By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In another instance, officer Ronnie Anderson admitted in an initial statement to PI and internal affairs that he had falsely signed his name as the witness on the consent to search form for Rosalinda Alvarado's apartment. Less than two months later, in another statement to public integrity, Anderson told a different story--recalling that he had witnessed consent to search being given.
Yet nobody at DPD seems to have cared much. In the name of the drug war, the reality is that these transgressions go on every day; police know it, and aren't about to do anything to stop it. Nor did they care about a handful of miraculous dope findings by Maples or Roper in places already thoroughly searched--some indication that Maples and Roper were, as some of the arrested people claimed, planting dope.
And something else jumps out from the reports and interviews: In several cases, officers--including supervising sergeants--saw Maples or Roper seize money, but never asked them to count it or doublechecked to be sure it all got to the property room. In one instance, Maples and Roper stole approximately $13,000 from a safe while two sergeants were in adjacent rooms in an apartment, supposedly supervising the search. Both sergeants saw the safe, and one sergeant knew that money had been recovered from it, but nobody ever made them count the dough or checked to be sure it got to the property room. In essence, money, guns, and drugs were all being seized on the honor system, without any checks, follow-up, or systematic oversight.
In a particularly disturbing case, witnesses told investigators that Roper allegedly held a gun to the head of a drug suspect named John Harp and played Russian roulette while three officers--Ronnie Anderson, Michael Baesa, and Rodney Nelson--looked on and laughed. "So he takes hold of the .357 pistol that was now on the table and empties all the bullets from it. He picks up one bullet off the floor and drops it slowly into the barrel, spins it shut...then 'Q,' he pulls the trigger, and scares us all to death," wrote a witness named Stonish Jackson in a statement to IAD. Added another witness, Charles Pipkin, "The police who were in the room started laughing."
Although the arrested person and a witness passed a lie detector test on that one, PI made no effort to polygraph the officers, all of whom denied in sworn statements that they'd seen the alleged Russian-roulette incident.
hr style="size: 1px; width: 50%; text-align: centerIt is unclear how much of this came to the attention of the DA's public integrity unit, since there wasn't much of a public integrity unit to pass it on to.
On January 4, 1999, DPD detectives met with Mike Gillett, who promised to look over the evidence and get back to the detectives. Gillett never had the chance, though, because that afternoon, as his first official act, incoming District Attorney Bill Hill canned him.
To be sure, Gillett was controversial; for years, many had charged that he ran public integrity as his own personal vendetta machine. A number of black cops and politicians suspected him of running a racist department, that went after black officials such as Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price with special zeal.
The public integrity section under Gillett included eight people: Gillett, five assistant district attorneys, and two investigators. Within days after Gillett got the hook, Bill Hill transferred everyone out except Assistant District Attorney Clark Birdsall, one investigator, and a young attorney.
And Birdsall had his own problems.
"The TPOA [Texas Police Peace Officers Association, the black officers' union] had been having meetings with Bill Hill, complaining that I was a racist," recalls Birdsall, now a criminal defense attorney in private practice.
Until recently, the 45-year-old Birdsall--who resembles a small, bespectacled, slightly stooped Harrison Ford--had spent virtually his entire legal career as an assistant district attorney, and most of that in public integrity. (In May, Birdsall was fired for allegedly shoving his girlfriend.) Former colleagues in the DA's office describe him as many things, but racist is not among them. "Clark is a very principled, honorable person who doesn't have a racist bone in his body," says one black former DA. "What he does have is tunnel vision."
TPOA President Thomas Glover confirms that he complained to Bill Hill about Birdsall. "I was involved in a couple of cases that put a bad taste in my mouth about Birdsall," says Glover, a sergeant in the DPD's family violence unit. The TPOA had long believed the DA's office was unduly aggressive when it came to prosecuting black police officers--and that Birdsall was part of the problem.
As Glover recalls, Hill and his new deputy, Mike Carnes, were "very receptive" to the TPOA's concerns. "[Hill] said he wouldn't stand for it, for any sort of racial bias," says Glover. And, Glover says, Hill also made him a promise: "Mr. Hill said he would personally review every case where a police officer was charged."
Hill apparently made good on his promise; according to Birdsall, "management started messing with my cases." Roper's case, Birdsall says, was particularly sensitive. As PI's investigation continued and new witnesses against Roper came to light, Birdsall recalls, he attempted to add a count to Roper's indictment. Roper fought back aggressively, testifying before the grand jury, which ended up no-billing the count, splitting along racial lines.