Mr. No Apology

Bill Hill's office helped jail dozens of innocent people, and he's a shoo-in for re-election. Huh?

Carnes, Hill's first assistant, gave me his scenario of how the cases have been handled, and I have to say it was the scenario and the philosophy I have heard in much of Dallas since these cases first began coming to light at the end of last year: It happens. The system's not perfect. Everybody screwed up. Nobody meant to. We did what we could.

That certainly has been the line from Chief Bolton, whose out-of-control police department made these cases in the first place. He says the fact that the informants behind the fake-drug arrests got caught proves that "the system works." Tell that to Jesus Mejia's kids, chief.

But, look: Bolton is a police bureaucrat. Nobody elected him. He's going to hang on to his job any way he can. The response from much of the rest of the community has been just as desultory and callous. The plight of the victims in these cases has evoked barely a word from the man running against Hill for district attorney in next Tuesday's election, Craig Watkins, heir to the Dallas NAACP fortune (the only civil rights group in America that only makes the news when somebody makes off with the dues). Watkins is either too timid to have touched him on this issue, too much of a cipher or too interested in getting hired by Hill after he gets his butt whupped by him.

Explain this to your kids: Jesus and Maria Mejia with their children, Jesus, David and Yesenia (from left to right)
Mark Graham
Explain this to your kids: Jesus and Maria Mejia with their children, Jesus, David and Yesenia (from left to right)

Of course, the people who got screwed were Mexican, weren't they? So why would anybody associated with the NAACP give a rat's ass? It's not the damn NAAMP.

More to the point, what about those Latino leaders? Months into this thing, Domingo Garcia, a rich lawyer who grew up in the suburbs, and John Loza, a lawyer on the city council who went to St. Mark's, an exclusive private school, held a news conference in which they suggested--fairly mildly, I thought--that maybe the cops and the district attorney shouldn't be destroying the lives of innocent immigrants from Central Mexico by sending them up on fake drug charges. Hill lambasted them: He said the particular person they used as an example, Jaime Chavez, had been busted with real drugs. Garcia and Loza fell all over themselves apologizing to Hill, because they hadn't known real drugs had been involved in the Chavez case.

Barely a week later, the police informant in the fake-drugs case signed a statement saying he had lied about Chavez's involvement with real drugs. Makes sense, eh? Willing to lie about fake drugs, maybe also willing to lie about real drugs. Otherwise known as: liar.

But that was it from Garcia and Loza. They had exhausted their outrage. And what do we expect, anyway, from people whose idea of a civil rights action is a news conference?

Where this all brings us is back to the one man in this picture who did get elected to the position he now occupies, and whose stature, therefore, could have made a moral and political difference. Bill Hill.

At any point in this now year-long agony of public corruption and official persecution, Bill Hill could have gone before the public and said, "These people were innocent victims. They did nothing wrong. My heart goes out to them. I am deeply concerned that these cases may point to ethical and moral lapses in my department and in the Dallas Police Department, and I am actively seeking to settle that question. People in the community should not believe that these people are guilty of crimes because of what has been done to them. These people were and are innocent."

I think I see at least one important reason for Hill's reluctance to do that. The victims in these cases are political nonentities, poor and working-class immigrants from Guanajuato and beyond who don't vote, who barely speak English and who can do him no harm politically.

The other side of this same equation is the Dallas police. I know from a very good source that the Dallas Police Department has been very unhappy over the 80-plus cases that already have been dismissed by Hill in the fake-drugs scandal. That means there are cops in the department so corrupt that they believe it's OK to put people in prison on perjured testimony and that Bill Hill is a wuss for not sticking with the program.

That's the voice Hill is listening to. He won't apologize, and in fact the concessions he is forced to make he makes in the most grudging tones possible, because he wants to keep faith with the slimeballs in the police department who were behind all this.

In my conversation with Carnes, the point he made over and over again was that Hill called in the FBI to investigate his own department and the police department. The suggestion was that the ongoing FBI/Department of Justice probe will reveal all secrets. In the meantime, Carnes said, Hill has to be careful not to say things that might compromise that investigation.

Like, "I'm sorry?"

In my meeting with Carnes in his office, I said several times that I really needed to talk to Hill, not him, no offense, because I was writing about this very personal issue of Hill's empathy or lack thereof for the victims. At the end of that day, I received this one-paragraph fax:

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