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Investigator in Ashley Estell case says Plano cops drove him out of department

Rhodes wrote a lengthy account in his report of what happened the day they stumbled across Blair, but a day later, Armstrong ordered him to change the report. Armstrong said on the stand during Blair's trial that Rhodes was acting too much like a detective in filling out his report.

"He told me that it had too much detail, that he didn't want the defense getting it and I told him that I wasn't going to do that [alter it], that that report was already in evidence," Rhodes says. "He wanted it changed so he could get credit for something he didn't do, but [altering] it ultimately jeopardized the case."

Rhodes says Armstrong did not want the defense to know Rhodes had gotten in Blair's car, because of the possibility of tainted evidence. When the supervisor ordered the new report, it also omitted how the investigators followed Blair until he stopped.

Rhodes, who retained a copy of his original report, told Collin County Assistant District Attorney J. Bryan Clayton he felt the order was illegal. He repeated the accusation while testifying. Armstrong dismissed the accusations when he took the stand. The prosecuter said later that Rhodes' accusation of perjury and destroying evidence were "completely unfounded and exaggerated."

Yet it came out during the trial that the altered report, whittled down from a two-page report to a single introductory paragraph, could indeed have caused a mistrial according to Clayton, ironically because Rhodes had sat in Blair's car when he directed him into a parking space.

"The fact that Mr. Rhodes had entered Blair's car before it was processed was not reflected in any other written report," Clayton stated in an open letter in support of Rhodes. "This was a highly significant event and failure to reveal it prior to trial could very likely have resulted in a new trial being granted."

Rhodes says he "tried not to touch anything," while in the murderer's car, but that he feared he might escape.

"I was thinking, 'this guy could just disappear,'" Rhodes says.
Armstrong told the Estell jury that he had initiated an internal affairs investigation to look into Rhodes' allegations. But Trantham says the Plano police department investigated only Rhodes--for showing the case file to his brother, a police officer from another agency.

"They were not going to investigate themselves," Trantham says. "They put the whole case in jeopardy and here they are in public patting themselves on the back. They responded the way any Texas bureaucrat responds when it looks like you're going to show what the operation looks like. They kill the damned messenger."

Rhodes said that after testifying about his report, he endured a cold, hostile working environment at the Plano police department; his supervisors encouraged other employees not to speak to him. Then, he says, his bosses began filling his files with unwarranted reprimands. In one incident, Rhodes says, he was chastised for getting in the way of patrol officers at a crime scene.

"I'm a crime scene investigator, for goodness sakes," Rhodes says. "The patrolmen are supposed to secure the area."

In another case, Rhodes was reprimanded for going to a scene where an officer had been reported shot. "I was right down the street and I wanted to see if I could help. Usually everybody goes," he says. "That just shows how mad I made the good ol' boys.

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