Houston combating Harvey looters with mandatory jail time

The City of Houston and surrounding counties are not playing around with looters taking advantage of the massive floods caused by Harvey.

“People displaced or harmed in this storm are not going to be easy prey,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said, noting that burglarizing a home in a disaster area could carry a life sentence under Texas law. Prosecutors said at least 14 suspected looters were arrested, and Brazoria County announced a curfew in mandatory-evacuation areas for Tuesday night.

“Anyone who tries to take advantage of this storm to break into homes or businesses should know that they are going to feel the full weight of the law,” Ogg said. “Offenders will be processed around the clock without delay.”

The Montgomery County District Attorney’s office posted a warning on Monday that any looters, thieves or burglars caught victimizing area residents would be arrested and served up mandatory jail time, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“(District Attorney Brett) Ligon announced today that his office will seek prison or jail time in each and every forthcoming case where the defendant stands charged with theft (looting), burglary, robbery, or any similar crime committed during Hurricane Harvey,” the DA’s office posted on Facebook. “Leniency and probation will be off the table for these offenses committed during this time.”

According to Montgomery County officials, state law “allows for enhanced punishment ranges for certain offenses committed during a declared natural disaster event.”

Ligon also commented on the need to enforce the law.

“[L]aw-enforcement and first responder efforts have been tremendous in our County these last few days and they must remain focused,” Ligon said in a released statement. “We stand behind all our law-enforcement agencies and will support their decisions to shut down and immediately arrest suspected criminals during this difficult time for our community.”

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said during a news conference Tuesday that armed robbers were apprehended overnight and a “handful” of looters also were taken into custody. He didn’t say just how many have been arrested on charges related to looting.

Acevedo says he’s spoken with the Harris County district attorney’s office to ensure anyone suspected of looting is prosecuted. He also says he’ll lobby judges and prosecutors to secure the most severe punishment Texas law allows.

State law allows for penalty enhancements for crimes like burglary and robbery that occur during a state of disaster.

Clyde Cain of the Louisiana Cajun Navy’s described a chaotic scene out on the floodwaters. The Cajun Navy is a group of volunteers that formed in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. They have dispatched people to help during Harvey.

Cain says some people are posing as rescuers and are robbing people. He says the Cajun Navy is being very careful when they approach stores that may be the target of looters.

The sherriff for Harris County also issued a caveat for looters on Twitter.

“To crooks out there, be warned! No looting & burglaries. We will not have it. My jail is open and you will be arrested & charged,” Gonzalez posted on Monday morning.

Click here for more from the Houston Chronicle.