Texas Sheriff Apologizes to Muslim Group for Racist E-Mails

Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas apologized to a local Muslim group Monday for e-mails containing derogatory jokes about Muslims that were circulated by members of his staff.

Thomas also plans to suspend the commander, Chief Deputy Mike Smith, who heads the office's detention command, the Houston Chronicle reported Monday. The newspaper said Thomas did not know when that suspension would begin or whether other staff members would also be suspended.

Thomas' appearance at the Islamic Society of Greater Houston marked his second apology regarding the e-mails, which included a message from a top commander that mocked the Islamic religion. In another e-mail, the name Muhammad, the prophet and founder of Islam, is used to make a joke about eating pork, which is prohibited by the religion.

"If anyone was offended, I sincerely apologize," Thomas said. "I hope it's not systemic of the department."

Thomas has been the center of several recent controversies, including a civil rights lawsuit alleging unlawful surveillance. Questions have also been raised about his relationship with a county contractor and his decision to delete 750,000 e-mails around the time former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal faced scrutiny over his own electronic message.

The sheriff department e-mails were revealed after Houston television station KTRK sued to stop their deletion. The station reported last week that several e-mails could be considered racist, insensitive or off-color.