Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge & Lawmaker Tussle in Cop-Killer Case

HOUSTON (CN) - Against the wishes of a Texas state senator, a judge Monday refused to expedite the transfer of an alleged cop killer to a state mental hospital to undergo treatment to restore his competency.

Shannon Miles, 31, is in Harris County Jail, charged with the capital murder of Harris County sheriff's Officer Darren Goforth.

Goforth was shot 15 times from behind on Aug. 28, 2015 as he filled up his squad car at a Houston gas station.

Harris County Judge Susan Brown on Feb. 9 ordered that Miles, who is schizophrenic, be transferred to North Texas State Hospital for 120 days to restore his competency. Prosecution and defense experts agreed he does not understand the charge he faces.

Because 61 other Harris County inmates are ahead of Miles on a waiting list for transfer to the hospital, Miles's attorney Anthony Osso said at the time that he didn't expect Miles to be moved until May.

But state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, called the Texas Department of State Health Services on Feb. 10 and arranged for Miles to be given a bed immediately, citing potential threats to his safety in Harris County Jail from deputies angry about Goforth's killing.

Osso filed an emergency motion to stop Miles' transfer on Feb. 12, saying he needed time to gather Miles' medical records to be sent with him to the hospital, and that expedited transfer would violate Miles' due process rights.

Judge Brown agreed on Feb. 16 to delay Miles' transfer to give Osso a few weeks to gather medical records, and reset the emergency motion hearing for Monday.

Brown removed her glasses and rolled them in her fingers at the Monday hearing as Osso told her why should be not be moved to the front of the line.

Miles, tall and slim in an oversized yellow jumpsuit, leaned back in a leather chair at the defense table and rested a closed fist on his chin throughout the 20-minute hearing.

Osso said he's satisfied that Miles is safe in solitary confinement in a medical unit of the jail. He said jail administrators gave him a tour of Miles' cell, a dayroom and a recreation room to which Miles has access, and that other inmates and "nonessential jail personnel" can't interact with him.

Brown said she has mixed feelings.

"There's nobody who wants to get this case to trial more than me," she said. "I'm also struggling with the idea that Miles is no more or less important than anyone who's on the list. Some of them have been waiting for more than 120 days."

The judge was unmoved. "I'm going to order the Harris County Sheriff to maintain Miles at No. 61 on the list," she said. She made the order effective immediately.

She also addressed a motion that Osso filed on Feb. 24, to stop Whitmire from interfering with the case.

"In securing a bed for Mr. Miles, [Whitmire] has indicated that he wants to see Mr. Miles brought to trial quickly, at whatever cost," Osso wrote in the motion . "He has sent a strong message that competency must be restored, and quickly. As a powerful political figure, doctors will surely take note and potentially err on the side of finding competency restored."


Osso states in the motion that Whitmire's position on a state finance committee that plays a key role in funding state hospitals could influence doctors to prematurely declare Miles competent.

But Brown said at the hearing: "I don't really know how I would preclude Whitmire from interfering in the case."

She did, however, instruct Osso to draft an order immediately for her to sign stating that the Harris County Sheriff's Department and state health department cannot order Miles to be moved on the hospital waiting list.

"So if someone moves him [in line] I can ask for a show cause hearing and ask for contempt of court," Osso said in court.

Whitmire, who attended the hearing, said afterward that he's disappointed the judge didn't expedite Mile's transfer to the hospital.

Whitmire said he did not get involved in the case when Miles was arrested in late August because there were no grounds for him to intervene until Feb. 9, when Brown declared Miles incompetent.

"If you look at the judge's order from the date they determined he was incompetent, it says 'He shall be assigned to the State of Texas, to the Department of Health, for assignment when they're ready for him,'" Whitmire said.

"In other words, after he left court that day, I thought they were serious about getting Mr. Miles to a hospital. It was my understanding that with the judge's incompetency order he became a ward of the State of Texas and he would be taken to a state hospital when the state agency is ready to receive him. That's why I intervened."

Whitmire became more riled up the longer he talked to reporters, until he was almost shouting, his frustration showing in his red, perfectly shaved head.

"It was not emphasized in court today that he is a very unique defendant. He's the only one on the waiting list charged with taking the life of a co-worker of the people at the Harris County Jail who are in charge of his safety and welfare," Whitmire said.

The senator said Osso doesn't know what goes on at the jail at 2, 3 or 4 a.m., and that he's seen video of Harris County detention officers letting "defendants come into contact with each other," as a way to dole out punishment.

"They don't have to be the one to abuse a person. They let other people do their dirty work," Whitmire said. "The bottom line is a sick man belongs in a hospital and I'm disappointed, but I have done my job and now it's in the hands of the people who conducted this hearing today."

Whitmire said state lawmakers have asked the University of Texas Health Science Center to start a program by which competency restoration can be done in Harris County so mentally troubled inmates will not have to be transferred to a state hospital.

Whitmire said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked him to commission a study on conditions of state jails in response to the death of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman who was found dead in her Waller County Jail cell in July last year, three days after an altercation with a state trooper during a traffic stop. Officials say she hanged herself with a plastic bag, but her family disputes the story.

Whitmire cited the case of Terry Goodwin, a mentally ill man whom Harris County jailers let languish for weeks in a cell with a toilet clogged with feces.

Goodwin's case came to light when whistleblowers contacted KTRK, Houston's ABC affiliate. The county paid Goodwin a $400,000 settlement in June 2015.

"For two months, there was a sign on the cell that said 'Do Not Enter,'" Whitmire said. "[Goodwin] had 150 food trays in his cell. His family said he didn't want to meet with them. The Harris County Jail isn't a safe place on any given day for anyone."

After Whitmire finished venting and got on the elevator, Osso had some choice words for the senator.

"We cannot have politicians interfering with the judicial process and utilizing their power and authority as a legislator asking for things to be done within the judiciary," Osso told reporters.

Whitmire's involvement is the latest wrinkle in a case filled with them.

A woman told investigators shortly after Goforth's slaying that she was his mistress, that she saw the murder, and that she was meeting with him at the gas station, according to a Brady disclosure filed with the court.

Osso says that if he can prove Goforth was not at the gas station in his official capacity as a police officer, then Miles' capital murder charge could be reduced to murder, which could save him from the death penalty.

Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman fired two sheriff's officers, one in October 2015 and another in early February, for having sexual relations with Goforth's alleged mistress. One of the fired officers was assigned to investigate Goforth's murder.

Hickman fired a third deputy on Feb. 12 for sending the same woman emails soliciting her for sex.

Follow @cam_langford
Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.