Black, white, and blue

Dallas' African-American cops say they are being unfairly disciplined by a racist department. The numbers suggest they're right.

On August 31, the Justice lawyers wrote a letter to the city lawyers clarifying that they intended to investigate not just Bush's case but the department as a whole.

"We have received information indicating that the Dallas Police Department may be engaged in discriminatory employment practices on the basis of race," the letter states. The federal lawyers said they did not yet have sufficient information to determine that the police department had applied discipline "unequally on the basis of race, resulting in a disproportionate number of black officers being suspended and terminated."

The Dallas City Council didn't learn about the Justice letter until a week later. It was only after Harold Cornish, another black police officer who had his own discrimination claims against the department, sought a copy of the letter that the city attorneys informed the politicians what was coming down the pike. Cornish had been criminally charged with trying to bribe a co-worker in exchange for favorable test scores, with releasing inaccurate police records, and with official oppression when he wrenched the neck of a suspect. The officer claimed that the allegations were filed in retaliation for his complaining of racial discrimination. All charges against Cornish were dismissed, but Assistant District Attorney Clark Birdsall, who TPOA officials complain has prosecuted misbehaving black officers more often than he has whites, later refiled the official oppression charge.

Michael Hogue
Black police officers don't get "the benefit of the doubt" when it comes to discipline, says Senior Cpl. Roosevelt Holiday, who sued the department and received $76,000.
Mark Graham
Black police officers don't get "the benefit of the doubt" when it comes to discipline, says Senior Cpl. Roosevelt Holiday, who sued the department and received $76,000.

TPOA officials blame Janice Moss, the assistant city attorney who approved many of the disciplinary decisions Click made during his tenure, for the delay in releasing the Justice Department's August 31 letter. (She denies their claim.) "I don't see a discriminatory pattern," Moss told the Morning News in September.

As the Justice investigation has continued, however, Moss has begun referring reporters' calls about the case to her boss, Madeleine Johnson, the new city attorney.

"We take any investigation seriously," Johnson says. Because of the potential litigation, she would not comment in detail about the Justice investigation, but she did distance herself from the past. Referring to the new police chief, Benavides, and herself, Johnson notes: "We have a whole new set of players. Everyone is very concerned with correcting any problems."

Wiping the slate clean clearly ranks as a priority for the new chief, Terrell Bolton, who assumed Click's job in October.

A 41-year-old native of Western Mississippi, Bolton came to the Dallas department when he was 21. It took him 20 years, but by 1999 Bolton -- who had the word "Negro" stamped on his entrance fingerprint card -- was a shoo-in for the top job. Assistant City Manager Daniels says it was never necessary for Bolton to interview for the post. Benavides wanted no "lapse in leadership," Daniels says, and he wanted "someone from the inside." So the city manager considered two choices other than Bolton: Manuel Vasquez and Robert Jackson. Both men, who have since left the department, could play roles in the Justice investigation. Vasquez is named as a defendant in Bush's lawsuit. Jackson, who is black, first raised the question of disparate discipline.

With his hands positioned on his belt loops, Bolton bounced around behind his desk with a big smile on his face. "What are we talking about today?" he asked the half-dozen reporters who had crowded into his office in mid-October after waiting an hour for the new chief to appear for a news conference of sorts.

The day before, a letter from the Justice Department announcing that it intended to intervene on Bush's behalf was made public. In it, the Justice lawyers said they wanted to have Bush offered a promotion to sergeant, retroactive benefits, seniority, monetary relief, and compensatory damages. They also wanted his personnel records expunged of the related charges. "The City of Dallas should institute procedures to monitor the actions of supervisors (sergeants and above) to insure that they do not retaliate against employees of the Dallas Police Department for making allegations of race discrimination against the Department," the Justice lawyers wrote.

Dozens of reporters had called the new chief. Bolton, only a few weeks in office and still talking to reporters (he declined to comment for this story, citing pending litigation), agreed to meet with the local journalists all at once. Bolton made it clear that he held Click accountable for the Bush allegations, which he seemed to accept as fact on the basis of Justice's intervention in the case. "The lawyers are working with Justice, so I don't want to get into specifics," he said. "We all know I wasn't chief then. The decisions were in [Click's] command."

About the Justice Department's findings supporting Bush, Bolton said, "It doesn't surprise me. It disappoints me. I can't turn back the hands of time. My focus is getting the department in a position that this doesn't happen."

A week earlier, Bolton had removed Bush's former supervisor, Deputy Chief Raymond Hawkins, from his position over Northeast patrol and placed him over the communications division. Hawkins subsequently quit.

When Bolton was asked at the conference whether Hawkins' transfer was related to the Bush case, he said, "I think you can draw your own conclusions."

Publicly, Bolton stresses these days that he will be fair to blacks and whites alike. At a luncheon speech in November before a largely black audience, the new chief told a story about his birth. He had come out in a hurry, his mother had told him. "She didn't think I was coming so fast, so she looked up at my father and she said, 'I can't come up with a name.'" It was the Anglo doctor, Bolton said, who named him Terrell. "I am the product of people that worked together," he said. "I will be that way always."

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