By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Far from changing his tune suddenly in the last two weeks to accuse the Dallas police chief of wrongdoing, the main witness against the chief has steadfastly told authorities the same story in detail and under oath for more than a year, a legal deposition shows. Dallas police Lt. William Sullivan testified under oath in early March of last year that Terrell Bolton, now chief of police, ordered him to have patrol officers "back off enforcement" at Caligula, a Dallas topless club, in the early 1990s.
At the end of last year's bribery and corruption trial of former City Councilman Al Lipscomb, U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall said from the bench that the owner of Caligula had paid a bribe to Lipscomb in exchange for reduced police enforcement at the club.
The fact that Sullivan pointed directly at Bolton in sworn testimony more than a year ago is significant now for two reasons. First, many believe wrongly that Sullivan only recently changed his story to implicate Bolton, and second, Dallas City Manager Ted Benavides has been dismissive, at least by implication, of Sullivan's credibility. At a news conference on Monday called to announce that he will not carry out a formal investigation of charges against Bolton, Benavides admitted he had not interviewed Sullivan or another police employee who has made supporting charges against Bolton. Benavides said a careful review of statements by Sullivan and the other employee caused him to conclude that "... I can't find anything to investigate..."
Benavides did not return a phone call from the Dallas Observer asking if his review had included the March 3, 2000, deposition in which Sullivan said under oath that Bolton had full explicit knowledge of a meeting Sullivan attended with Councilman Lipscomb and the owners of Caligula. Bolton has consistently denied any connection with the Caligula meeting and has told reporters that Sullivan and Cindy Schoelen, Bolton's former secretary, lied when they said otherwise.
But in the deposition taken by a Dallas city attorney last year and presumably on file now at City Hall, Sullivan said then that not only did Bolton know of the meeting, but that Sullivan had been required to report to him on it later. Sullivan testified that Bolton laid out specific orders for softened enforcement at Caligula. The club, since destroyed by a fire of unexplained origin, had a long history of narcotics arrests involving employees. In his sworn testimony, Sullivan described Bolton as telling him "he wanted us to soften our approach up there for a while, cut back," and, "we were told to have the officers to just back off enforcement over there at Caligula for a while."
The testimony was in a lawsuit brought by owners of other clubs to show a capricious pattern of enforcement, almost like a shakedown operation by the city in which strip clubs that paid bribes could get away with things others could not. The issue of whether Bolton was involved then is especially sensitive now because community leaders in neighborhoods near Northwest Highway, where many of the clubs operate, claim there is a general pattern of corruption of City Hall by the clubs.
Sullivan's recent statements to reporters implicating Bolton have been challenged by the chief's supporters, who have asked pointedly why Sullivan is only now changing his tune after claiming for a year he could not remember who had sent him to the Caligula meeting. Sullivan told the Observer he genuinely had not been able to remember details of the meeting, which took place almost eight years ago, when mention of it first surfaced in the Lipscomb trial last year. He says he pieced together details of the meeting soon after it became an issue in the Lipscomb trial and that he had consistently given the same story to authorities since then. His claim is supported by the deposition, which the Observer obtained by independent means.
Sullivan says that after refusing to discuss the issue with reporters for more than a year, he changed his mind a few weeks ago because of the persistence of Dallas Morning News reporter Dave Michaels, who had come to his house repeatedly asking for an interview despite being turned away. Sullivan, a 29-year veteran of the patrol division and a former Baptist minister, told the Observer, "I'm going to get out of this thing [the police department] in about a year and a half, and I guess the good Lord had it in mind he didn't want me to get out of here before I told the whole truth."
Sullivan says he told Michaels his entire story, including details of how Bolton told him to back off enforcement at Caligula, but he also lectured Michaels bitterly, predicting the Morning News would never print a word of what Sullivan was telling him. "I said, 'Your paper is a piece of filth. I wouldn't have it in my house. To have witnessed what has gone on in this community and to refuse to report the truth, it's worse than pornography.'"
Sullivan's prediction was correct. The Morning News never did publish his version of the story. The Observer called Michaels for comment, but Michaels declined to speak, citing corporate policy that forbids employees to talk to the Observer. In a subsequent conversation, Sullivan said he may not have provided Michaels with every detail of his story. A third source familiar with the situation, speaking not for attribution, says Michaels was frustrated after his meeting with Sullivan because he felt he lacked the kind of detail he needed to write a story.
The fact remains that it would have been difficult for Benavides to dismiss Sullivan's version so easily at his recent news conference if the Morning News had already published even a portion of Sullivan's side of the story. Sullivan says he went to the FBI with his story soon after the Lipscomb trial, in part because he feared he might need the FBI's protection from Bolton and other higher-ups. He had initially gone straight to his superiors in the police department.
"The next morning I was told to get downtown immediately because Internal Affairs wants to meet with me," Sullivan says. "So I go down and sit there for a few hours, and they come out and tell me to go home. They're not going to see me." When Sullivan returned home, his wife told him that police headquarters had been calling with urgent orders that he return downtown. This time and again a third time, he waited in an anteroom for hours only to be told to go home again. Sullivan says he ultimately grew alarmed by the behavior of his superiors--afraid that they were going to set him up--and talked to a friend outside the department, who advised him to talk to the FBI. He is persuaded now that the FBI is no longer investigating the events. He believes, however, that the FBI is investigating a more recent matter in which an undercover FBI probe of laptop computer thefts by police officers may have been compromised by top police officials.