By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
The quiet young man on the witness stand just didn't fit the part. At 6 feet and 150 pounds--wet--27-year-old Danny Maples was a wisp of a man, outfitted with an unnaturally large head, prominent ears, and a too-generous Italian-cut black suit. Politely answering questions, speaking softly, he looked like anything but a crooked cop: a computer programmer, perhaps, or a baby accountant, or even an extra from The Twilight Zone. Almost anything but the central figure in the biggest police corruption scandal ever to hit Dallas.
Yet a cop he had been, and crooked as a Peruvian presidential race. Four days earlier, Maples had pleaded guilty to relieving seven people he'd arrested of $27,000 in cash. And so there he sat on the afternoon of April 27, during the sentencing phase of his trial, begging a Dallas County jury for leniency and telling a most extraordinary tale--one that, if even partially true, was deeply disturbing.
For starters, it was troubling that Maples was here at all, throwing himself at the mercy of 12 strangers. When Maples turned himself in back in December 1998, he had cut a deal: Maples would tell what he knew about Dallas Police Department corruption and testify against at least a half-dozen other dirty cops. In exchange, the district attorney would recommend that Maples get probation.
But things had turned out much differently. Only one cop besides Maples had ever been indicted, and Maples never testified against anyone. Instead, Maples was here, alone and radioactive. Reviled by the state that once embraced him, Maples had been reduced to waiving his immunity agreement, claiming he'd been double-crossed by prosecutors, and asking jurors to make the state honor its bargain. Something had clearly gone wrong.
For its part, the state was suggesting it welshed because Maples turned out to be a world-class liar, and somehow the name-calling between Maples and the authorities seemed downright personal. During recesses, Assistant District Attorney Heath Harris would huddle in the hallway with a half-dozen or so members of DPD's Public Integrity Unit and Internal Affairs Division and the FBI, and from this knot of police who police police, catchphrases from Harris' arguments would escape: "Liar." "Convenient lies." "When do the lies stop?"
Yet if any side had a credibility problem, it was the state. All week they'd been caught exaggerating, overreaching, and generally self-destructing, attempting to tar Maples and ending up sticky themselves. And there was this question of exactly when prosecutors decided they couldn't believe a word he said, since only three weeks earlier they were convinced Maples was telling God's own truth. That was on April 5, the last day of the felony trial of former police officer Quentis Roper, Maples' erstwhile friend and alleged partner in crime, when the state fought valiantly to use Maples as a witness. That morning, Maples was dutifully brought up to a holding cell just off the courtroom while, at the prosecutors' request, state Judge John Creuzot recessed Roper's trial. For the next hour, prosecutors begged their superiors, once more, to honor Maples' plea bargain and allow them to use their star rat. When management finally relented, assistant district attorneys Clark Birdsall and Harris debriefed Maples one more time, listening as Maples helped them piece together trial testimony and urging him on as he recalled salient details of the crimes.
According to more than one person who sat in on that debriefing, after listening to Maples spill his story yet again, Birdsall, the lead prosecutor, asked co-counsel Harris what he thought of Maples' tale. "I think he's telling the truth," Harris replied. "Let's use him." (Birdsall and Harris were prevented from doing so by Judge Creuzot's ruling on a technicality.)
Now, three weeks after the state was ready to give Maples probation for his testimony, here was Harris calling Maples a fabricator, asking the jury to send him up for a stretch on the long end of two-to-20.
Even Judge Creuzot was troubled by the about-face. "I think this is going to bite you in the ass," the judge warned prosecutors during a quiet moment. In response, prosecutors shrugged--body language that said, 'Sorry, your Honor, just carrying out orders.'"
And so Maples was now perched in the witness box, offering up a sensational tale.
For two hours, he related how he joined the Dallas Police Department in '95, was assigned to patrol duty at the Northeast Operations Division, and how, early in '97, he was introduced to a "subculture of crooked cops." According to Maples' testimony, he was brought in slowly at first and compromised gradually until, in December '97, he finally crossed the thin blue line, accepting money skimmed from a drug arrest. He lasted a year as a dirty cop, dodging paranoia, guilt, eight separate public integrity investigations, and three failed stings designed to trap him, Quentis Roper, and possibly others. Finally, in December 1998, under investigation by no fewer than four law enforcement bureaucracies, he turned himself in.
And that was the most impressive part of the story, for Maples didn't come in with badge and gun alone. Shortly after surrendering, Maples--a $35,367-a-year patrol officer--handed over $49,000 in cash. The bulk of it, Maples claimed, was money he'd received from ringleader Quentis Roper, money that represented Maples' cut of what had been stolen by Roper and others. Maples had named the others, he said, to internal affairs, to public integrity, and to just about any authority who cared enough to inquire which cops were, in his words, "in the game."
For some reason, nobody seemed to have been that interested in following up. According to Maples, he did as he was asked, meeting with prosecutors and investigators time and again, painstakingly helping them build the case against Roper and anyone else they wanted, and at no small risk to himself. During Roper's trial, the cops Maples had named found out what he'd told the Dallas police internal affairs. One night during the two-week trial, Maples said, one of the cops Maples had snitched on managed to slip in the back door of the Lew Sterrett Justice Center, where Maples was jailed, and issue a threat.
"He said, 'There are a lot of officers who want a piece of you because you gave names,'" Maples told the rapt jury. "You'd better pray." The episode had spawned a new round in an endless series of internal affairs investigations that, the implication was, were destined to go nowhere.
Maples' attorney, Brook Busbee, passed the witness.
Harris got up to cross-examine. Skeptically, he asked about this "subculture of crooked cops." "What's the game?" Harris sneered.
"Shaking down drug dealers and taking their money," replied Maples with the slightest hint of exasperation.
"Oh, yeah?" challenged Harris. "Well, why don't you name a few?"
Inside the half-full courtroom, air molecules practically ceased humming.
"Sure," said Maples, rising to the bait--and with that, reeled off the names, descriptions, nicknames, or units of 11 officers.
The jury stared at Maples. The cops eyed the two furiously scribbling reporters in the courtroom. The prosecution finished its cross-examination, but after Maples' revelations, it was strictly downhill. "Well, I wonder if we're finally going to see this on the front page of the Morning News?" one internal affairs type sighed during a break.
The next morning, it was as if nothing had happened: no headline, no story, no hint of the extraordinary saga unfolding in an open courtroom, much less the behind-the-scenes mess that resulted in it all spilling out there. Maples' case went on much as the investigation had for two years, mostly on the Q.T., hush-hush, sort of Dallas Confidential.
Indeed, the lack of attention paid to Maples' case is startling, compared with an earlier, remarkably similar police corruption scandal. In 1992, former Dallas police officers Randy Harris and Swany Davenport--known on the streets as "Cruiser" and "Bruiser"--were indicted and convicted of shaking down more than $50,000 from drug dealers and others they arrested. But the response was considerably different. Back then, the police chief denounced Cruiser and Bruiser as the most corrupt cops in the history of the Dallas Police Department. The Dallas Morning News ran numerous stories on the pair, several on page one; Texas Monthly weighed in with a 9,000-word feature by Skip Hollandsworth. This time around, with more cops implicated and far more money stolen, DPD brass was studiously silent. Dallas' paper of record offered only the most timid coverage, buried deep inside; local TV news could barely be bothered.
But some courtroom observers were bothered, namely the jurors. The jurors got it, and were disturbed, and let it be known. After deliberating for just over two hours, they came back with a verdict: two years. And they told the judge that, as a group, they had a statement to make.
"We, the jury, are particularly troubled by the actions of the district attorneys in their dealings with Mr. Maples," the jury foreman read from a prepared text. "We in no way condone the actions of Mr. Maples. We feel a prison term is appropriate, as indicated by our sentence, but we think it is reprehensible that the DAs should make an offer and then renege. We feel the district attorney is indeed hypocritical in his deeds, words, and actions."
It was an unprecedented public spanking, and it did make the daily newspaper, buried below the fold in Metro, as was news of Quentis Roper's sentencing in mid-May. In Roper's case, the judge assessed punishment, sending the former officer away for 17 years.
But Maples' testimony had shaken up more than a few people, and behind the scenes, everyone was scrambling, championing versions of The Truth.
Broadly speaking, they fall into four categories. Variation one is Quentis Roper's story. Although a jury found him guilty of pilfering a breathtaking $144,000 from 10 people he'd arrested, Roper insists he is innocent. Echoing Cruiser and Bruiser's claims eight years earlier, Roper and his supporters say it's all a terrible mistake, that Roper was framed by a defense lawyer and his drug-dealing clients, railroaded by a racist district attorney's office, put away by a political judge. And Roper has the support of a surprising number of DPD rank and file, especially black officers, many of whom see in Roper's case the same troubling patterns they've seen in others: a black cop convicted on what they regard as flimsy evidence.
As for Maples, Roper has a ready answer. "Maples is crazy," Roper says from behind Plexiglas in a visiting booth at Lew Sterrett, where last May he began serving his sentence. "He is not living in reality." According to Roper and his defenders, in some cases money was probably not stolen at all; in others, it was most likely stolen by Maples, acting without Roper's knowledge. And what of that "subculture of crooked cops?" "That's fairy-tale shit," says Roper, with some passion.
Roper confirms he has been approached by the FBI, which, in the wake of Maples' public allegations, has opened an investigation into Dallas police corruption. But Roper says he has refused to talk. "If I were even remotely guilty, I would cooperate. 'Cause believe me, I know how this system works. But there is nothing there."
Version two is Maples' story. According to Maples, there is organized, systemic corruption in the DPD. "Look at it this way," says Maples, speaking from the same row of cubicles at the Dallas County jail as Quentis Roper. "I've been in jail [since March]. During that time, a narcotics supervisor was arrested [on tax evasion charges], two narcotics officers were arrested for drug possession, a Northwest officer was arrested for selling stolen computers, a Southeast officer was disciplined for brutality. And of course, there's myself and Roper." Maples fails to mention two of the most disturbing cases from the last few years, in which a total of nearly $65,000 in cash came up missing from DPD custody.
Number three is the press-release version, the story adopted by DPD administration, by the district attorney, by most of the police unions, and by a good number of rank-and-file cops. According to this version, Maples and Roper were just bad apples, isolated rogues who were nabbed and got what they deserved, case closed.
That's the story to which police headquarters is sticking--so tightly that, according to several state and federal law enforcement sources, Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton told the FBI that the DPD has no interest in reopening its now-closed criminal investigation or pursuing any leads that may have been provided. (Bolton did not respond to several requests for comment for this story.)
And there's a fourth variation, located kind of midway between versions two and three, a view to which many of the front-liners who investigated, tried, or oversaw these cases privately subscribe. Unfortunately, it's this category of people--those with the best knowledge--who, fearing for their jobs, are least willing to attach names to what they have to say. For if there's one rule every mid-level law enforcement bureaucrat knows, it is: No bad PR, please.
"The bottom line is, there's no real will to clean this up," says a DPD officer who testified for the state at Roper's trial and who says he will lose his job if his name appears beside his opinion. "If they were serious about this, they would have a standing agreement with other [public integrity] departments--say, some place like Detroit--that when you have a problem, we'll send in our guys undercover and vice versa.
"Personally, I think what's happened is, the department wants to sweep this under the rug. Because they don't want L.A. to happen here--and it's widespread here in Dallas."
Asks one assistant district attorney who is familiar with the cases: "Do I think there are more corrupt cops out there? Yeah. I do.
"I don't think there is widespread institutional corruption. Here, it's just pockets of dirty cops; I don't think, for example, that all of Northeast [Operations Division] is corrupt. But I do think--in fact, I know--there is reluctance at the top levels of the police department to follow up. They don't want another L.A." (Both men are referring to the notorious L.A. Rampart case, in which five LAPD officers are facing charges, and numerous criminal cases have been overturned because of alleged police misconduct in making arrests, providing evidence, and giving testimony. The whole affair came about because an L.A. cop, who was charged with stealing cocaine from an LAPD property room, began singing about police corruption and brutality in exchange for a reduced sentence.)
A three-month investigation by the Dallas Observer shows that, for a variety of reasons--among them bureaucratic red tape, limited resources, personal animus, and racial politics--the DPD, the Dallas District Attorney's Office, and the FBI conducted only the most superficial investigation into Maples' charges. Among the items that didn't get followed up on: evidence of police brutality, of police planting evidence and falsifying reports, and of cops hiring prostitutes for parties.
In the course of its investigation, the Observer reviewed more than 5,000 pages of internal police and court records and interviewed more than two dozen state and federal law enforcement officials familiar with Maples' and Roper's cases. At best, these documents and interviews reveal a troubling pattern of men in blue looking the other way, from some of Roper's and Maples' colleagues on the street to supervisors. At worst, they suggest that a small number of cops either knew what was going on or were themselves part of the thefts. Yet they are still out there on the streets, protected by a police bureaucracy and civil service rules that make it nearly impossible for the department to weed out crooked cops on its own.
Finally, the Observer's investigation reveals a number of systemic shortcomings at DPD, sloppy procedures that may actually encourage corruption in the ranks. In addition, existing rules often were not enforced. "The system is flawed," says one DPD sergeant familiar with the cases. "You got supervisors supervising too many patrol officers, and so supervisors are not doing what they're supposed to do. You can have all the orders in the world, but if you don't enforce them..."
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.
Occasionally, this aggressiveness got him into hot water. In nine years with the department, Roper survived seven internal investigations for alleged incidents of excessive force, physical abuse, harassment, illegal searches, and use of profanity. All were ruled "inconclusive"--meaning not exactly groundless, but not proven to the satisfaction of internal affairs. In addition, he was counseled or written up four times for infractions. But there is no question that he was a valued and productive member of the gendarmerie, making hundreds of arrests and seizing copious amounts of guns, drugs, and money.
And it is this, Roper insists, that landed him in lock-up. Like Cruiser and Bruiser before him, Roper claims that he's in jail because he was such an effective drug buster that a group of dealers conspired to put him behind bars. In an astounding echo of the earlier scandal, Roper even points to a lawyer--though a different one--as the connection among complainants.
"It's amazing how eight to 10 of the people who testified against me have Frank Perez as an attorney," Roper says. "He had the connections to get this started."
Unlike the main police building, where any shmoe can wander up to any floor, if you walk into 100 North Central during normal business hours, a beefy security guard will ask your business, make you sign in, and escort you up or out. It is here, on the fourth floor, that the 15-member Dallas police Public Integrity Unit is housed.
Like vice or drugs, public integrity is a regular department, but it investigates a special class of people. "Public integrity has jurisdiction over not just police, but all city employees," explains Lt. Ron Waldrop, who oversaw the department from October 1998 until January of this year. "The distinction is, with cops, we police all criminal activity, on or off the job. With other city employees, we only investigate crimes committed on the job." The unit is separate and distinct from the Internal Affairs Division (IAD), the Dallas police unit charged with overseeing the internal process of disciplining officers. Indeed, thanks to court and city attorney rulings, the two departments cannot share information or access each other's files--a bureaucratic bug that weakened DPD's ability to investigate Maples' allegations.
According to Lt. Waldrop, public integrity handles an average of about 170 complaints per year. Thanks to the complexity of their task, the unit's detectives have the lightest workloads in the DPD; Waldrop says they average "about a case per month per person."
"These investigations are very difficult," Waldrop says. "They require a lot of nontraditional techniques." Among their repertoire is the "integrity check"--in other words, a sting, using undercover officers borrowed from another police force, designed to catch cops doing wrong.
Not surprisingly, public integrity detectives aren't always beloved. "Officers who work public integrity, like DAs who work public integrity, are universally vilified," explains Assistant District Attorney Eric Mountin. This January, Mountin, a lanky, gravel-voiced ex-FBI agent, moved to Dallas to head the Dallas County district attorney's public integrity unit, which, among its other duties, prosecutes cases brought to them by DPD's public integrity squad.
"When I decided to take this job," Mountin recalls, "my roommate ragged me. 'Man, you're gonna be putting cops away. You're a rat.'" Mountin understands; being a policeman, he knows, is a stressful, underpaid, thankless job. "There's a running joke--if you want to be loved, be a fireman. So it's not really surprising that cops have an us-versus-them mentality. It's the blue wall. And of course, since kindergarten, nobody likes a snitch."
For what it's worth, Roper is partially right about how the case got started. In January 1998, public integrity detective Bill Sanders got a call from Frank Perez, a former narcotics detective who went to law school in the early '90s and now specializes in defending drug dealers. Perez had just taken over a trio of related drug cases, among them the case of a woman named Sandra Rodriguez, who had been charged with possession of a kilo of cocaine.
One month earlier, in December 1997, Roper, chasing dope by himself, had arrested Rodriguez. By the time backup officers arrived, Rodriguez, who spoke little English, was cuffed and sitting in Roper's car. Perez's complaint wasn't the bust; his client was guilty, and he knew it. (She was later convicted on federal drug charges.) The problem, Perez told Detective Sanders, was that on the night she was arrested, Rodriguez had been carrying $11,000 cash in her pockets, money that Roper had stolen. Perez also said that within a two-month period, Roper had stolen money from two of his other drug-dealing clients, Josie Rodriguez and Luis Heredia. (The cases against Rodriguez and Heredia were subsequently dropped.)
"I didn't believe it myself at first," Perez recalls. "I separated them, I questioned them, I even made them take polygraphs before I took the allegations to public integrity.
"I'm very proud of being a former police officer, and I didn't want to believe it. In fact, I had heard good things about Roper. But when a charge that serious turns out to be true, something has to be done about it."
Polygraph or not, at first, public integrity appears not to have thought much of Perez's complaint. Asked "what differentiates this [complaint] from some others that don't have as much substance," Sanders later told a grand jury, "Well, at the time...nothing. But after that, we received...14 or 15 complaints." There were, however, some problems with Perez's complaint. For one, Sandra Rodriguez was complaining that Roper, working alone, shook her down and then called backup. But the reports indicated the arresting officer was Danny Maples, a white guy who was supposedly there from the start.
Around that time, though, public integrity started to receive complaints from sources they deemed more credible: DPD narcotics officers. In exchange for payment of some sort, the narcs said, Roper appeared to have tipped the target of an undercover drug investigation that a member of his drug ring was cooperating with police.
Public integrity could do little with the allegation; since the undercover operation was still under way, nobody could call the drug dealer and ask him for a statement. Narcotics' suspicions about Roper had been aroused, though; they started flagging his arrest reports and studying them more closely.
"So," public integrity's Sanders told the grand jury, "we started looking at it, and then more complaints started, and more complaints..."
Unfortunately for Roper's conspiracy theory, the next six had nothing to do with Frank Perez.
In April 1998, a colleague of Sanders', detective Diane McLeod, received a complaint made by an undocumented immigrant named Juan Angel Ramirez. A month earlier, Ramirez wrote, he'd been stopped by a young white officer who ticketed Ramirez for failure to signal a turn. While checking the computer, the officer--whom arrest reports revealed to be Danny Maples--discovered Ramirez had a warrant for traffic tickets.
According to police records and testimony, Maples cuffed and searched Ramirez, who said he had "either $760 or $780" in his pocket. Ramirez stated Maples placed the money in a clear plastic bag and tucked it above the sun visor in his squad car. When Ramirez asked "where he was going to take my money," Maples replied it would be with Ramirez's other belongings. Before he was deported, however, Ramirez recovered his wallet, which was $780 lighter. Similarly, when Ramirez's sister picked up his impounded Suburban, police said no money had been checked in with the vehicle.
Ramirez, who had earned the money working two fast-food jobs, was not about to let the matter drop. A month later, he was not only back in the United States but standing at the service window of Northeast, demanding in Spanish to talk with someone about his missing money. On the second visit, a customer service officer put Ramirez in touch with public integrity.
Six days later, a second Hispanic man called with a startlingly similar story. Alberto Tapia said that, just after work on Friday, he and two companions had been pulled over. According to Tapia, a black officer came up to Tapia's new truck and said his windows were tinted too dark. The black policeman asked Tapia to exit his vehicle and demanded identification, while a skinny white officer did the same to Tapia's companions.
Tapia said both officers asked how much cash they had, demanding their wallets for inspection. After discovering that one passenger, Rafael Lopez, had $800 in cash, Lopez was arrested for carrying a fake Social Security card and neglecting to wear his seatbelt. Tapia and the third man, Oswaldo Romero, were released. A few minutes later, an odd thing happened: The white officer pulled them over again, on the pretext of getting their vehicle ID number. He handed them a card with the number for the jail, where they would be able to find Lopez. And he had also circled another number on the card: public integrity.
It was strange behavior, and seemed even stranger when Tapia talked to Lopez in jail, only to learn the officers had stolen Lopez's $800. Did the skinny white officer want to get caught? If so, Tapia was happy to oblige; the next morning, he called the circled number and complained about the theft.
McLeod pulled the report: The arresting officers were Maples and Roper.
McLeod lost no time getting down to the Euless Immigration and Naturalization office, where Lopez was about to be put on a bus for Mexico. Lopez gave a statement; in it, he said the officers had told him they were taking his money "because it was American money, and they were going to donate it." Lopez, who had just been paid for his work on a construction crew, said he cried and begged to be left at least $100 to get from the border to his home in central Mexico. No dice.
Public integrity now had at least seven witnesses telling more or less the same story. McLeod asked the INS branch director if he had any Spanish-speaking agents who would pose as illegal immigrants for an "integrity check."
Before they could pull it off, McLeod's notes show, another complaint against Maples and Roper came in. This time, a white husband-and-wife pair of junkies claimed Maples and Roper barged into their room at a La Quinta Inn and took $1,600. And there was a witness: A security guard had seen Maples counting out the money, which never made it to the property room.
Make that 10 witnesses.
He was also a genuine hero to his community. He regularly donated large chunks of off-duty time to disadvantaged youths, coaching football teams in a Pop Warner league, taking kids from the projects fishing and to movies, inviting them to his house, talking to them about staying in school and away from drugs and alcohol. According to Roper's ex-wife Tabatha, who testified that she's had "her share of differences" with Roper, he was a devoted father to his 7-year-old daughter. The former Mrs. Roper, who moved back to Houston after divorcing Quentis in 1993, said he'd sometimes get off work at 4 a.m. and drive straight to Houston to spend the day with his daughter.
Roper mentored youngsters on the force too. Rookies, in particular, were often star-struck by Roper, with his trademark cigar, off-duty black wool cap, and glamorous persona. Roper, in turn, sometimes took an interest in the youngsters, showing them how to "chase dope," inviting them to his apartment after hours, taking them to ball games and strip clubs.
In this fashion, in early '97, he met and befriended a young white officer named Danny Maples. Maples remembers it vividly. "I'd heard about him," Maples says, speaking through a phone at a visitor's booth in the Dallas County jail. "And then, the officer I was riding with on little 't' [training] covered him on an arrest. Afterward, [Roper] turned to me and said, 'I hear you like to chase dope. When you get off training, maybe we can work together.'"
Up close and personal, Maples is compelling: personable, funny, quick. He has about him the pale, obsessive look of ambition more common to newsrooms and law firms than the place where he now bunks. "I play cards at night with Tim Richardson [the University Park accountant convicted last month of murdering his wife]," Maples says with an ironic grin. "They've got Roper just 17 cells away." (Richardson and Roper have since been transferred to state prisons.)
Maples' background couldn't have been more different from Roper's. The son of an electrician and housewife, Maples grew up on a farm just outside Seguin, a town of 20,000 east of San Antonio. Always the smallest boy in his class, he tried to play football until junior high, when he had to settle for hunting, fishing, and schoolwork. A bit of a loner, Danny "never did anything wrong," recalls his sister Tammie Maples Drown. "I mean he's always been a good kid. Straight A's in school. Lieutenant in the National Guard. He's never gotten into trouble."
According to his family and friends, he had two interests: his church and the military. He joined the National Guard as soon as he graduated. As in school, his instructors loved him. Superiors in his chain of command took him under their wing, gave him glowing reviews extolling his organizational skills and his "leadership potential," rating him in the "top 1 percent" of all recruits and saying he should be groomed for a military career.
Instead, on August 4, 1995, after he graduated with an accounting degree from Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, he joined the DPD. He received seven commendations in two years, with no disciplinary actions. Still something of a loner, he once again demonstrated a knack for being beloved by superiors, receiving rave reviews from the men to whom he reported. His peers on the force were somewhat less impressed. A number described him as vainglorious, quick to take all the credit; whenever he would make an arrest, he would boast over the MDT, the computer terminals cops have in their cruisers. Some simply regarded him as a braggart and a teller of tall tales, like the one about the Mexican mob having contracted for a hit on him. Maples, in turn, regarded many of his colleagues as mere doughnut-shop ornaments, lazy and more concerned with their own comfort and safety than with stamping out crime.
And while Maples' number of arrests was impressive, there seems to have been some grumbling about his methods. A number of officers later told investigators they had seen Maples make stops based on nonexistent violations. While Maples was still at Northeast, a handful complained that Maples was racially profiling, targeting Hispanic and black men driving new cars. But those who came forward about illegal stops were quickly shot down by Maples' superiors; one sergeant at Northeast responded that Maples was so good, he wanted all training officers to ride with him "so they could learn how to find dope."
"When you're getting results, producing, you become the golden child," explains Mountin. "Those who produce tend to be given the benefit of the doubt."
It was this reputation for aggressiveness, as well as their common love of the chase, that brought Roper and Maples together. Though Roper downplays their connection, saying they didn't spend that much time together, a number of officers at Northeast recall that, by the spring and summer of '97, Roper and Maples were pals. They often worked calls together, parking alongside each other, sometimes riding together. Unlike some of the goody-two-shoes Maples had met at Northeast, Roper didn't mind lopping off Constitutional corners in the name of making arrests, according to internal police documents. The most cursory review of Roper's cases shows he was illegally busting into apartments and stopping cars without valid permission or probable cause, concocting stories as needed to cover his actions. (Because of these irregularities, two people convicted after a Roper bust have since been released from jail, according to Mountin. Additional cases are under review.) Roper knew how to work the system in ways Maples hadn't dreamed of--and he always handled the paperwork, one reason other cops liked working with him.
Roper showed Maples the ropes off the job, too. According to Maples, after work they would hang together. It was hardly a friendship of equals; as one Northeast cop recalls, "Maples idolized Roper." He soon began to imitate his hero's glamorous style, donning a wool cap and smoking Cohibas. According to Maples, Roper introduced his young protégé to other pleasures. "We went to the horse races," Maples recalls. "And to clubs. Roper would buy us [Maples and other officers] lap dances, and we'd drink...He'd give me money--fifties, hundreds--to go buy a $5 round, and he'd tell me 'keep the change.'" Roper later admitted to investigators that among his acquaintances were a number of strippers, whom he hired to entertain at "get-togethers" at his place. He even paid one woman to have sex with Maples, Maples later found out. (In statements to internal affairs, Roper adamantly denied ever paying anyone to have sex with anyone else.)
Equal or not, Maples did have a few things to offer Roper. Number one, Maples spoke fluent, if schoolboyish, Spanish. And number two, Maples claimed to have special expertise in profiling Hispanic drug dealers. In the summer of 1997, for example, he did an elaborate cross-check of DPD computer files--licenses, car registrations, ticket files--linked to a single address out of which a mid-level drug gang appeared to be operating. As a result, Maples says, he was able to identify members of what he called the "Old East Dallas Drug Cartel," an organization the feds now say moved hundreds of pounds of cocaine and methamphetamine a month.
Maples drew an elaborate chart with the names, birth dates, and most important, descriptions of vehicles used by cartel members. He gave the chart to Roper, who started looking for family members and their vehicles. "Roper tormented that family, based on the information I gave him," Maples recalls proudly.
Indeed, Roper was apparently looking for members in December 1997 when he ran across Sandra Rodriguez--the woman who says Roper lifted $11,000 from her during her arrest. And that was the night, Maples says, he first crossed the thin blue line. Maples handled the task of checking her mobile phones and gun clips into the DPD property room. Unlike most federal law enforcement agencies, at DPD, street cops generally seize property--cash, guns, drugs, and equipment--on the honor system. It is up to the cops on the scene to transport items to the property room, located on Baylor Street near downtown, and in most cases, there are no peers or supervisors checking up to be sure it gets there.
As he was walking away from the property room to get in his cruiser and drive away, Maples claims, somebody shined a flashlight in his eyes.
According to Maples, it was Roper, waiting in his own cruiser.
"He had his driver's side window down. He was smoking a cigar, and he had two stacks of money on the passenger seat. He picked up a stack and handed it to me, and he goes, 'This is your cut of the Sandra Rodriguez arrest.'
"I said, 'No, it's not worth the risk.' That's when he said, 'Where do you think all that money I gave you before came from? You think you're just now crossing the line? You're already over it. You might as well take the money.'
"I wasn't as scared to take the money as I was of letting him down. I thought, 'He's trusting me, he's revealed the truth.' I mean, the guy had been my friend. It was the culmination of a long process; he brought me along slowly, revealed it slowly.
"I took it, and I put it in my safe, and I forgot about it until later."
Interestingly, that night someone took a few steps to ensure Maples' silence. Although cops and dealers alike later testified that Maples arrived at the scene late and didn't write the report, that's not the way it looked later. One report generated that evening used Maples' badge number, listing Maples as the first person there and also as the person making Sandra Rodriguez's arrest. Thus, in case anybody--public integrity, for example--later checked into the paperwork, Maples would appear to have made the stop with Roper, and was therefore, plausibly, the thief.
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."
Christine Biederman is a lawyer and Dallas-based writer.
Dallas Observer Editorial intern Elisa Bock assisted in the research for this story.