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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."
Christine Biederman is a lawyer and Dallas-based writer.
Dallas Observer Editorial intern Elisa Bock assisted in the research for this story.