Dallas' Chief Problem

Nobody believes Terrell Bolton anymore--except his friends at Dallas City Hall

Standing next to cellophane-wrapped bricks of the fake cocaine, Bolton told reporters his department had recently come across a rash of drug dealers trading in simulated drugs.

"We have learned that there has been a significant increase in the amount of counterfeit drugs confiscated since September 11 as a result of the tightening of our borders, and I can tell you, it's getting harder and harder to find cocaine in the streets of Dallas," said the chief, the four stars on his collar glistening in the TV lights.

With the help of an informant, Bolton said, his narcotics unit was busy busting people trying to pass off fake drugs and was saving the lives of drug users who might be hurt or killed using bad "junk."

Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton has a credibility problem in law enforcement, political and media circles. But his earnestness and media savvy--as well as a powerful group of political supporters--have helped him deflect blame for the problems in his department.
Peter Calvin
Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton has a credibility problem in law enforcement, political and media circles. But his earnestness and media savvy--as well as a powerful group of political supporters--have helped him deflect blame for the problems in his department.
Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill, top, is one of the chief's strongest supporters. He believes Bolton has made the department a better place for minority officers. District Attorney Bill Hill, middle, didn't have as much luck as Bolton in dodging blame for the fake-drugs fiasco. Mayor Laura Miller, bottom, pinned down Bolton on what he knew about the fake-drug cases and when he knew it at a council briefing in March.
Peter Calvin
Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill, top, is one of the chief's strongest supporters. He believes Bolton has made the department a better place for minority officers. District Attorney Bill Hill, middle, didn't have as much luck as Bolton in dodging blame for the fake-drugs fiasco. Mayor Laura Miller, bottom, pinned down Bolton on what he knew about the fake-drug cases and when he knew it at a council briefing in March.

In perhaps the biggest misstatement of the entire 15-minute appearance, Bolton said confidently: "You have to remember the intent of people who were involved in this stuff. The intent was to peddle an illegal drug for an illegal profit."

Bolton allowed that his department had opened an internal investigation into the matter, a probe he later said was initiated on November 30, 2001. But in the context of his other statements, he made the investigation sound like a formality, a precaution, because he had no reason to believe anything was wrong with the busts of these dangerous fake-drug peddlers.

The chief expressed confidence in the integrity of the police informant, who he said had passed a polygraph test. The two narcotics detectives who made the questionable busts were still on the job. The chief declined to identify any of the men involved, saying it would compromise their ongoing work. The officers were later identified as Mark DeLaPaz, a senior corporal, and Eddie Herrera; the informant was Enrique Alonso, a convicted felon who went to work for the cops to work off his cases.

At the time of Bolton's news conference, many of the Mexican nationals who had been arrested were still in jail, some going on their fifth or six month behind bars.

Since then--in pieces that no doubt are confusing to all but the most dedicated follower of the story--a basic outline of what was really going on has come to light, and it had nothing to do with September 11 or the ebb and flow of drugs across international borders.

According to Dallas County prosecutors, between September and the end of December 2001, they conducted lab tests of drugs confiscated in 14 of DeLaPaz and Herrera's busts. Seven contained no drugs. Six contained slight traces of drugs mixed in with large quantities of gypsum. One small batch turned out to be real cocaine.

By the middle of November, with a clear pattern forming, the district attorney's office stopped moving forward on most cases investigated by the pair. By the end of the month, the district attorney had dismissed 10 cases.

Around that time, according to two sources who have spoken with District Attorney Bill Hill, the district attorney's office asked DPD to hand over information that would have allowed them to identify all of the informant's cases. It took weeks to get anyone at the police department to respond and nearly two months to get a reply, the sources say.

Hill's office confirms it received the information on January 11--well after the matter was public and on its way to becoming a national story. Within five days, prosecutors began using it to dismiss cases tainted by the involvement of the two officers, the now-discredited Alonso and several friends he had hired to help him produce and plant the fake drugs.

Through his top assistant, Mike Carnes, Bill Hill declined to discuss his office's dealings with the police department in the fake-drug matter or comment on the veracity of the sources' accounts. "We have to get along with all the departments in our jurisdiction," Carnes said.

Nonetheless, the sources say Hill told them he became so disenchanted with Bolton over the drug debacle that he stopped speaking to the chief. "When it first broke, Bolton was coming out way ahead of him [Hill], like in that press conference," says one source, a longtime law enforcement professional. "Hill had no idea that the chief was about to make a statement, or what was going to be said. He was saying, 'Where is this coming from?' He was never consulted on any of that...It became pretty obvious to Hill he was getting hung out to dry."

While Hill went along with Bolton for a while, he broke away on January 18 when he asked the FBI to investigate.

Having the feds enter the picture was exactly what Bolton, who said he could handle the matter internally, did not want. He made the point by waiting a full week to suspend his own internal probe, which at that point--seven weeks in--hadn't gotten around to interviewing the two officers responsible for the questionable drug busts. (DeLaPaz's attorney, Bob Baskett, says his client and other narcotics officers had not been interviewed by the department when it suspended its internal probe.)

In a telling January 25 letter to then-acting U.S. Attorney Richard Stephens and Danny Defenbaugh, head of the FBI's Dallas office at the time, Bolton made it clear he was suspicious of the feds. He complained about possible leaks and the pace of FBI work. He also pointed his finger toward Bill Hill's office, urging the FBI to look at "actions of all members of the criminal justice system" and "all individuals involved in these cases." He even asked that defense attorneys be investigated--as if they had anything to do with throwing people in jail.

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