Good cop, bad cop

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

Other than a stint as a dock worker for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service while he was in college, Rollins has never worked anyplace else as an adult but the Dallas police. A Texas native who was born in Fort Hood and raised in Killeen, Rollins is the divorced father of two teenage boys.

Rollins' reticence perhaps reflects his lack of enthusiasm for another airing of the Forsyth-Kirks case. The allegations made by the highly popular detectives refuse to go away and have become part of department legend. Among the ranks, Rollins is perceived as the chief villain. A cop could hardly violate the force's ethic more than by blowing a detective's cover.

"The Forsyth and Kirks thing has probably been the biggest lightening rod. They were very well liked. They knew a lot of people," says Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, a union with 2,100 members.

Jack Means offers a street-level view of the rap on Rollins. "He was more worried about his image than he was about his officers," he says. "How many tears would he have shed if his officers had gotten hurt? I don't get paid much, but I don't get paid to die. Rollins was never investigated, but he put two officers through the wringer."

Even Rathburn, who now consults on security matters and lives on a ranch in Mineola, Texas, admits he has second-guessed his decision not to investigate Rollins in the Forsyth-Kirks case. When asked if he should have investigated, Rathburn says: "Today that appears to be the situation. The [court] judgment has in effect been a condemnation of his action. Maybe it would have been better if I had done a more thorough investigation."

But neither Rathburn nor any of Rollins' other bosses has any other complaints. "I have no fault with anything he did while I was there," Rathburn says. "He was very responsive to my leadership."

Former Chief Vines is lavish in his praise of Rollins. Vines, who left the department under controversy in 1990 when he was indicted and later acquitted on perjury charges, is most responsible for Rollins' rapid ascent in the department--including his promotion from captain to executive assistant chief, for which he earns about $90,000 a year.

"I'm not sure I would have put him in that position," says Vines' successor Rathburn, who nonetheless kept Rollins in that post. "The Dallas police department on a broad basis has a lot of people who were promoted too rapidly," he adds. "You often do the individual a terrible disservice."

Rollins' promotion in particular, says Rathburn, was a risk. "It was a quantum leap, no matter how talented someone is. There is fallout that results from those decisions in terms of the rest of the department. If he makes one mistake, it can be reinforcing of those opinions. It makes it very difficult for him and the department."

Vines, however, says Rollins represented "the cream that had risen to the top." He's never regretted his decision to promote him, he says.

Indeed, judging by the sheaf of accolades in Rollins' personnel file, a more valuable member of the police force doesn't exist. Rollins made sergeant in just two years. In 1978, his immediate supervisor wrote a gushing evaluation: "Sgt. Rollins gets along well with the men and supervisors on the watch. He has a lot of leadership ability which seems to be a natural talent."

His file also reveals surprisingly few scrapes for a 23-year career. A few times, Rollins misplaced department equipment, but he always had a solid explanation. In 1975, he lost a shotgun when a robber broke the window of his police car while he was transporting a prisoner. In 1983, his house was robbed, and he lost his captain's uniform.

The most serious issue to show up in the file concerns a speeding ticket he issued to a woman in 1977. He had failed to arrest her even though she was wanted for a single misdemeanor. His superiors let it go.

On Chief Click's marathon day of meetings in March 1995, he also scheduled a 90-minute disciplinary hearing for Granver Tolliver.

An African-American deputy chief, Tolliver had been accused of altering an accident report. Cheryl Wattley, Tolliver's lawyer, offers this version of events: Tolliver listened sympathetically when an officer told him about an accident scene in which a uniformed officer, Gene Yee, had supposedly treated one of the drivers rudely. The driver--who turned out to be the brother-in-law of the officer who complained to Tolliver--had an eyewitness who'd back up his account of the accident, which conflicted with Yee's account. The witness persuaded Tolliver that the accident report needed to be revised, and Tolliver had a rookie take down the new information and file a supplemental accident report.

The problem is that a "supplemental" report never showed up in the file. Instead, a whole new accident report appeared. The original report was inexplicably lost--a mystery that to this day remains unsolved.

About 10 months later, Yee, the officer who had been at the accident scene and who, not coincidentally, had previously sued both Rollins and Tolliver for his own transfer, discovered the new accident report in the file. Yee began a campaign to launch a probe against Tolliver, immediately taking his complaint to internal affairs supervisor Taylor and telling news outlets citywide that Tolliver had falsified an accident report--a felony.

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