By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
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.
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.
Birdsall says after that, management virtually shut him down. "They refused to let me go back [to the grand jury] with corroboration," Birdsall recalls. "They accused me of piling on."
Things weren't going well for DPD's Public Integrity Unit, either. Both Maples and Roper's ex-wife said they thought Roper kept money in a safe deposit box in Houston, but with nothing more specific to go on, PI was after a needle in a haystack the size of the Bayou City. PI did know of one safe deposit box in Dallas, but they didn't get around to executing a search warrant on Roper's box until April '99. When they finally opened it, they found no money. They did find something interesting, though, in bank records: Roper had visited the box on dates that corresponded with the alleged thefts.
Nor were they getting many new leads from Maples, for by early spring, the relationship between detectives and their star witness had become positively chilly.
It started as a contest for Eveline's loyalty. From the moment she gave them a statement, PI detectives seem to have viewed Eveline as their witness, and any further contacts by Maples as a form of witness tampering. Maples, in turn, viewed the turning of his fiancée as dirty pool, a form of psychological coercion roughly on par with torture on the rack.
It got beyond personal, well into weird. In court, Eveline later admitted she was still sleeping with Maples as late as June 1999--two months after detective Diane McLeod helped Eveline file a harassment complaint against him. Maples wrote Eveline letters, which she read and then turned over to public integrity. Maples knew PI was scouring his mail, so he filled his letters with disinformation and provocations. Not surprisingly, PI detectives developed an almost visceral dislike for Danny Maples, and vice versa.
A DPD unit that reports directly to the police chief, internal affairs is charged with recommending officer discipline for a wide range of crimes and misdemeanors. Though they can't make criminal cases, they do have an important weapon: They can force officers to give statements or else lose their jobs.
As always, there's a catch. Since an officer has no Fifth Amendment right not to participate in this process, courts have ruled that IAD statements cannot be used against cops in a criminal proceeding. Dallas city attorneys' rulings have interpreted this to mean that, absent a court order, IAD can't share its files with DPD public integrity or the DA's office.