Reacting to the latest controversy about his office in recent months, Sheriff Tommy Thomas on Monday apologized in person to a local Muslim group for insensitive e-mails sent by members of his staff.
Monday's appearance before the Islamic Society of Greater Houston was Thomas' second apology in recent days over staff e-mails that surfaced in media reports last week, including one message from a top commander that mocks Islam's core tenets.
"I think we've opened some lines of communication that certainly may not have existed before," Thomas said of the meeting. "We will have a continuing dialogue."
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, the sheriff also responded to concerns about e-mails sent by people in his office that could be offensive to Chinese, Hispanics and others.
Also Monday, Thomas said he would discipline his jail commander, Chief Deputy Mike Smith, who forwarded one e-mail that used the name Muhammad, the prophet and founder of Islam, to make a joke about eating pork.
"The e-mails were against the religion, and they made mockery of that, and Muslim people were offended," said Tasleem Siddiqui, of the Pakistani American Association of Greater Houston. "I think it was in his benefit that he took this step and moved forward; otherwise, it could be more detrimental."
Smith, a 32-year veteran, said Monday that he regretted forwarding an e-mail he received with religiously insensitive cartoons.
He said the sheriff told him he would be docked a week's pay: about $2,800.
"It was stupid for me to forward that. It was just cartoons regarding Muslim terrorists," Smith said. "I certainly have a great deal of respect for the Muslim community. They are a very law-abiding community. I regret that that's being viewed as anti-Muslim because it's anti-terrorist."
Another e-mail discussed "the number of foreigners that own gas stations" in a discussion about possible terror attacks and fires.
"This office should be our first line of defense against future terrorist attacks. Instead it is a warehouse for poorly thought-out scenarios and offensive commentary," said Thomas' opponent in this fall's election, City Councilman Adrian Garcia, a former Houston police officer. (MORE)