By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
And while Maples' testimony has embarrassed the feds into launching their own investigation, there is little sign that DPD administration has learned much from the case. Street cops, though, are another story. One of the officers fingered by Maples--who denies that he has ever stolen money--put it best. "Even if I was dirty," he says, "I'm not stupid enough to be doing it now."
As the police cruisers entering and exiting suggest, this is the Northeast Operations Division. Northeast, as it is known downtown, encompasses one of the largest and most economically diverse areas of the city. Its territory ranges from north of LBJ Freeway to Interstate 30 on the south, and from Central Expressway on the west, east to Garland and Mesquite city limits. Within its purview is everything from the yuppie- and SMU coed-clogged Village apartments to Gaston Avenue Section 8 housing, from quiet Lakewood and White Rock Lake neighborhoods to junkie-frequented motels along I-30.
At Northeast, during the late '90s, few officers were more revered than Quentis Roper. Even now, at 33 and in prison whites, he is an impressive figure: 5-foot-10, 225 pounds, his athlete's body beginning to show the slightest hint of softness. Articulate in his own defense, convinced of the flimsiness of the case against him, it is clear he never expected to be convicted, much less to receive such a generous stretch of jail time. On an afternoon in late May, he is still reeling from the shock.
"Seventeen years!" he says, shaking his handsome, shaved head. "That's basically throwing my life away. That's saying, 'We don't want you out here, you're a bad influence.'"
Roper does have an explanation for how he ended up here. "By being a little too aggressive," he says. "And, in some ways, I am a smart-ass: brash, cocky, arrogant...And I showed myself friendly [to Maples]--that's part of the downfall, too."
Quentis Roper is a man blessed with many gifts, among them movie-star features, never-met-a-stranger bonhomie, and an uncanny ability to read and adapt to situations. As he talks to a white reporter, for example, his voice betrays no hint of homeboy patois from his childhood in West Dallas. Asked if Roper always talks like a white man, his pals on the force laugh. "He can get by on the street," says his best friend, Albert Ruff.
Until he landed here, Roper was a bona fide up-from-the-'hood success story. The youngest in a family of four sons and one daughter, Roper was only 6 when his mother lit out for California, leaving her disabled husband to care for her brood. According to his children, Rayfield Roper emphasized education, but he wasn't naïve. "He taught us to do what we needed to do to survive," says Calvin Roper, Quentis' brother, a minister and substance abuse counselor in Dallas. "He didn't want us to have to break our backs doing manual labor like he did." Quentis took care of his father, who had, indeed, literally broken his back in a construction accident, and watched as his family and friends wrestled with the temptations of drugs, alcohol, and crime.
The family remained close, united in many ways around sporting events, especially those involving Quentis, the baby. He fulfilled their highest hopes, studying hard and excelling in all he did. To stay out of trouble, every day after school Roper hied himself down to the West Dallas Boys and Girls Club, where he played sports and did community work. He made the honor roll and was voted class president and, in the mid-'80s, became the star quarterback at Pinkston High, then a state football powerhouse. He earned a reputation on the field as a wild man, aggressive and unconcerned with his own safety. Calvin Roper says his brother was a "kamikaze" on special teams.
Heavily recruited, he decided to go with academics rather than the best football program. In 1990 he graduated with a political science degree from Rice University, where he quarterbacked the Owls for four seasons. According to a Rice athletic department spokesman, Roper was "a decent player, not a great player." After college, Roper moved back to Dallas, played arena football with the Dallas Texans for a year and, in the fall of 1991, joined the DPD. "He always wanted to do something for the community he grew up in," recalls Calvin Roper. "And after the first couple of years on the force, he knew he had found something he loved."
His first assignment was "deep nights" at Northeast--fourth watch, on at 6 p.m. and off at 2 a.m. According to his superiors, Roper was an "excellent" officer; from 1991 until 1998, he earned 48 commendations and a reputation for extremely aggressive police work. He particularly loved to "chase dope," busting through doors in "hot pursuit" of drug dealers, camping out at apartments and motels known for selling drugs, often hiding in bushes or trees, waiting for deals to go down. His m.o. was to nab a customer, lean on him to cough up the apartment number of his dealer, then storm the source. Known on the street as "Q," he was, at times, something of a daredevil; even when he called for backup, by the time other officers arrived, Roper had often already made a collar. In an unguarded moment, one of Roper's close friends describes him as "reckless" in pursuit of drugs.