Criminal inquiry opened into Tampa police detective

TAMPA — A detective who worked on the investigation a New Tampa woman accused of killing her two children is the subject of a federal criminal investigation, according to a court document obtained Tuesday.

Federal investigators are looking into Eric Houston, 53, a homicide detective who worked on the Julie Schenecker investigation, and he has been placed on administrative duty, a Tampa police spokeswoman said. Exactly why Houston is under investigation is unclear. The police spokeswoman would not comment on the case and Houston did not return a reporter's phone calls on Tuesday.

Houston's wife, La Joyce Houston, was fired from the Tampa Police Department in 2013 based on allegations that she committed welfare fraud. Police said they'd caught La Joyce Houston, then a 16-year agency veteran making $91,400 a year, conspiring to use an inmate's food stamps. The inmate, Rita Girvin, is the biological mother of a girl Houston adopted years ago.

La Joyce Houston has been charged with two counts of food stamp fraud and one count of grand theft. Her attorney, Lyann Goudie, said she had no reason to believe Eric Houston had become entangled in his wife's case.

"This case has nothing to do with whatever might or might not be going on with him," Goudie said, adding that from her review of the police reports, it appeared the husband had no involvement in the charges being brought against his wife.

In other news related to the Schenecker trial, a Hillsborough circuit judge on Tuesday ordered that an interview Schenecker gave to two Tampa police detectives can be included in her upcoming trial Monday.

In 2011, hours after police discovered Schenecker wearing a bloody bathrobe and found her two children fatally shot in their home, she was brought to police headquarters for questioning. In an interview with detectives, she told them she'd been drinking the night before, had spent the last eight weeks in bed and had been diagnosed as bipolar.

She was shaking, detectives later said, a possible reaction to the medications she was taking. "Are my kids coming in later?" she asked them.

Schenecker's attorneys have argued that the interview be excluded from her trial, as the detectives read Schenecker her Miranda rights at a time when she was unable to understand what was happening. They've also argued that the detectives didn't adequately explain to her that she had a right to hire an attorney.

In an order released Tuesday, Circuit Judge Emmett L. Battles sided with prosecutors.

The Tampa detectives "were not evasive and did not attempt to minimize defendant's rights in any manner," he wrote.

Criminal inquiry opened into Tampa police detective 04/22/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2014 11:36am]

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