We Shall Stay on Top

Black leadership goes in the tank on civil rights, fights for the police chief's job instead

"We're glad that we have a black chief. But if our black chief is going to stand by and let us be abused, then he's no better than the people who came before him."

At least Mitchell got some satisfaction: Two of the four police officers who arrested him for failure to i.d. were disciplined, however mildly, meaning the department had to admit the fundamental wrongness of what had happened to him. That's actually way better than what happened to Donato Garcia.

Garcia was arrested a year ago on a failure to i.d. charge while he waited for his wife to get off work downtown (see "Contempt of Cop," September 7, 2000). After he was already in jail, the police figured out they needed some more charges on him.

Leonard Mitchell thinks it was Mickey-Mouse of the police department to punish two white cops and let two black cops off  in his case.
Stephen P. Karlisch
Leonard Mitchell thinks it was Mickey-Mouse of the police department to punish two white cops and let two black cops off in his case.

This is not rocket science. Five separate Dallas city attorney's advisories have warned the police department over the years not to arrest people for failure to i.d. When they go ahead and do it anyway, the police sometimes try to cover their mistake by piling on other charges well after the fact, such as sleeping in public or resisting arrest. Garcia was charged with both sleeping in public and resisting arrest.

Months later, at the end of a daylong trial that included extensive police testimony, a Dallas jury took 11 minutes to find Garcia not guilty on the resisting charge. Later, the Dallas Citizens/Police Review Board voted 9-4 to condemn his arrest for failure to i.d.

Garcia still faced the sleeping in public and failure to i.d. charges. Last December 11, without the knowledge of Garcia or his lawyers, someone from the Dallas city attorney's office approached Walter A. Knowles, a lawyer who handles traffic tickets in the municipal courts, and persuaded him to enter a guilty plea for Garcia in exchange for a penalty of "time served"--the time Garcia already had spent in jail the night they arrested him.

Garcia's real lawyers, David Davis and William Dippel, went to Municipal Court Judge Jay Robinson to have the guilty plea thrown out. But Robinson, a city employee, refused to lift it, even when he understood that a guilty plea had been entered for Garcia without Garcia's knowledge.

Last week, Davis and Dippel went to court and filed what's called a "Rule 202 petition for depositions." It means they want a judge to allow them to compel witnesses to give depositions in order to determine whether sufficient grounds exist for a lawsuit.

The list of people the lawyers want to depose is fascinating. They want to get sworn testimony from deputy police chief Ron Waldrop; from Levi Williams, who is the civilian "community relations advisor" to First Black Police Chief Bolton; and Municipal Judge Robinson.

What the petition does not say but I happen to know is that they already have in hand a sworn deposition from Knowles saying the thing was a setup to shaft Garcia.

This business goes right to the heart of the municipal court system. Davis and Dippel may be able to show that municipal judges, city attorneys and defense lawyers regularly conspire to cheat people out of their civil rights in order to raise revenue for the city and keep the court system running smoothly.

That's explosive.

There is irony upon irony in the way this is unfolding. Bill Dippel, one of Garcia's lawyers, is the son of Kenneth Dippel, who was Dallas' first assistant city attorney in the 1980s and who defended the city against bias charges brought by black police officers. Dippel says he is defending Garcia, who can't afford to pay for any of this, because Dippel grew up with a basic respect for the integrity of city government in Dallas and doesn't want to see the system slouch into corruption and callousness.

"I hope the outcome here will be that the city of Dallas and the citizens of Dallas will have a system in place so that issues like this can be resolved," Dippel told me.

So here's David Davis, a Latino, and Dippel, a white guy, devoting hours of their time and effort to defending the rights of a struggling immigrant construction worker. And the only thing the city's traditional African-American civil rights leadership cares about is saving the police chief's $150,000-a-year job.

I remember that when General Sir Charles Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown, the British military band played "The World Turned Upside Down." But I don't know how it goes. If you can whistle it, please call.

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