By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
hr style="size: 1px; width: 50%; text-align: centerOn Saturday, May 16, 1998, two INS agents posing as illegal immigrants parked at the Fair Park Inn, a motel at I-30 and Ferguson Road known at the time as a place where many drug deals went down. The two men waited. Around 1:30 a.m., with as many as 11 police officers watching them from a discreet distance, Roper and Maples showed up and started looking over cars and people parked on the premises--presumably, customers waiting to buy drugs.
Maples and Roper, however, ignored the INS plants. Shortly after 2 a.m., in an effort to get the officers' attention, one of the Hispanic INS agents got out of his car and walked in front of Roper. At that point, internal public integrity notes show, Roper "calls [the undercover officer] over and asks for ID and he shows it. [Roper] lets them go. He does not check either one of them [for cash]." No shakedown; no evidence against Maples and Roper.
Five days later, public integrity tried again. This time, the trap was baited with two undercover Fort Worth police officers carrying $2,000 in cash and driving a brand-new Mercedes missing a headlight. This time, they got a nibble.
At 12:36 a.m., Maples and Roper, riding together, pulled over the poseurs. According to signed affidavits, Maples checked their wallets and told Roper "mucho dinero...[w]e need to find something to put them in jail." They didn't have to look far. The driver of the car, Robert Rangel, was carrying neither ID nor insurance; his passenger, David Meza, was posing as a drunk.
Roper, however, knew something was amiss.
"He got suspicious because there was only one key in the ignition," recalls Clark Birdsall, the assistant district attorney who later tried Roper. "And he told the guy, 'Let me see your hands.'"
"He asked me what I did," officer Meza later testified. "I told him I was a construction worker.
"First, he felt my boots to see if I was wearing hard-toe boots or not, which I wasn't...[Then] I stretched my hands out and he felt them. He's like, 'No, your hands are too smooth. That's not what you do'...I've got three or four tattoos on my arm...[Roper] said you being a construction worker, if you work without a shirt, you know, that sun would have faded those tattoos out a little more." (Roper later told several officers that Meza had an armed forces tattoo.)
Maples and Roper arrested both officers and took them to Lew Sterrett. On the way to book-in, however, Maples and Roper detoured by AFIS--Automatic Fingerprint Identification System, the DPD unit that matches prisoners' fingerprints against hundreds of databases, among them federal and state employment records. Within an hour, the verdict came back: The two men had once applied to the Fort Worth Police Department.
Maples and Roper played it by the book. Rangel was charged with no ID, defective lights, and failure to maintain evidence of financial responsibility. Meza spent the night in the drunk tank.
"I had a deep conversation with [Meza] on the way to detox," Roper told a grand jury later. "I said, 'I know you're the police...I know you're trying to set someone up.' I said, 'You need to be careful out there, who [are] you trying to set up and why are you doing this?'
"He wouldn't come out of his little act...So I figure, OK, we got through that one. That was a set-up, even though they're denying it."
"Roper," says Clark Birdsall, "is one smart SOB."