Attorney's Office or the Tampa Police Dept. or the feds knew about it, is questionable depending upon his role," Swartz said.
 
On Thursday, the State Attorney's Office released the following statement: 

"We are working closely with the Tampa Police Department reviewing pending cases in which Eric Houston was involved in some capacity.  We will evaluate each case individually to determine whether Houston’s testimony is required in order to proceed with prosecution.  Because it is common practice in law enforcement to have more than one investigator work each aspect of a homicide or other violent crime investigation, in most cases another law enforcement officer will be able to testify instead of Officer Houston.  For cases in which Officer Houston is an essential witness, we will determine how to proceed on a case-by-case basis.

We will have no further comment at this time."

Castor said the allegations against Houston are unrelated to the welfare fraud and grand theft charges his wife, former TPD Sgt. La Joyce Houston, was fired and arrested for back in October.
 
“It is beyond disheartening to learn that a seasoned detective is capable of criminal wrongdoing,” Castor said, “but we are a very strong organization that holds itself to very high standards, and we have no doubt that we will be able to recover from this."
 
Phone calls to Houston's attorney Thursday were not returned.
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