Sweet revenge

Dallas' most unloved police officer finds himself surrounded by enemies -- from his own department

When Willard Rollins talks about the incident between his automobile and a red Lexus on July 31 in a neighborhood north of downtown Dallas, the executive assistant police chief is brief but emphatic.

"Just for the record," he says, "no fenders were bent."

A few hours before Rollins talked with the Dallas Observer, a Dallas county grand jury decided that he should not face criminal charges for leaving the scene of an alleged minor traffic accident.

But the 25-year department veteran has not seen the end of that Lexus' bumper yet. Not by a long shot.

Rollins now faces an internal affairs investigation into whether he violated department guidelines when he and passenger Denise Kile, a public relations specialist, left the scene of the incident without giving his name to the driver of the other car, Gaelle Anginot, who had requested it.

An angry, suspicious crowd of rank-and-file officers and their elected union representatives are prepared to watch the investigation closely. Their outrage raises the specter of the assistant deputy chief finally getting payback: unfairly harsh discipline for a relatively minor scrape. Many officers believe that is just what Rollins, as head of the integrity unit for the force, has dished out for a decade.

"People just don't like the guy," says Sgt. Jim Chandler, a department spokesman. "Otherwise, this would be a little old fender bender."

Department officials said lab results showed that paint removed from the chief's right front bumper matched material taken from the woman's car. But Anginot, who did not respond to messages left on her home answering machine for this story, signed an affidavit for the grand jury stating that she did not wish to prosecute Rollins.

But many police officers and other observers in town are not so ready to forgive and forget. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, Dallas Police Association President Glenn White, Dallas Police Patrolmen's Union President Richard Wilson, and the president of the African-American police officers organization, Thomas Glover, have all publicly pressed the District Attorney's Office and the department's internal affairs unit to investigate the Rollins incident.

A handsome man with a square chin, broad shoulders, and a commanding voice, Rollins has offered only the minimum of public responses to his predicament. He has spoken to The Dallas Morning News briefly -- as he did with the Observer -- and made one appearance on a WFAA-Channel 8 television newscast.

He told a Channel 8 reporter that he heard the driver of the other car and her friends using profanities and that, since he did not believe an accident had occurred, he left the scene. But, Rollins said, the events and allegations have made him "a lot more empathetic."

Empathy has never been a term that his fellow police officers have applied to Rollins.

Their gleeful reaction to the chief's predicament reflects a deep-seated resentment that has festered among the police ranks for years about Rollins.

"He's egotistical, sarcastic, and self-centered," one former police officer who worked with the chief says, only half joking. "Other than that, I don't have an opinion of him."

The sentiments against the 46-year-old leader have been building since a decade ago, when former police Chief Mack Vines, who didn't enjoy a tremendous amount of goodwill among the ranks either, catapulted Rollins from captain to executive assistant chief. Since then, Rollins has earned nicknames among patrolmen as "Willard the Rat," a comment about his loyalties to fellow officers, and "The Teflon Chief," ("Good cop, bad cop," December 12) a statement about his ability to escape from scrapes that could wreck the careers of other officers.

"It's taken a little bump and run to get everyone to understand the kind of arrogance we were always talking about," says one officer who worked with Rollins.

The animosity toward Rollins has its origins in some of the department's murkiest, most controversial episodes of internal discipline, including a complex case that dates to the late '80s involving former undercover narcotics detectives Janet Forsyth and Richard Kirk.

The two detectives accused Rollins of committing one of the most unpardonable sins a policeman can: exposing fellow cops' identities to targets in an undercover operation. Rollins, the detectives claimed, had a role in an illegal wiretap scheme that gave the detectives' targets access to their telephone conversations. When the two detectives complained to the media about Rollins' role in the botched episode, they claimed, the assistant chief transferred them to night patrol. The claims of Forsyth and Kirk played well with other officers and with a jury. The two detectives sued the city and in early 1995 won a $1.4 million verdict, which included an order that Rollins personally pay $125,000 in damages, a sum the city eventually paid.

More recently, Rollins was named again in the litigation when Granver Tolliver, an African-American former deputy chief, sued the city on grounds of alleged discrimination after he was demoted in rank. Tolliver alleged in his suit, which is still pending in federal court, that Rollins prodded the district attorney to attempt to secure an indictment against the deputy on charges related to the altering of documents in a traffic-incident report. He did so, Tolliver alleged, before the black policeman had a chance to tell his side of the story.

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