By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Thomas Glover is president of the Texas Peace Officers Association's Dallas Chapter, which is investigating complaints among some two dozen security department employees. He recently told school board members that change should be preceded by a thorough examination of motivations and racial issues. Security department employees who were sitting in a room across the hall from the boardroom during the meeting, most of them African-American, erupted in applause.
"An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," he says. "Let's listen to those people sitting across the hall, let's talk to them, let's hear their concerns."
Adelfa Callejo, a politically active Dallas lawyer and "lifelong member" of the League of United Latin American Citizens, has become familiar with the unrest in Vasquez's department and decided to speak up for him. Callejo says she deems complaints by Graham and other blacks in the department as a problem that has erupted from the transformation of the department and nothing more. In short, she says, those such as Graham just don't want to train for jobs in the new department.
"They shouldn't make false allegations just to protect their personal agendas," she says. "They just didn't want the police force, and they didn't want to be subjected to the training."
"It was a hard neighborhood. It wasn't very easy to grow up there. There were a lot of fights," she says.
Graham, now a sergeant in the department, finished high school and attended college but had to leave before graduating to help care for siblings. She was interested in teaching and majored in education, but she was also interested in being a cop; after leaving college, she went to the police academy, where she learned she had no stomach for shooting a gun at people.
She quit the academy and started substitute teaching at her old school district.
"They were saying they were having some gang problems, and I said, well, it's just them not knowing how to deal with inner-city youth. Someone said, 'Since you're so smart, why don't you join the [gang] task force and you can come back and help?' So I did."
She felt natural talking to kids and calming them down, and she loved helping them see their errant ways without throwing them in jail. Her behavior sometimes was considered unorthodox, but it worked, she says. For instance, she made friends with a security guard at a local grocery store where district students frequently shopped and shoplifted. When they were caught, the guard would call her instead of police. She wasn't easy on the kids, but punishment didn't automatically involve jail or a police record.
"You are dealing with children. You are not dealing with suspects on the street. We can talk it out. With children, you have to allow them an opportunity to correct their behavior. That's what we're supposed to be there for," she says. "The name of the game is you keep the kid out of jail."
She says she knew the neighborhoods, the drug houses, spots where students skipped and where they hung out. Nothing had really changed in the few years since she graduated. Although in a practical sense, she was doing stellar work in the field and was being officially recognized for it, she says, decisions by district administrators at times perplexed her.
When Vasquez arrived at the district in 2000, Graham believed that things would change. She initially liked Vasquez, and she thought he liked her. At first, Vasquez treated her well and told her she was a rising star. During a luncheon of local business owners at a black-owned restaurant, Vasquez praised Graham in front of the crowd, she says.
"He introduced me as being one of the youngest black female detectives he had in his department," she says. "I thought that was the greatest award I could have gotten."
Other blacks in the department were not so fond of Vasquez, and as a result, about two dozen of them joined the Texas Peace Officers Association, a mostly black organization that represents some Dallas police officers. A spokesman says the group of DISD security employees had complaints of disparate treatment by Vasquez. Graham found herself defending her boss. She maintained that she liked Vasquez and believed that he had the department's best interests in mind, she says.
"For a year and a half, I was a 'go-fer' between him and the other African-American officers, because they pretty much listened to me," she says. "I'm telling them, 'This guy's OK. This guy's not a racist. He's OK.'"
Graham's relationship with Vasquez didn't stay friendly. The dynamic started changing last year, when Graham investigated an incident at Justin F. Kimball High School. Reports said teachers changed grades to boost the third-place member of the graduating class of 2002 to first place.