Fort Bend County Bloodhound Trainer Sued In Federal Court For Second Time In 11 Months

Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Deputy and bloodhound trainer Keith Pikett has been sued in federal court for the second time in less than a year over a scent line-up involving his dogs.

Both lawsuits were filed by the same attorney, Rex Easley Jr. of Victoria.

The most recent suit was filed Tuesday on behalf of Calvin Lee Miller, a 42-year-old Yoakum man arrested in March on charges of sexually assaulting a woman, and robbing another. But DNA evidence cleared him in the cases, and he was released earlier this month from Lavaca County Jail where he’d been incarcerated.

Along with Pikett, Fort Bend County and county Sheriff Milton Wright were named as defendants in the suit. So was the City of Yoakum and Yoakum police investigator Collin Campbell.

Pickett, a longtime bloodhound trainer well known in law enforcement circles, was asked to assist in the case and conducted what’s known as a scent lineup.

Miller’s suit indicates Pickett’s dogs were presented with a swab of cloth that had been wiped across Miller’s skin, along with swabs from other lineup participants. Then the dogs were presented with a blanket taken from the assault victim’s bed. The dogs’ actions indicated Miller’s scent was on the blanket. However, the Victoria Advocate reported that DNA evidence obtained the case excluded Miller from being considered a suspect.

Miller’s suit alleges that the scent line-up was “rigged to be result-oriented, that is, to maliciously and intentionally implicate” Miller.

“…The forensic protocol and methodology used by Defendants rendered the scent line-up not only unreliable but so tainted and cross-contaminated as to be consciously indifferent to the rights of Plaintiff,” the suit states. “Mr. Pikett, the supposed K-9 expert, advised and participated in every flawed procedure used.” The suit suggests those procedures in effect helped deny Miller’s 4th Amendment rights.

Sheriff Wright was named in the suit as being “complicit” in Pikett’s alleged actions, and the suit suggests Wright and Fort Bend County, by failing to “control” Pikett’s actions, had essentially made them “official policy.” The suit also stated that Fort Bend County has benefited from an “income stream” derived from fees paid for Pickett’s work for other law enforcement agencies.

Neither Pikett nor Wright could be reached for comment Wednesday morning. Assistant County Attorney Randy Morse is representing Pikett in the Miller suit and an earlier one stemming from a Victoria murder investigation.

“It’s a far cry from making allegations and proving them in court,” Morse said of the two suits Easley has filed.

Morse denied Fort Bend County enjoys an income stream from Pikett’s work, which he said has been carried out on behalf of the FBI, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Texas Attorney General, and cities including Houston, Bellaire, Pearland, and Galveston.

Morse also said Fort Bend County “didn’t have any policy to violate people’s civil rights.”

The earlier suit stems from the death of Sally Blackwell, a 53-year-old Texas Child Protective Services worker who was abducted from her Victoria home and murdered on March 15, 2006.

A 25-year-old Victoria man, Jeffrey Grinsinger, pleaded guilty to kidnapping and killing the woman.

But before Grinsinger’s confession, former Victoria County Sheriff’s Capt. Michael Buchanek was one of at least two people named in local news reports as a “person of interest” in the case.

In June 2008, Easley filed a federal lawsuit saying Buchanek’s constitutional rights had been violated.

Easley said in the suit that “improbable cause and factual assertions” in a search warrant were used by Victoria County law enforcement officers, who then “began a course of harassment, distress and terror” upon Buchanek.

Seeking unspecified damages, the suit names as defendants the Victoria County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Michael O’Connor, the City of Victoria and several individual law enforcement officials, including Pikett.

Easley contended last summer that Pikett acted with Victoria law enforcement officers to “lead” his bloodhounds from where Blackwell’s body was found to a neighborhood near Buchanek’s house, over a winding 5.5-mile route.

“Pikett didn’t even know where he was going, so how could he be leading them?” Morse said. And he noted that the officers that supposedly colluded with Pikett have been dismissed from the case.

He added that he’d just taken his first look at Miller’s complaint and didn’t want to comment on the allegations.

But of the Buchanek lawsuit, Morse said he doesn’t believe Easley will be able to prove the allegations.

Morse said he noticed similarities in the two suits Easley filed, adding that the Victoria attorney “not only bends some of the facts, he pleads the same thing in both cases.”

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