Dallas' Chief Problem

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

Tittle, the lawyer who is suing the department, says Bolton's December 31 news conference did much to misinform and confuse public perceptions, even to this day. "I talk to a lot of people about this, and to a man, they still think there were drug dealers out there selling flour or something," he says. "Bolton has never said these were innocent people."

Tittle says he is reasonably confident that the informant concocted the setups without the knowledge of the police in order to profit from the rewards. But the police department has a lot to explain, even if the officers had no knowledge of the dead-end scheme. "They're going to have to explain why their reports say 14 or 15 field tests done on the drugs came out positive in cases where there wasn't a trace of drugs," Tittle says. "That's the key to all of this. The tests. It's impossible to have that many false positives. The odds are infinitesimal," he says.

Arrest reports list as many as six officers conducting positive tests on drugs that later turned out to be devoid of illegal substances, he says. "Where there might have been trace amounts, you could see how that might happen. But these were cases with no drugs."

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.

The chief's predecessor, Ben Click, says he has followed the fake-drug scandal from his home near Sedona, Arizona, and has been struck by a number of unusual things about the case.

"I've heard a lot about bad procedures. We had strict procedures in place," he says. "It's a matter of having the right people in place to follow them...Every police chief knows...if you're going to have problems, they're going to come in narcotics. It's the nature of the work, with the money and undercover stuff and the unreliable people you have to use. That's why I had someone in there [former Deputy Chief Willie Taylor, whom Bolton demoted] I knew could keep an eye out and spot the warning signs."

Second, Click says, in his entire career he had never heard of a snitch being paid $50,000 for a single bust, as happened here. "We didn't spend that much total in two or three years," he says. "These people usually work for a lot less."

Last, Click says, he is surprised the department was so resistant to an outside investigation. The best course a department can take when a major scandal erupts is to call in an independent third party to preserve organizational integrity and protect the rights and reputations of everyone involved.

Click called in the feds immediately when he learned that $50,000 in drug-buy money had gone missing from the police property room. The fact that the case was never solved "may be the biggest disappointment in my years there," he says.

Like a number of sources interviewed for this story, Click says Bolton and the DPD have not even begun to feel the effects of the drug matter. "There's the lawsuits and digging into what happened behind the scenes," he says.

Former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins, who headed the Dallas office for eight years and is now in private practice, says it will take years for all the facts to come out about the department's internal workings. People who have been wrongfully jailed in other cities have brought similar federal civil-rights lawsuits, and some have resulted in seven- and eight-figure judgments and settlements. Typically, they are drawn-out legal battles that can outlast the careers of the main players, he says.

In the end, Coggins says, the main issue will be one of management. "How high up did it go? Did they immediately try to right the wrongs or was there an attempt to cover it up? If no corrective action was taken until the press gets wind of it, I think that would look bad to a jury."

Three and half months after fake drugs emerged and two days before Channel 8 began rolling tapes of innocent working-class Mexicans being loaded into squad cars, Terrell Bolton was in front of the cameras--on New Year's Eve.

"I don't know you can hold the informant responsible for the fact the drugs were poison versus real drugs," he said. Highlighting the great job his department was doing taking dangerous fake drugs off the streets, he said: "Keep it in mind. My concern right now is how much other stuff [fake drugs] do you have out there. This was a major seizure. I'd like to think it was a blessing for Dallas."


Whoppers like that have taken a toll on Bolton's reputation among the various law enforcement professionals who work for other agencies in North Texas. Many have close ties with the Dallas police.

At a retirement party last year for Danny Defenbaugh, the FBI veteran who butted heads with Bolton several times, a slide show lampooned the chief as "Darth Bolton," the Star Wars villain. It got a great laugh, say several sources who were at the party, which was heavily attended by local law officers.

It is difficult to know whether Bolton cares how he is perceived in the wider police universe. Once a month, chiefs from across the Dallas-Fort Worth area meet to discuss emergency preparedness, collective purchasing agreements, things, in the words of Highland Park Public Safety Director Darrell Fant, "that affect all of us." Dallas chiefs in the past have been regulars. Bolton never attends and only occasionally sends a deputy to stand in.

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