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Texas Cops Suspended for Homeless Sign Competition

<p>Two police officers held a contest to see how many signs they could take away from the homeless in their district.</p>

Two police officers in Texas spent weeks competing to see who could take the most cardboard signs away from homeless people, even though panhandling doesn't violate any city law.

Nearly two months after the Midland Police Department learned of the game, the two officers, Derek Hester and Daniel Zoelzer, were suspended for three days without pay, according to findings of the internal affairs investigation obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

Homeless persons' advocate groups immediately blasted the department's handling, suggesting that the punishment wasn't harsh enough and that the probe should have been made public much earlier.

The two officers, who did not appeal their suspensions, have been with the department about two years. They both returned emails from the AP declining to be interviewed.

According to the investigation report, eight signs were found in the trunk of Hester's patrol car on Nov. 20 and Zoelzer had thrown the about 10 signs he had confiscated into a city trash container after Hester called him to warn him he had been reprimanded by his superior for having the signs.

The contest between Hester, 25, and Zoelzer, 26, was alluded to in text messages on Nov. 21 obtained by the AP — although it was unclear which of the officers sent each message.

"My bad man when he first ask me about it he didn't seem mad or anything so I just told him me and u were (m)aking a game outta it when we'd trespass them and stuff," one text read.

Another read, "Man this is some bs."

— The Associated Press

Image: A sign confiscated from a homeless person by two Texas police officers
This undated photo provided by the Midland, Texas, Police Department shows a sign confiscated from a homeless person. Officers Derek Hester and Daniel Zoelzer were disciplined with a three-day suspension recently for having a contest to see who could confiscate the most signs. Asked Wednesday, Feb. about why the investigation wasn't made public earlier, city spokeswoman Sara Higgins said it is not the department's standard protocol to announce when an internal affairs investigation is completed.Midland Police Department) via AP