By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Talk about a really bad scene. Senior Corporal Ron Iscaro has been called to the podium to address the members of the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board. They are debating a resolution on pay for police officers and firemen injured in the line of duty. He's been up there 10 minutes, and he's starting to shake. He can't stand up that long.
Behind Iscaro a line of other disabled officers wait, one in a wheelchair, some ramrod-straight. All of them took bullets, were hit in traffic, were injured somehow while putting themselves in harm's way. They came here just to watch, not to speak. It was the committee that called them forward.
But when Iscaro starts to tell how he got injured, an assistant city attorney jumps in and objects that Iscaro's appearance violates technical provisions of the Open Meetings Act. He should be allowed to give his name only, nothing about how he got shot, the lawyer says.
I can tell you how he got shot. It was an August night in West Dallas 21 years ago, and he was a rookie filling in for another cop's partner. They were flagged down by a girl screaming that a young woman had been taken hostage.
The woman was tied to a chair, a man circling her with a shotgun, demanding sex. The gunman--a three-time loser for murder, aggravated assault on a police officer and aggravated sexual assault--had pumped himself full of phencyclidine (PCP).
"He saw me trying to duck under his car from about nine feet away," Iscaro told me when I called him after the review board meeting. "He shot me as I shot him."
So it's probably safe to assume this animal was going to rip the girl apart for sex, then kill her or leave her so messed up she would wish she were dead. Iscaro took a bullet in the brain to stop that from happening.
Now, after two decades of fighting to keep his badge, officer Iscaro is standing in front of me and half a dozen other reporters and camera crew trying to keep from falling on the floor while a city attorney argues minutiae to keep him from talking on camera about his life. The attorney says the board can't deviate from its printed agenda by allowing someone from the audience to speak.
The mayor and city council passed a cost-cutting budget this year that included a major whack of benefits for police officers and firemen injured in the line of duty. The Citizens Police Review Board, which normally hears complaints against the cops, is holding an unusual special meeting to consider a resolution condemning the pay cut for injured cops and firemen.
So far this issue has worked the way most things do under the Dallas weak-weak-weak system (weak mayor, weak council, weak manager): Everybody can duck it. The city council's greatest ambition is to avoid having to vote on it. Just how it's supposed to be: The mechanism is working like a Soviet knock-off of a Swiss watch.
The city manager has been saying he has asked the city attorney for a legal opinion on whether he can create special exceptions to the rules for injured cops and firemen. The city attorney ain't saying nothing to nobody. I sure didn't get my calls returned. And I can tell you why.
The answer is going to be no. And everybody knows it's no. You can't have special we're-sorry-for-you rules about pay for public servants.
There is one fix, and one fix only. The mayor can simply say, "We made a mistake." The council can agree to take it up. They can vote to tell the city manager to put it back the way it was--52 weeks' full compensation for disabled employees, not 13. The manager goes back to the old policy and looks for his $900,000 savings elsewhere.
The new reduced benefit plan would have slipped right on through had it not been for Al Lipscomb. The former councilman is now a member of the Citizens Police Review Board, normally a little-known body grinding away in the bowels of City Hall with scant power and little effect. But two weeks ago Lipscomb brought the board a resolution urging the city council to take this issue up again.
Iscaro, like several of the other officers invited to address the review board, has been able to continue working for the department by finding so-called light-duty jobs that don't require full physical strength. After two decades of physical therapy and difficult training, he still walks and moves awkwardly.
When he started to tell his story, board chairman Carl Raines, the mayor's appointee, interrupted him and said, "We can't get into that."
Eventually the officers were allowed to give their names only, almost as if they were on trial. Then they meekly filed, wheeled and limped out of the room.