By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
They also had a bunch of pieces Maples didn't. For example, they had statements from four witnesses to the alleged Russian-roulette incident. They had officers admitting they had falsely "witnessed" verbal or written consent to search being given. They had affidavits suggesting that Roper may have been planting drug evidence, and a bunch of cops who never seemed to see drugs being found, but didn't question when Maples or Roper found drugs in areas they'd already searched.
Most important, they had witness statements suggesting several officers besides Maples and Roper must have known about the thefts.
IAD didn't have truth serum, but they did have the next-best thing: the ability to force officers to take polygraphs, and to discipline those who refused.
Yet IAD made no move to polygraph officers, not even on the obvious question: whether anyone besides Danny Maples was in on, or knew about, Roper's thefts. They didn't touch the cases in which officers admitted they falsely "witnessed" verbal or written consent to search being given. Nor did they wade into the issue of planting drug evidence--an issue that appears repeatedly in the arrests IAD reviewed.
They accepted at face value officers' statements explaining away apparent incidents of brutality, such as the time Roper and another officer allegedly slammed an arrested person into a fence in anger. Ditto for the officers' denials that they ever saw Roper play Russian roulette with John Harp.
They stuck to the easy cases, sustaining 32 official charges against six officers. Twenty-seven of those 32 charges were against Roper or Maples, who were finally fired in February 2000 after spending more than a year on paid administrative leave.
Only four other officers--Michael Baesa, Ronnie Anderson, Rodney Nelson, and Gerardo Huante--had "sustained findings" against them, for administrative slip-ups the officers themselves admitted. While the findings went in the officers' personnel files, the officers weren't disciplined in any other way.
Michael Magiera, the only officer who admitted he'd falsely witnessed a consent to search--and who stuck to his initial statement--was written up and "counseled." If other officers flip-flopped on important points from affidavit to affidavit, IAD didn't seem to care.
But IAD wasn't totally derelict. They did nail Roper for stealing Harp's 12-pack of beer.
hr style="size: 1px; width: 50%; text-align: centerOf course, IAD couldn't make criminal cases. And nobody seems to have been bothering the people who could, namely PI and the DA's office, either because they couldn't, or wouldn't, or because, as they knew, Birdsall had his hands full just trying to get Roper indicted on that final theft count.
As it was, the DA's office was forced to dismiss 25 drug cases Maples and Roper had pending when they were indicted. And since Maples and Roper were convicted, the DA's office has helped secure the release of two people from the state penitentiary--both of whom were convicted, it now seems, on Maples' and Roper's false testimony. In addition, the DA's office says it is reviewing other cases.
And it turned out that Birdsall had foes in places other than the TPOA. In October 1999, following the resignation of police chief Ben Click, longtime DPD officer Terrell Bolton was sworn in as the new police chief. "Bill Hill told me that, at Bolton's swearing-in, Bolton turned to [Hill] and said he had a problem with public integrity--that it was a racially prejudiced department," Birdsall recalls. (Through a deputy, Mike Carnes, Hill declined comment on this and other questions surrounding Maples' and Roper's cases. Bolton did not respond to several requests for comment.)
In early November, Hill transferred Birdsall out of public integrity and into the DA's civil litigation section. Hill did, however, allow Birdsall to keep the integrity cases he already had.
In January, Eric Mountin took over as new public integrity chief. Mountin quickly got an underling: Heath Harris, a young assistant district attorney. Hill told Birdsall he could indict Roper on the additional counts, so long as Mountin and Harris, who is black, agreed.
They did. On March 3, Roper was reindicted with an additional count: stealing $42,000 from Homar Gracia. But, as ever, there was a catch. Birdsall and others say Birdsall was informed he couldn't use Danny Maples as a witness, because "it wouldn't look good" to have a white officer, who was getting probation out of the deal, testify against a black officer, against whom the state was seeking serious time.
At Roper's trial, a succession of drug dealers, junkies, and illegal aliens testified against the handsome, beefy cop, who never seemed to realize he was in trouble, that their story might make more sense than his. Roper stuck to his blanket denial, claiming the whole thing was a plot by criminal defense attorney Frank Perez and his clients. For the first few days of the trial, the blue wall was parked in the courtroom behind him, complete with guns, uniforms, and scowls. DPD headquarters issued a hasty directive, and the guns and uniforms disappeared--if not the cops themselves, many of whom testified that Roper was a fine, upstanding member of a fine, upstanding force.
If it was meant to send a message to the jury, it backfired. "A lot of the police officers [who] testified for Roper, we didn't believe them," says one juror, who asked that his name not be used. As for Roper himself, "we thought that he was very arrogant, and not very truthful."