By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"Danny Maples' jury gave him two years," marvels former Dallas police officer Quentis Roper. "And they felt bad about it. Geez Louise, he had jurors crying for him. There were jurors laughing when they convicted me."
It is a Friday afternoon in late May, and Roper is speaking from inside the Dallas County jail. It's an almost unbelievable place to find Roper, 33, a former Rice University quarterback and Pinkston High School class president, a gifted student, devoted son, and doting father, a genuine hero to his community, a man who joined the Dallas Police Department because he wanted to help others. Instead, in April, a Dallas County jury convicted the handsome black cop of helping himself to $144,000 from 10 people shaken down during arrests.
was racially prejudiced.
Roper still insists he's innocent. Comparing himself to former Dallas City Councilman Al Lipscomb, he says he was convicted in a political trial because "It is not the right time for any public official to be in trouble." Nevertheless, on May 14, state Judge John Creuzot sentenced him to 17 years in the state pen; in August, he was sent to the Goree Unit in Huntsville. Barring a major miracle--namely reversal on appeal--Roper will be there until at least April 2002. And getting out then may take a minor miracle, since Huntsville is not the place where a Rice-educated former cop is likely to do easy time.
On this May afternoon, however, Roper was focused not on these unpleasant realities, but on Danny Maples, the rat who did him in. "I don't understand why they were all so afraid of that idiot Maples," fumes Roper. "I told my attorney that we ought to subpoena Maples, so the jury could see how this all got started. This guy is as non-credible as the drug dealers."
Like Roper, Danny Maples is a former Dallas cop, now doing time for stealing $27,000 from seven people. Unlike Roper, Maples admitted he was guilty and turned state's evidence. As a result, Maples' immediate future will be far easier. This spring, a jury gave Maples just two years' punishment, making him eligible for parole as early as next month. And since Maples is cooperating with federal authorities looking into DPD corruption, he will do his time in the Dallas County jail, the Ritz-Carlton of local pokeys.
Maples never testified against Roper. Yet Roper knows it is what Maples said, and gave, to authorities that made the difference, that made it possible to take the word of drug dealers, illegal aliens, and prostitutes over one of the finest of Dallas' finest. And when Maples turned himself in, he brought along mute witnesses: $49,000, cash which Maples said represented his cut of what he, Roper, and other officers had stolen.
Roper and his supporters have no ready explanation for the money. When pressed, they say Maples must have taken payoffs from dealers, or have stolen it himself. And then, they get down to brass tacks.
"You got this crazy-ass white boy who come in and everybody believe what he say, just because he white and Quentis black," charges Patriece Alexander, Roper's fiancée and, until May, his live-in girlfriend. "And you won't never understand what it's like, 'cause you aren't in a black skin."
Though they overstate the case, there is a troubling aspect to Danny Maples' story: Danny Maples. It isn't so much that Maples fancies himself a novelist and tries to pawn off a slim manuscript on a reporter, seeking help finding an agent and a publisher. It isn't his fondness for tall tales, or his tendency to exaggerate, or his active imagination, evident in letters to a former girlfriend; verisimilitude isn't Maples' strength, and his lies are usually awkward, self-aggrandizing, and easy to spot, like the one about the Mexican mafia having put out a contract on his life.
It isn't even that he seems to be enjoying his, oh, five seconds of fame so far. No, the troubling part is that Danny Maples is a storyteller--and despite that, when you take apart what he says and put it back together and check it against mountains of witness statements and court records, so much of his story holds up.
That, and the fact that he and Roper nearly got away with it.
"Had I kept my mouth shut," Maples acknowledges, "I'd be out there now. There are a lot of officers who did, and who are."
And in the end, many of Roper's friends and supporters cite this, too, as evidence of Maples' insanity. "[Dallas police Public Integrity] didn't have anything on either of them until Maples turned himself in," says one, amazed. "What kind of fool would do that?"
"I felt awful," Maples says. "That's why I stopped his friends" and gave them contact numbers for the jail--so they could reach their buddy Lopez--as well as public integrity.
There is also some indication that, during the arrest, Roper and Maples had words. Roper says Maples wanted to arrest Lopez and he didn't; Maples says he wanted to return Lopez's money, but Roper told him no. When they arrived at the jail with Lopez, Maples later told investigators, "I [said] we agreed on drug dealers, this kid is not a drug dealer, this is not right."
Raskolnikov or not, Dallas police Internal Affairs Division documents do suggest that, during this period, Maples-the-thief was often seized by an irresistible impulse to shoot himself in the foot. During another April heist, for example, Maples showed a security guard the $1,600 he pocketed--a move that virtually guaranteed he would be nabbed. "I would do things like that," Maples says now. "I was subconsciously trying to get caught, to get out of a bad situation, when I didn't have the courage to do it myself."
Maples later told investigators that Roper had been pressuring him to recruit more officers and to "produce"--that is, pull off his own thefts and share the proceeds with Roper. Public integrity and internal affairs documents show that, through the middle of May 1998, Maples had pulled off exactly two of his own thefts. To get Roper off his back, Maples says, he'd begun making up tales about thefts and simply tithing to Roper from money Roper had previously given him.
Then came the public integrity sting, which Maples and Roper spotted. The May 21 setup seems to have helped Maples locate his misplaced cojones; shortly afterward, Maples claims, he finally got up the gumption to tell Roper he "didn't want to do it any more."
In response, Maples says, Roper urged him to stay "in the game." And just 10 days after the failed sting, Maples pulled another heist, an amateurish and astonishingly wishy-washy job. In the wee hours of May 31, 1998, a 20-year-old kid named Joshua Jordan and several friends pulled into the driveway of Jordan's mother's East Dallas house. He had just gotten out of the car when he noticed a couple of figures around the corner. Jordan, who was packing, later said he thought they were about to break into his mother's house; he exchanged a round of gunfire with the dark figures and went inside to call police.
Unfortunately, the figures Jordan shot at were the police, investigating a burglary at a nearby store. Within minutes, Jordan was on the ground and the premises was a sea of blue uniforms. Maples was one of several officers who arrested Jordan; Maples patted him down and found his wallet, which had $650 tucked inside.
At least two cops on the scene later recalled seeing Maples with Jordan's wallet, and Maples says he commented aloud that Jordan deserved to have his money confiscated for shooting at a cop. When no one followed up, Maples says, he simply pocketed Jordan's cash. (If any cops overheard Maples' comment, they never told internal affairs. Maples claims one cop later assured him, "Don't worry, I didn't give you up" to internal affairs.)
Maples apparently tried one other interesting tactic he had picked up somewhere along the way. Joining several cops searching the bushes along the perimeter of the scene, Maples emerged carrying a purple Crown Royal bag. As officer Jason Sibley later recalled, "Officer Maples took me to the rear of the squad car and showed me a Crown Royal tie bag. The bag was in the trunk, and he told me it contained some drugs, and that it belonged to the suspect." Everyone took Maples at his word.
It seems that Maples later decided the drugs weren't needed. Jordan was charged with aggravated assault of a police officer, and the Crown Royal bag never made it down to the property room.
After that, Maples says, he flat-out refused to steal. And when Roper finally saw he couldn't lure Maples back "into the game," Maples says Roper tried to buy his silence.
In late June, Maples says, Roper asked him to come by Roper's apartment. "There were stacks of money in his living room," Maples recalls. And he said, 'Why do you want to mess this up? We've got a good thing going here.'
"I said I just couldn't. And that's when he walked back into the bedroom and came out with a shopping bag full of cash. And he said 'Here. Keep your mouth shut.'"
Maples says he took the money, more than $30,000, and put it in his apartment safe. Later that summer, he moved it to a storage unit nearby.
For his part, Roper continued to generate complaints in which Maples played no role. According to Roper's indictment and internal police records, in three separate incidents between May 28 and October 28, Roper illegally pocketed nearly $100,000.
Three nights before Joshua Jordan's arrest, Roper, riding alone, pulled over a black 1995 Ford Mustang driven by Federico Leyva. What happened next was hotly disputed. Roper said he saw marijuana "clutched" in passenger John Gabriel Leyva's hand. John Leyva said that Roper had the hooch, which he planted on Leyva only after running his prints--presumably to be sure Leyva wasn't an undercover officer. In any event, Roper searched the car and found a purple Crown Royal bag containing $4,200 in cash inside the center console. Roper next searched the trunk, where he found a larger bag that, the Leyvas said, contained somewhere around $24,000. A second cop, Michael H. Baesa, had by then arrived; he saw Roper snag the cash from the trunk and the purple Crown Royal bag of cash. But Baesa says in an IAD statement that the pile of cash was not counted at the scene.
Instead, Roper seized and handled the cash by himself.
John Leyva was arrested for drug possession.
The next day, Federico Leyva appeared at the jail window inquiring about the $24,000. When Sgt. Marvin Henson checked Roper's arrest report, he found no mention of money. As Henson later told an investigator, "I later asked officer Roper what happened to the money, and he told me that he put it on another [report]." And, indeed, Roper had--although only $12,400 made it to the property room. "I did not check or inquire further," Henson writes in a statement to internal affairs.
On June 25, Roper made yet another traffic stop that led to a stash o' cash. Roper found drugs on the driver and leaned on him to cough up the name of his dealer; within minutes, Roper was at Frank Alvarado's apartment, starting to kick in the door. Rather than lose his door, Alvarado later recalled, he opened it, whereupon Roper "with his gun pointing at me, pushed me to the floor." After making a pregnant Rosalinda Alvarado and her small son sprawl as well, Alvarado swore that Roper "started going through the bed sheet[s] asking 'where are the drugs?'"
He found the drugs, six guns, and $106,000 cash in a "pink party bag."
In an attempt to paper over his illegal entry, affidavits show, Roper took Rosalinda Alvarado into a bedroom alone and handed her a piece of paper. "I then asked officer Roper what it was for and he told me it was to keep my son from going to Child Protective Services. So I signed it," Rosalinda said in a statement to investigators. The form was a consent for the search that had, of course, already occurred. The signing of the form was subsequently "witnessed" by officer Ronnie Keith Anderson, who Mrs. Alvarado swore was in another room.
Frank Alvarado was arrested on drug charges and Rosalinda Alvarado on outstanding tickets; both were taken to Lew Sterrett Justice Center. A day later, the bag of cash showed up at the DPD property room--some $49,000 short.
But Roper's pursuers weren't far behind. Since at least November 1997, DPD's Narcotics Division had been monitoring Roper's reports and noticing some odd patterns. When Roper confiscated drugs, money, or guns, the seized property often did not appear in an arrest report. Instead, Roper would file a separate "found property" report, listing "City of Dallas" as the complainant and the gun or money as the perpetrator. Many of these found property reports contained no cross-reference to an arrest report, making it impossible to tell what arrest, if any, produced the orphaned booty.
"His report writing is not correct," detective Carl Lowe later explained to a grand jury. "It's meant to hide...we have no way of contacting these people because all we got is just a found property [report], City of Dallas [listed] as the complainant. We don't know who lost the gun because we have no way of tracing it...My assumption is he's probably taking some of these guns off people and then letting them go, and then using the money that he's confiscating [at the same time] and putting it in his pocket."
Narcotics noticed something else they thought strange. Not only would Roper fail to indicate in many arrest reports that he had seized cash, but he would wait several hours, sometimes even a day, before filing a separate found property report. The narcs thought they understood what was up; as one put it, Roper was "waiting to see if anyone raised a stink about the money" before deciding how much, or even whether, to pocket the cash. They spotted the Alvarado arrest when it came in and immediately noticed that nearly 24 hours elapsed between the time of the arrest and Roper's "found property" report claiming he recovered just $57,000. The narcs called public integrity, which quickly found Frank and Rosalinda Alvarado, who said Roper had skimmed $49,000.
The more public integrity dug, the more disturbing similarities became apparent. A number of witnesses claimed Roper exhibited "crazy" behavior. Four witnesses swore that, during a shakedown in January 1998, Roper put a gun to a man's head and played Russian roulette after the man refused to give Roper his name. (The witnesses also swore that this happened in front of three other officers, who laughed at Roper's antics.) Another man, Michael Hayes, swore that less than 24 hours later, as Roper was relieving him of $830, Roper pulled out a gun and "began talking crazy, putting the gun to his [Roper's] head and saying didn't I wish there was bullets in it?"
Roper seems to have pursued cash with similar recklessness. On at least four occasions in the summer of 1998, Roper turned up in the middle of the night banging on the door of an elderly Hispanic man, Apolinar Rodriguez, who had drug-dealing relatives: Sandra Rodriguez, his daughter, and Homar Jaime Gracia Jr., his grandson. "He handed my Dad, who doesn't speak or read English, a piece of paper saying if he signed, [Roper] wouldn't take him to jail," recalls Apolinar's daughter, who witnessed several of the incidents. "Then he used it to search the house." Once inside, the family says, Roper would rifle the premises, looking for cash on the theory Homar might be hiding loot at his granddad's.
A family member called Homar Gracia, who in turn called his lawyer, Frank Perez, and asked him what to do.
"I get a page in the middle of the night from Frank Perez," recalls a narcotics detective. "Mind you, Roper's doing this shit in the middle of an ongoing public integrity investigation, and Roper knows he's under investigation.
"Perez says, 'Roper is holding Homar's grandfather hostage, what do I do?' I said, 'Whatever you do, don't go over there.' So I page [public integrity detective] Diane McLeod, and she pages Roper's sergeant or something. Anyway, the thing gets resolved."
Despite such antics, PI still didn't think they had enough to make a move on Roper. Cases against cops are among the most difficult to win, and there were problems. A few witnesses didn't want to get involved in a case against cops. Because of medical problems, a few witnesses, such as Frank and Rosalinda Alvarado, could not take polygraphs. A few witnesses, like Joshua Jordan, had flunked theirs. And while there were a good number of witnesses who had passed, PI had no evidence of either Roper or Maples living beyond his means. Unfortunately for the detectives, Maples was a saver, not a spender; his bank and credit card records suggested he was the sort who liked to pinch a nickel. And if Quentis Roper was spending money, he was operating strictly on a cash basis. Since their attempted stings had gone south, PI had no marked bills they could trace, no videotape--just the testimony of drug dealers, illegal aliens, and junkies. While the detectives thought these statements trustworthy, who knew what a jury would think?
PI wasn't ready to give up; they called the FBI and asked for help setting up yet another sting. But in retrospect, it seems highly unlikely that either Roper or Maples would have been arrested had Danny Maples not fallen in love.
On the first day of Maples' sentencing, all heads turned as the statuesque Belgian-born strawberry blonde in strappy black heels, a plunging neckline, and dangerously slit skirt sashayed to the stand. Like Erin Brockovich in church, she swept thick bangs out of heavily made-up eyes, sighed, and claimed she was terrified of Maples, her ex-lover.
Maples met her while he was in the police academy; at the time, Schoovaerts was married to one of Maples' classmates. By the time Maples heard from her again in the summer of 1998, Schoovaerts had divorced and was working as a dispatcher for Grand Prairie police. They got engaged in September, while Maples was on a month-long military leave; by October, Eveline and her 4-year-old son had moved in.
Maples behaved terribly. He was jealous, possessive, domineering, insecure--and under mounting pressure. For if Maples thought he had extricated himself from the thefts, he was wrong; at the same time Maples was acquiring his new family, PI was turning up the heat. In October, Maples noticed a new box in the trunk of his police cruiser. He drove his squad car to a city garage and asked a mechanic about the box. "It's a tracking device," the mechanic said and then disconnected the wire.
For the next two months, Maples and a crew of PI detectives played psychological cat-and-mouse. When Maples disconnected the tracker, they assigned him a live tail. To make sure they knew he knew, or just to be a smart-ass, in late October, as he was being followed, Maples whipped around suddenly, waited for the PI detective to do the same, and ticketed his tail for making an illegal U-turn. In turn, detectives subpoenaed Maples' bank records. (PI subpoenaed Roper's accounts, too.)
"We knew they were investigating us," Maples says. "But we didn't know how bad they really wanted us until the FBI showed up."
On October 21, Maples was riding by himself when he got a message over the MDT, the computer terminals cops have in their cruisers. It was Roper, summoning Maples to a La Quinta Inn on Interstate 30. When Maples arrived, Roper, who was with his new partner, Larry Coddington, explained he had just gotten a tip from narcotics that a Jamaican drug dealer was in a certain room.
Before they could go in, Maples got another call from dispatch. Roper and Coddington said they'd wait for Maples to return. And while they waited, Roper saw something suspicious.
"They didn't count on Roper running counter-surveillance," says Clark Birdsall, the assistant district attorney who would later prosecute Roper. "He looks across the freeway and, to his surprise, finds a woman looking through her binoculars at him. So he hotfoots it across [to the Taco Bell, where she was parked], and he sees her sitting there with her FBI raid jacket and radio."
When Maples returned from his call, Roper and Coddington were waiting. "They said, 'It's a setup, but let's go in anyway,'" says Maples.
The resulting videotape shows an extremely hacked-off Roper, waving at the camera and talking trash to whomever might be listening in. The undercover Jamaican tried to bribe the officers, telling them he had a safe nearby, and if they'd go with him, he'd pay them off. They accompanied him, seized the money--$19,999--and promptly booked him into Lew Sterrett. The money--every marked penny of it--made it to the property room. On the way home, Roper sent out a message on the MDT: "Thanks for the money, Louis Freeh."
One thing is clear: The La Quinta setup didn't make Roper more cautious. A week later, on October 28, 1998, Roper and partner Larry Coddington pulled into the parking lot of an East Dallas auto detailing shop frequented by convicted drug dealer Homar Gracia and his associates. Homar Gracia's Lincoln Town Car was parked in front.
At least 12 people later gave statements about what happened that evening, and their stories didn't always match. Yet all but Roper generally agree on the following: Coddington guarded the Lincoln and two or three Hispanic men loitering outside, while Roper went in to find Gracia, supposedly because he had outstanding warrants. Once inside, Roper ordered all the Hispanics except Gracia to get out, leaving only Homar and the business owners. Roper then commanded the auto-detail owners to close shop and go home.
With "credible" witnesses out of the way and only dopers left, Roper went to work. He patted down Homar Gracia, found an envelope with $6,800 cash in his pocket, and cuffed him. Locating Gracia's keys, Roper searched the Lincoln. According to a public integrity report, in the trunk, under a spare tire, Roper found "30 to 35 thousand dollars and 19,000.00 worth of jewelry [all of] which was inside a Crown Royal bag."
Around this time, Gracia asked to have a private word with Roper, and the two went around the corner. Gracia later told investigators he tried to bribe Roper to let him go, but that Roper refused, suspecting another setup.
Coddington, meanwhile, had patted down the other Hispanic men and discovered $1,900 on Ismael Burciaga. Coddington showed Roper the money he had "detained" from Burciaga, and shortly afterward, Roper told Burciaga to take a hike--without his money.
At some point, patrol officers Ronnie Anderson and Michael Baesa arrived; they couldn't recall whether Gracia's trunk was open already. At Roper's request, they helped search Gracia's car, as well as a second car parked nearby. Anderson later told investigators he never saw any money at the scene. It does not appear that Baesa was ever asked.
Baesa and Roper found cocaine in the second car, which belonged to Ismael Burciaga, the man whom Roper had let go. Baesa went looking for Burciaga and found him at a nearby Sonic. Burciaga, Gracia, and another man were arrested. A total of $8,100--Burciaga's $1,900 and the contents of Gracia's pocket--made it to the property room. The contents of the Crown Royal bag--call it $30,000 and a lot of gold change--never did.
(Coddington would later give conflicting statements to police investigators about what happened that evening. For example, in a January 1999 statement to public integrity, Coddington said that Roper found Gracia's $6,800 in cash during a search of Gracia's car, which Roper had towed as abandoned property. Roper, in turn, said the business owner asked him to have the car hauled away, and that the $6,800 was "found property" from inside the car.
(Months afterward, the business owner denied to investigators that he'd asked Roper to tow the car. Some time around then, in a second statement to public integrity and internal affairs, Coddington gave a different timeline of events. Now Coddington said Roper had seized the $6,800 from Gracia before the car was searched. Police investigators apparently never questioned Coddington about the discrepancies, and Coddington did not return phone calls from the Dallas Observer.)
Two weeks after the Gracia arrest, PI finally confronted Roper.
On November 11, Detectives Carl Lowe and Diane McLeod showed up at Northeast. They were greeted by Roper's sergeant, who said he'd been expecting them for some time and who had taken the liberty of ordering Roper and several other officers who worked with him on the suspect arrests--including Anderson, Coddington, and Baesa--to come in that night at 10 p.m. and be interviewed. All denied having done or seen anything illegal; they were just hard-working cops being harassed by scumbucket dealers who wanted to make drug charges go away. Roper agreed to take a polygraph.
By the next morning, Roper had, in PI lingo, "lawyered up." His attorney, Bob Baskett, was calling PI, accusing them of entrapping Roper and other nefarious acts. There would be no polygraph, not then and not unless Roper's side got to dictate terms.
Roper, they knew, would not be an easy nut to crack.
Interestingly, PI made no move to interrogate Maples--a fact that Maples claims drove Roper to distraction. "He started acting really weird," Maples recalls. "He kept asking whether I'd been interviewed by PI. And he kept asking if I'd ever told Eveline anything." Maples told Roper he hadn't.
Perhaps it was an effort to reassure Roper; perhaps, an act of defiance aimed at the inspectors riding him. But on November 21, in one of the most bizarre episodes of the whole story, Maples, who hadn't stolen any money for six months, pulled off one last heist. Riding alone, Maples responded to a call involving a stolen vehicle. When he arrived, other cops were at the scene, including Roper and Coddington. Maples patted down a wiry, Jheri-curled, streetwise man named Seneca Faggett. Faggett turned out to be carrying $400, a little dope, and an assault rifle. Everything made it to the property room except $149 of Faggett's money. According to a statement Faggett later gave police, Maples said "my sergeant"--whom Maples called "Q"--"told me to confiscate everything."
It wasn't the first time Faggett had run across "Q," whose reputation, he later testified, was well-known on the streets. "Q ain't right," Faggett later told a jury. "And if you can't trust the cops, you can't trust nobody."
She was also, it seems, suspicious. In fact, before going on military leave in September, Maples had taken Eveline to the storage shed where he kept his wampum. Maples showed her the money and claimed he'd won it all gambling.
On December 2, during a conversation with her ex, a DPD officer, Schoovaerts revealed the existence of Maples' stash. Word got back to public integrity, which contacted Eveline, who led them to the site. On Sunday morning, December 6, PI pulled a state district judge out of a church service to sign a search warrant, which detectives executed around noon. The money was gone.
But all was not lost. PI now had the psychological crow bar they needed to pry the truth from Maples.
That afternoon, as previously planned, Maples appeared at the Grand Prairie police station, where Eveline was on duty. Maples thought he and Eveline would exchange property, including Eveline's engagement ring. When Maples showed up, however, Eveline was nowhere in sight; instead, he was confronted by PI detectives McLeod, Lowe, and PI chief Lt. Ron Waldrop.
"The first thing McLeod says [is] 'The deal about Eveline's [engagement] ring is off and she doesn't ever want to see you again,'" Maples recalls. "Then, they say they're from public integrity and they're investigating me."
They asked him about two specific thefts. "I said, 'I don't know what you're talking about,'" Maples recalls. "That's when [detective Carl Lowe] said, 'We know about the $50,000.'"
Maples struggled to stay calm. Four days earlier, he had removed the money from storage, and since then, he had been hauling nearly $50,000 in greenbacks in his Toyota 4-Runner. He left the interrogation and, in a fog, drove back to Dallas.
"I was just trying to figure this all out, who they're talking to and all. It was just...overload.
"I knew the next move was to talk to Roper and tell him they knew about the money. I thought they would probably tell him, 'Look what we got: Maples' girlfriend.'"
Maples says he believed Eveline was in danger. Equally likely, he simply knew the jig was up. He needed leniency from the authorities and he wanted absolution from Eveline, who obviously knew he was crooked, and whom he was desperate to win back. He wanted to marry her, and he wanted the baby.
He went home and called his big sister, Tammie Maples Drown, a housewife in Seguin.
"He told me he and another cop had been stealing money from drug dealers," recalls Drown. "He was crying. I didn't believe him; he'd never done anything wrong in his life. Then he started to get really upset, and I knew he was telling the truth. So I gave him a little sisterly advice. I told him to do the right thing and turn himself in."
Maples alerted the Grand Prairie police that he was coming back to do just that. And later that night, Maples gave his lawyers $49,000 in cash--evidence to be handed over to public integrity.
Part one, dirty cop, was finally over; Part two, frustrated informant, was beginning.
"I distinctly recall being told 'we want Roper, and we want anyone else you've got,'" says Brook Busbee, one of Maples' attorneys.
A deal was quickly struck: Maples would get immunity to tell what he knew, and if he cooperated, he would get probation. With the papers inked, Maples' attorney forked over the $49,000.
Maples told his attorneys, and his attorneys told prosecutors, that the money had come not just from his thefts, but from the thefts of Roper and others in Roper's "ring" of dirty cops. The claim made sense to public integrity. The thefts that Maples and Roper worked together netted less than $26,000; Maples' half would have been less than $13,000. Maples' own pathetic little heists tallied up to about $3,000. In other words, somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 had to have come from a source other than Maples.
On Tuesday, December 8, Maples' surrender was all over the paper, complete with a tall tale he'd told Grand Prairie police about having been threatened by drug dealers.
That same day, Maples finally sat down with Dallas police interrogators--and promptly committed another act of pedicide.
To be sure, he gave them a few good leads. He told them of a beating he'd seen involving three other cops. He gave them details from arrests he'd witnessed, where he thought something was fishy. But because of the way Roper ran his affairs, Maples said, he'd only heard about, not witnessed, many thefts; thus what he knew was mostly from Roper and mostly hearsay. He had, however, attended "get-togethers" with some of the other cops Roper had said were dirty. Maples said that at these get-togethers, Roper had said some incriminating things--talking in front of him and the others about everybody "earning" and being "in the game," as well as the need for secrecy. They were admissions of a sort, and if the story checked out, it provided at least some evidence against other cops. Maples knew a few of these cops by name; others, he said, had been introduced by nicknames, or divisions, or not at all. But, Maples said, he could identify from photos the cops he'd met.
But Maples didn't give PI what they wanted. He didn't give them Roper. And he sure didn't give up himself. By now Maples had begun to think better of his hasty decision to talk. It occurred to him that his interrogators might not know everything, and Roper wasn't likely to fill them in. Though under scrutiny, Roper was still denying everything; in fact, he had by then agreed to take a polygraph. (He failed.) But Maples knew Roper pretty well, well enough to bet he wouldn't break. "He's a proud person," says Maples. "Even today, I still think he thinks he can pull this out, maybe through an appeal or something."
Rather than 'fess up, Maples floated a three-monkey version of the story: He'd only seen Roper take money one time, from a safe, and he'd never heard Roper actually admit stealing anything. The way Maples told it, he merely suspected Roper had been stealing, based on the money he said Roper gave him "to keep his mouth shut."
The next day, Maples was polygraphed about his involvement in two thefts, thefts in which he had downplayed his own role. He flunked.
Though they knew Maples wasn't coming clean, PI and the DA's office weren't ready to give up on Maples. And PI had its hands full. Over an eight-week period from December 8 until February 2, PI detectives interviewed every officer or ex-officer who was present during 16 suspicious arrests. They also completed interviews with every Northeast officer assigned to fourth and first watches.
The resulting notes, transcripts, and sworn affidavits don't paint a pretty picture. A good number of the officers at Northeast who hadn't worked on the suspect cases--and thus, had no criminal exposure themselves--knew or assumed the two officers worked "backward," that is, were busting into apartments, stopping people, and searching cars without probable cause.
But among those officers who had worked the suspect cases, none admitted having seen, heard, or suspected anything. This, despite the fact that many of the searches were blatantly illegal; in several cases, Maples, Roper, and other officers effectively broke in and entered without consent. In order to search your home, the Fourth Amendment requires that officers have two things: probable cause to believe a crime has occurred, and a warrant based on the testimony of an informant known to be reliable--not somebody arrested five minutes ago who says the dope's at your place. Cars are a bit easier. As long as police stop you for something other than speeding, they have the right to take you to jail. And if you go to jail, they can impound your car and inventory it--that is, search it.
Of course, by getting written or verbal consent to search, police don't have to worry about pesky Constitutional protections. So the game is to obtain consent by hook or by crook.
In one case, an officer admitted he didn't actually witness consent to search being given, even though he signed a form stating otherwise. Michael Magiera told internal affairs that, while covering Roper and Maples at an East Dallas apartment complex on March 5, 1998, "...Roper handed me a signed Consent to Search form, and asked me to sign it as a witness. I thought this was odd because I wasn't at the apartment to witness the Request for Consent to Search, and there seemed to be other officers there that could have signed it. I dismissed my thought thinking instead that I was least senior officer out there, and this was one of those mundane aspects of police paperwork..."
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.
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.
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.)
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."
Birdsall, prosecuting his last PI case, begged management to use Maples. On the next-to-last day, they relented--but the judge refused to allow it because of a technicality. Roper took the stand and didn't always help his own cause. The jury, consisting of four blacks, one Hispanic, and seven whites, took slightly more than two hours to convict.
Roper's friends and family seemed stunned, and even more stunned when Roper was sentenced to 17 years. One burly man burst into the hallway, pouring out his heartfelt grief. "This is bullshit," he wailed. "Bullshit."
Letters of protest by the dozens poured into the court from members of the black community, which held out Roper as a hero and a role model, claiming that the system made a terrible, terrible mistake. Roper's supporters are religious in their faith, convinced that he will turn out to be another Joyce Ann Brown or Lenell Geter.
In the wake of the verdict, a host of black police officers and officials have questioned the conviction. Thomas Glover is quick to say that, speaking for himself and not the TPOA--an organization to which Roper did not belong--he has some questions. "The concerns I had were the usual ones--use of witnesses who got something out of the deal, conviction of a black officer by use of drug dealer testimony."
Indeed, it is not Roper's conviction so much as the quality of the evidence used to convict him that upsets black officers, in particular. To them, it seems but one more instance of a phenomenon they believe to be true: that black men are routinely indicted and convicted on the basis of evidence that would not be deemed sufficient to indict and convict a white man.
Glover goes so far as to say that black cops should not be indicted, much less put away, based solely on testimony from drug dealers, drug users, prostitutes, and illegal aliens, all of whom, he says, stand to gain from testifying. "That's not enough," says Glover. "That's not enough to convict [an officer], based on the word of these people."
A week after his court appearance, the FBI met with the DA's office and the DPD public integrity squad in a debriefing session. "I think they got embarrassed [by their role in the failed sting]," says one person familiar with the probe. "And I think they've always been concerned that the investigation didn't go far enough."
Admittedly, many of Maples' leads are not very concrete. Because of the way Roper ran his affairs, Maples says, he can't know for sure who else, besides him, got money from Roper. And some of the cops Maples named hotly dispute his story. "He's never even met me!" exclaims one. "We never socialized."
But none of the other cops has been, nor is likely to be, subjected to a full-fledged investigation of the type used to make cases against Roper and Maples. Three of the officers named by Maples were interviewed and asked if they were corrupt; not surprisingly, they denied it, and the matter was not pursued.
The DPD has had its fill of Maples, the rat, for whom everyone seems to have developed quite a dislike. IAD is still on the job, investigating the officer who came to Maples' jail cell and allegedly told him he'd "better pray," as well as a handful of other names that came up along the way. But it's a safe bet that if the probe, which many officers view as a witchhunt, nails anyone, it will be on the most trivial of charges.
For, as Eric Mountin knows, there's a larger problem. "You know," he says, "Dallas is the weirdest city. It has corruption. It has a racial problem. Just because it's a big city. But what makes it strange is, nobody wants to acknowledge these facts."
Christine Biederman is a lawyer and Dallas-based writer.
Dallas Observer Editorial intern Elisa Bock contributed to this report.