Blue Man Blues

Police department problems aren't black, white or brown

Everybody's got his racial jacket on with this police department thing. I'm getting e-mails from white folks, many of whom don't even live in the city, saying the Dallas Police Department is in a mess because it's been taken over by black people.

Then I get the calls and e-mails from black people saying all the big problems now in the department were already there back when the white chiefs were in charge, and nobody wanted to fire them.

Yes, the problems were there before Terrell Bolton became chief. But everybody wanted to fire the white chiefs, too. Police chiefs get only three or four years on the job before everybody wants to fire them. Chiefs are like cheese. They just go bad after a while.

The current chief's predicament is not black, white or brown. It's blue. He has failed to get the department lined up and marching right. That's blue. Cops are blue. The police force is Blue Man Group with guns. A basic lack of leadership and discipline is bad for their blue heads.

You don't want guys like me for cops. You're behind the counter in your liquor store; the bad guy with the ski mask over his face has one arm around your neck and a TEC-9 jammed in your ear; Schutze is outside on the bullhorn: "OK, now I want to hear both sides of this thing, and no interrupting."

People who make good cops are courageous and principled and high-energy, but they also have a little tiny streak of crazy. Bad guys have to see that in their eyes. Life's a dogfight. Bad guy thinks, "This dog's crazier than I am. I think I'll drop the bone."

The problem is that good cops, even the best cops, have to be forcefully led, subjected to stern military-style discipline, or they get themselves into trouble.

It occurred to me last week to check in on the case of a man I wrote about two years ago: Donato Garcia is a 46-year-old legal immigrant from Mexico, a construction worker who was illegally arrested by Dallas police for "failure to ID." Garcia was beaten and maced by several officers in front of his young children.

People cannot be arrested legally in Texas for refusing to provide identification. It's not against the law to refuse to identify yourself to a police officer.

Garcia was sleeping in his car with his kids at the back door of the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Reunion Boulevard downtown, waiting for his wife to get off work as a housekeeper. He speaks little English.

Somehow, in the 25 seconds or so that it took officer Kenneth Pesce to wake up Garcia and get him out of his car, something happened to put Pesce in high combat mode. In court testimony, Pesce described whipping Garcia onto the ground, putting a knee in his back, grabbing a handful of hair, yanking Garcia's head back and macing him in the face several times at point-blank range, while Garcia's 4-year-old daughter cried, "Papa, Papa!" from the car.

Pesce himself is an interesting case. He has written to the Dallas Observer in the past complaining that my descriptions of him didn't mention the positive aspects of his record with the department. Since Pesce went to work for the department in 1976, he has received at least 72 commendations and awards for merit. His record includes examples of real bravery and selflessness, as when he pulled a potential suicide victim in from a ledge.

But his record also includes examples of Pesce flying off the handle: shouting obscenities at civilian employees in the police department, using excessive force in making arrests, refusing to identify himself when asked for his name and badge number. Consistently down the years, Pesce has been suspended, demoted, reprimanded and written up for going off on people. And just as consistently, according to his record, he takes his medicine, gets himself right with the department, does good police work and earns another commendation.

In his initial report of the Garcia incident right after it happened, Pesce said he had reached into Garcia's car to grab the keys (Garcia was saying, "I move, I move," trying to start the car). Pesce said Garcia "slapped my hand away."

At some point after the arrest for failure to ID, a booking sergeant or someone else must have pointed out that people can't be arrested for that. So the charges were amended to become "resisting arrest" and a lesser charge of sleeping in public. And somewhere along the line the slap on the hand became a disabling martial arts assault. In court and under oath, Pesce told a jury in the resisting arrest trial that Garcia had smashed his hand with such force that Pesce's entire arm was temporarily semi-paralyzed.

"The strike on the arm, I lost my grip on his hand, on his right arm. It just opened my hand up. It frogged my hand, my forearm real bad. It was hard for me to operate after that. And I grabbed his left arm and used my right arm up under here, and I pulled him out of the truck."

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