Midlothian Officials Respond To Report of Controversial Audit

Midlothian PD SUV
Photo Midlothian PD

MIDLOTHIAN – The City of Midlothian Criminal Investigation Division was recently put in the spotlight when the department’s investigative processes and procedures were questioned after the results of an outside audit were reported.

A news station earlier this week reported the audit was never to be released to the public. According to Midlothian Mayor Justin Coffman, that’s not true.

“The council ordered the full audit report to be reviewed by the Attorney General’s office for redacting any necessary information for legal reasons,” Coffman explained. “As a stopgap measure, the council wanted to release the executive summary from our City Attorney as soon as possible, which we did, and the report was made available to the public upon request.”

In question was a Midlothian Independent School District student in middle school who reported a situation in her classroom in which she alleged she saw a fellow student sitting a few rows in front of her masturbating during class.

The incident happened on May 15, 2023, and was reported by the student immediately.

The Midlothian Police Department took action to interview the student who reported the incident, additional students, and the teacher. According to the investigation, the majority of those questioned reported they did not see the incident occur.

The victim was interviewed the following day in a forensic interview by the local Child Advocacy Center. A second witness was also interviewed on June 9, 2023. Other witnesses were interviewed by additional appropriate school personnel.

In June, the victim’s father contacted the Midlothian Police Department asking for information on the case because he had not heard from the detective.

Around this time, Detective Jason O’Briant, who had been assigned to the case, interviewed the accused and his mother. The accused denied the allegations against him.

In August, Detective O’Briant was asked again by supervisors what the status of the case was, and he said it was being reviewed by “Multidisciplinary Discipline Team” in order to take it to the District Attorney’s office for review.

The victim’s father again called the Midlothian Police Department in late August, looking for an update on the investigation.

Detective O’Briant’s supervisor was called in for details on the investigation as well as asking Internal Affairs to get involved, which they did.

It was determined Detective O’Briant violated Midlothian Police Department policy. He was offered a pre-determination hearing and refused, accepted the policy violations and was given a one-day suspension. O’Briant retired the following day, September 29, but he had already put in for his retirement two-weeks prior.

Additional questioning into the case along with witness interviews occurred over the course of the months into October 2023 by a department supervisor.

The Ellis County Sheriff’s Office also reviewed the case in December 2023 and reported that they did not discover any investigative deficiencies or new approaches.

At his retirement, Detective O’Briant was working on not just one case but 30 cases, some involving sexual assaults, etc. This, in a small CID Department, with only five general assignment detectives and an overly full case load that included from 435 open cases in May 2023 to 465 open cases in October 2023.

The Midlothian Police Department does acknowledge O’Briant did not do his job maintaining communication with the juvenile’s father.

During the audit, other cases became known that O’Briant had not handled within Police Department guidelines. For example, suspects identified but warrants not written or signed and cases in which it did not appear O’Briant had begun working the case.

Midlothian Police Chief Carl Smith readily acknowledged department policies should be reviewed annually and that this case was not handled efficiently.

In November 2023, The Midlothian City Council hired an outside audit company to investigate the procedures of the Midlothian Police Department. The cost of the audit was $25,000. Mayor Coffman said this money came from the General Fund and was in the budget, as any city would have in its budget, for contingency situations such as this one.

The report found that Midlothian PD’s supervisors and command staff were not properly held accountable. In the same report, Chief Smith accepted responsibility for his department’s failure to follow procedure.

One suggestion in the audit was that Midlothian PD supervisors have limited accessory duties in order to have more time to hold staff accountable for their job performance in consideration of staff being stretched too thin. Accessory duties included leading a property and evidence department, participation in SWAT, the bicycle unit, and the warrant team.

The audit report also indicated detectives are responsible for school security during drop-off and pick-up, which was incorrectly reported. CID investigators are not asked to assist with MISD presence on campus. It was under extreme cases when investigators were needed and had only happened three times in the last 24 months in MISD.

CRIMES report management system software was suggested to track CID’s work. That system had already been utilized, with the department experiencing glitches due to the most recent update of the software.

According to Chief Smith, other suggested items in the report have been implemented or adjusted accordingly to comply with policy.

Also, this month, the Midlothian Police Department moved staff to ensure more direct supervision over CID to maintain a consistent flow of conversation between detectives and victims’ cases. Each sergeant who has been redirected to supervise CID detectives is now tasked with daily supervision and evaluation for better efficiency. The personnel moves will be completed by June.

“The assessment was about the Criminal Investigation Division’s Policies and Procedures, not about the investigation practices of a certain case,” Chief Smith said. “The assessment resulted in an action plan that we are in the process of implementing. This includes evaluating operating policies and procedures and ensuring that they meet or exceed the best practices of modern law enforcement agencies. The officers and investigative staff of the Midlothian Police Department work diligently every day. As a department, we stand committed to excellence and will focus our efforts to do whatever it takes to ensure that our policies, procedures, processes, and practices reflect that commitment. As chief of the Midlothian Police Department, I stand by the Command Staff and all the officers who show up day in and day out to keep Midlothian a safe place to live and work.”

He also reiterated, “Any questions about the outcome of the investigation of a certain case should be directed to the Ellis County District Attorney’s office.”

Coffman also weighed in, concluding “Regarding the complaints about the Midlothian Criminal Investigative Division, the council ordered an audit, the audit warranted there were policy and procedure items to look into to develop an action plan. We asked the chief to do so, and he did that and presented an action plan to the council. I stand behind the Chief of Police and the Police Department. I believe in them and our city manager.”