Good cop, bad cop

How does the Dallas police's "Teflon Chief" Willard Rollins skate past scrapes that could wreck other officer's careers?

"I've heard complaints from people who are jockeying for power in the department," says Councilman Hicks. "Some of these guys just want to run the department, and they don't want to do their job."

Recent developments and disclosures in the cases of Forsyth and Kirks and former deputy chief Granver Tolliver show Rollins' zeal for disciplining his underlings--the precise characteristic that has made him so unpopular with the troops.

Rollins' real or presumed role in these controversies has made him an object of fear among the ranks. "Willard Rollins is considered one of the most powerful members of the department," says Sergeant Thomas Glover, president of the black police officers union. "A lot of people are going to be afraid to talk about him. I am. I could be retaliated against, and it would be disguised as a transfer."

On a Friday in early March 1995, Dallas Police Chief Ben Click put in a typically long, 11-hour workday--scheduling 10 separate meetings.

Granver Tolliver's lawyer has obtained a copy of that Friday's agenda, which includes a 1:30 p.m. meeting between Click and Willie Taylor, deputy chief over internal affairs. According to Click's calendar, the subject of the discussion was the "Forsyth and Kirks Issue."

It's no surprise that Click would want to talk to Taylor about the case involving the former detectives. Two months earlier, a federal jury had awarded Forsyth and Kirks $1.4 million in their suit against the department and Rollins.

Forsyth and Kirks had alleged that Rollins allowed an illegal wiretap of the undercover detectives' telephones to continue without their knowledge. Ultimately, Rollins' actions helped blow the detectives' cover--potentially placing their lives in danger.

The electronic eavesdropping was part of a scheme encouraged by an influential businessman who believed Forsyth and Kirks should themselves be investigated. According to the lawsuit, Rollins knew the officers' cover had been blown by the eavesdropping, but for several weeks, he didn't move to stop the wiretap--or even tell the detectives about it.

Forsyth, who has since quit the force, says she doesn't believe "any bad blood" existed between her and Rollins at the time. Instead, she thinks Rollins allowed the wiretap to continue because "the right people were involved in making accusations against us."

Whatever the motive, the drug dealers Forsyth and Kirks were investigating discovered through the eavesdropping that the two were actually undercover cops. As a result, the detectives alleged in court, their lives were placed in great jeopardy.

When Forsyth and Kirks learned later that Rollins had known about the illegal wiretap before they did--and neglected to tell them--the detectives complained to The Dallas Morning News. "We never dreamed that our own supervisors were allowing a dope dealer to monitor our activities," Janet Forsyth later wrote in a letter to the department formally lodging her complaint against Rollins.

The newspaper ran a front-page story outlining the two detectives' plight. Afterward, Rollins ordered the detectives to stop talking to the press. They didn't. So, the detectives' lawyer successfully argued, Rollins retaliated against them by demoting them to night patrol in direct violation of their First Amendment rights to free speech.

Even though jurors had come down hard on Rollins, the police department never conducted its own investigation of the Forsyth-Kirks case. Both Vines, who was chief at the time the wiretapping incident occurred, and Rathburn, who left Dallas before the trial, resisted requests by Forsyth and Kirks and their supporters for an internal probe. After her victory in federal court, Forsyth pressed Chief Click, a relative newcomer to the department, to initiate an internal investigation. But when Click met with internal affairs supervisor Taylor on that Friday in March 1995, he declined to do so. Instead, Click announced a few days later that he would conduct his own review of the Forsyth-Kirks case.

Within six months, however, Click had decided--once and for all--to put the matter to rest. "The events took place over four years prior to my arrival in Dallas," Click told the Morning News in August 1995. "Two other administrations have dealt with this. I reviewed all the materials available and found no reason to initiate an investigation. I have seen no indication of corruption or cover-up."

But new testimony in the Tolliver case shows that Click didn't bother to dig very deep--particularly into Rollins' role in the Forsyth-Kirks affair.

In sworn testimony to Tolliver's lawyer, Rollins conceded that Click had only spoken with him informally during his review of the Forsyth-Kirks case. The two men met in Click's office, Rollins testified. There was no tape recorder and no witnesses. Click didn't bother to instruct Rollins about his rights as an officer under an internal investigation, a legal requirement before the interview of a subject in an internal police probe.

In August 1995, when Click had cleared Rollins but city council members such as Hicks and Al Lipscomb had begun complaining about disparate treatment of white and black officers, Rollins told the Morning News: "I just do my job and will continue to do my job the best way I know how."

For this story, Rollins failed to respond to repeated requests for an interview. "He doesn't do a lot of interviews," says police spokesman Ed Spencer. Rollins even turned down a request for a list of friends and associates who might vouch for his reputation.

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