By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Working under these rules, on June 21, IAD sergeants Gary Brown and Julian Bernal sat down for the first of three marathon sessions with Maples. At first, it looked like they might need truth serum; Maples was clinging to a hoary old saw about drug dealers threatening his loved ones, and suggesting that he, personally, never took anything from anybody.
But Brown and Bernal were veteran interrogators: patient, shrewd, and able to pinpoint Maples' weaknesses. They encouraged his desire for absolution. They sympathized with the extenuating circumstances. They played to his deep-seated need to please those in power. Bernal's superbly rendered good-cop routine finally broke Maples; by the end of a session on July 1, he was pledging to spill his soul to PI, even to the evil detective McLeod.
Maples followed through. During two meetings in July 1999, Birdsall and the PI detectives debriefed Maples, and this time, they came away confident he was telling the truth. Asked about every theft in the two indictments, Maples confessed his crimes.
"Gradually," Birdsall recalls, "Maples did come clean. The detectives thought so, too."
For example, Maples told IAD he was present when Roper hired, ahem, "topless dancers" (read: prostitutes) to entertain at a private "get-together" during which at least two officers availed themselves of the ladies' services. Two other officers told IAD similar tales, and Roper himself admitted arranging such evenings on at least five occasions. In the instance Maples referred to, Roper used Maples' cell phone to summon the lads and lasses in attendance.
That's just one with easy corroboration. Maples told IAD about bad traffic stops and invalid searches on certain arrests. He named officers whom Roper had told Maples were in on specific thefts, including at least one officer who knew Maples was stealing, but allegedly covered for him.
Little of this seems to have been news to IAD. Since December, internal affairs had been doing its own investigation into the thefts--those involving Maples as well as those in which Roper pinched the loot while other officers were present in the same room or close by. By the time of Maples' statement, they had compiled a thick stack of witness and officer affidavits--documents that tend to back up what Maples had to say.
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.
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.)