Sean Teare started his law career at the Harris County District Attorney's Office and returned in 2017, shortly after Kim Ogg was elected. He said he was "fully on board" with Ogg's vision at the time, which included reducing the strain on the local criminal justice system, bringing justice to victims of crimes and making the Houston area a safer place.
Six years later, Teare has cut ties with his former boss and wants to replace her.
Teare, a 43-year-old Houston native and longtime leader of the DA's vehicular crimes division, resigned in February and this week announced he is challenging Ogg in the Democratic primary in 2024. He referred to the DA's office as "broken" and accused Ogg of being more driven by political interests than the pursuit of justice.
There have been instances in which prosecutors were forced to either pursue or drop cases because of the publicity they attracted or because of the people involved, according to Teare, who said he once was told to stop investigating a business that might have contributed to drunken driving because the owner of the business had donated to Ogg's campaign.
"I left because the administration and the leadership at the DA's office under the current administration is failing at the job," Teare said Wednesday ahead of a campaign kickoff event. "The prosecutors that are doing the work day in and day out are completely disenfranchised. Morale is lower than I've ever seen at any DA's office. The promises that we were all led to believe in 2016 were not being followed through."
Teare is the first to emerge as a 2024 primary challenger to Ogg and said he suspects there could be others in the months ahead. Ogg was initially elected in 2016 and won another four years in office in 2020, when she received nearly 54 percent of the vote in a race against Republican Mary Nan Huffman, who subsequently was elected to the Houston City Council.
Earlier in 2020, Ogg beat three challengers in the Democratic primary without the need for a runoff.
"In politics, opponents are expected," Michael Kolenc, a spokesperson for Ogg's re-election campaign, said in a statement when asked to comment on Teare's candidacy. "DA Ogg remains focused on solutions to Harris County's crime in order to help make Houston the safest city in America."
The DA's office publicly criticized Teare shortly after he resigned, which Teare described as a political jab. Prosecutors wrote in court filings that Teare had violated office policy by offering an unauthorized pretrial intervention agreement to a man accused of failing to stop and render aid in a fatal traffic collision in 2020.
That offer has been revoked by a judge, according to Harris County court documents, but Teare claims he did not go against office policy and that such an offer was the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances of the case, adding that prosecutors have little chance of securing a conviction in a trial.
"To suggest that I would just on the way out throw an offer on one of these cases that I have spent the last six-and-a-half years of my life dealing with, day in and day out, is quite frankly very insulting," Teare said. "It goes directly to how this administration likes to bully people."
Teare acknowledged that some of the reforms Ogg implemented early during her tenure have been successful and helped to reduce a longstanding case backlog in the Harris County court system, such as offering pretrial intervention for low-level marijuana offenses as well as defendants who have mental health issues. He said he would expand on those programs, including by offering pretrial intervention services to low-level felony drug offenders, and would generally be more selective in deciding which cases to prosecute.
A recent drugs-related initiative by Ogg, which aims to reduce the case backlog and county jail population while improving the success rate of convictions, drew criticism from Teare. The policy, implemented in April, states that the DA's office will not accept possession charges for suspected drugs weighing less than 4 ounces until the reporting law enforcement agency confirms the substance's composition through lab testing, unless the defendant also is accused of a violent crime or otherwise considered a risk to public safety.
Teare called the policy change the "worst possible decision you could have made," saying delayed charges and subsequent trials for small amounts of drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine could end up costing taxpayers more money while being detrimental to the people involved and the public at large.
"It's going to cause interactions between law enforcement and these individuals to be so much more aggressive and dangerous when those warrants get run in a year," Teare said. "We're going to see an escalation in violence, we're going to see an escalation in officer-involved shootings and we're going to see more lives destroyed. It is strictly a political game six-and-a-half years after (Ogg) took office, once she determined that she was going to have a primary opponent. It's political grandstanding."
Teare said his experience at the DA's office would make him well-suited to improve its operations, adding that the departure of seasoned prosecutors in recent years has led to a lower rate of convictions for offenses such as murder and sexual assault. He began interning at the DA's office in 2005 and joined the staff two years later upon passing the state bar exam, before leaving in 2010 to work for a personal injury law firm.
Teare returned in 2017 to work for Ogg and said he has long aspired to one day hold the position of Harris County district attorney. His experiences during the last several years prompted him to run against Ogg now, he said, adding that he has the leadership skills necessary to do the job.
"I've felt compelled to do this for a long time," Teare said. "The timing is probably different because of who's in the office now, but I think eventually I would have gotten here regardless. I love this office, I love its mission and I want to help it be the best version that it can be."