Cop Hell

City Hall created its own fine mess in the police department

Maybe this is the way to put it, in order to get anybody's attention in this town. Maybe I should forget about the fact that we have a deeply corrupted, dangerously out-of-control police department and just talk about the money.

I pay about $1,000 a year in city of Dallas property tax. This year the equivalent of all of my tax payments plus the payments of 284 more Dallas households at my same tax level will go to pay off the legal settlement the city just came to in only one of dozens of cases it faces involving bad cops.

Of the 285 of us, none of our tax payments will go to fix the streets or pick up the trash. Every penny we pay to City Hall this year will go to compensate one citizen who was sent to prison for two years and nine months by two crooked cops, both of whom are now convicted felons.

David Kunkle will have to fire unqualified cops in order to get the DPD straightened out.
Mark Graham
David Kunkle will have to fire unqualified cops in order to get the DPD straightened out.

This is way before fake drugs. We haven't even gotten to those lawsuits or the much larger damages the city may wind up paying out in them.

For sending Anthony Lynn Curlin to prison in 1997 for 1,138 days on fake charges, lawyers for the city agreed in mediation last week to pay $285,000 in damages, according to David Davis, one of Curlin's lawyers.

And consider this: The city should not have had to pay one thin dime. Under normal circumstances, the city is so well-protected, so bullet-proof behind the doctrine of "qualified immunity" that Curlin shouldn't have been able to get a nickel from City Hall.

The law says you almost can't sue a city in Texas for damages if the city was doing its best to carry out city functions according to fair, well-established policies. If individual city employees decide to violate those policies and harm you, the law tells you to go sue them, not the city.

Curlin was framed on drug charges by two of the city's most notorious dirty cops, the shake-down thieves Daniel Earl Maples, Jr. and Quentis Ray Roper, about whom the Dallas Observer has written at length ("Good Cop, Bad Cop," August 31, 2000, and "Dirty Cops, Dirty Games," September 7, 2000, both by Christine Biederman. Keep Biederman's articles of four years ago in mind, by the way, because those stories were eerily prescient--I'm talking hair-on-the-nape-of-your-neck eerie--in terms of what's happening right now with the Dallas Police Department.)

Roper and Maples were dirty cops who stole money from people and lied to get convictions. They got Curlin sent up for 30 years on a drug and weapons charge. The sentence was stiff, in part because Curlin had a prior conviction 25 years earlier. He got out of prison early because he agreed to help in the prosecution of the two bad cops. Then he sued them and the city for damages.

Suing Maples and Roper doesn't do much good because they're convicts, protected by that ancient principle of South Texas law, the Rule of No Dinero, also known as the blood-out-of-a-turnip doctrine. So of course everybody wants to sue the city in a case like this. It has deep pockets. But the city's protected, right?

Not Dallas. The city will never admit this in public or on the record, but I can tell you exactly why the city paid off Curlin. The city paid because Curlin's lawyers were on the verge of piercing the shield of qualified immunity. (A spokesman for City Attorney Madeleine Johnson declined to comment on the case because the settlement has not yet been approved by the city council.)

Curlin had three lawyers: Jim Suggs of Arlington, Mark McClelland of Irving and David Davis of Dallas. Part of Davis' contribution to the effort was an extensive analysis of training and supervisory practices in the Dallas Police Department. His analysis, which I've spent some time looking at, is exhaustive and remarkably close to the analysis unveiled two weeks ago in a study by Berkshire Advisors Inc. of Austin and Team Phillips Inc. of Dallas. That report, called the "Dallas Police Department Management and Efficiency Study," has been seriously undersold for some reason by The Dallas Morning News. The original story about it in the News said it was sorta bad, but by golly, most folks in Dallas still love their coppers.

Then I attended the briefing in which the study was presented to the city council. The only thing the council cared about was whether this would mess up their private "community policing" cops that they use to take care of gripes from constituents.

Oh, man. Maybe it was too thick for everybody to read. Listen. I've read hundreds and hundreds of consultant reports. Normally these guys never say anything remotely critical of the people who hire them. But this report is a major exception. This report will burn your fingers off. Go look at it. It's on the Web at dallascityhall.com.

It says that management in the department has completely lost the respect of the rank and file, which I guess we all sort of knew already. But what it says about the rank and file is downright scary. The study basically says the Dallas Police Department hires losers and then doesn't even bother to train or supervise them.

The city hires good cops, too, but that's only because good people are attracted to police work. The city then does those good cops a serious disservice by doing nothing to convey a sense of mission or an ongoing ethical culture to them. The worst thing in both analyses--the consultant study and the David Davis analysis--is the ridiculously low standard of training.

Take how to shoot a gun, for instance. That's a pretty basic cop skill, isn't it? According to the Berkshire report, the police academy regularly graduates hundreds of cops who can't shoot straight. Then in later years when they all come back to the firing range for "re-certification," hundreds of them, not surprisingly, fail to re-qualify.

So the department puts them through "remedial" training on how to shoot a gun. But a goodly number of officers flunk the remedial course on how to shoot a gun as well. So the department puts them through "intensive remedial training." Some of them flunk even that. So the department has what is called the "shoot until you pass" program.

Makes me feel like high-steppin' every time I see blue.

The report suggests that normally one reason to bring people to a police firing range for testing is to weed out the wall-eyes, palsies, twitches and jake-legs who have a penchant for wild shots. What you're supposed to do, the report says, is tell those individuals that they cannot be police officers. Nicely, of course, but like, "PUT THE WEAPON DOWN NOW!"

Dallas sends them back to the street. With weapons.

The remarkable thing about the analysis produced by Davis is that it makes all these same points but is supported by testimony from departmental officials in sworn depositions.

Roper was famous in the late '90s at the Northwest Substation for racking up an amazing number of drug arrests--way over the average. It was like a bass tournament in which he routinely brought in four times everybody else's weight. Of course it came out later--Roper himself admits in one of the depositions in this case--that he did it by cheating.

But when Curlin's lawyers asked Roper's lieutenant at Northwest if it had ever occurred to him to look into how Roper was doing it or to offer Roper any guidance, the lieutenant testified, "Officer Roper never indicated that need for supervision."

In fact what Davis proves in his web of depositions is that this police department hires with very low standards and then operates without any responsible system of training or supervision. It's not just that some cops can't shoot straight. Some of them don't know the law. Nobody tells 'em.

And that's why the city had to pay off in the Curlin case. I believe the city was afraid that Curlin's lawyers were about to show that Maples and Roper, far from being rogue cops, were exactly the kind of cops the Dallas Police Department cranks out on an entirely predictable and regular basis. Proving that would have pierced the shield of qualified immunity and made the city liable for damages.

It's the city's fault--and the city can be made to pay--if the city causes injustice to occur by failing to put in place the proper policies and practices. If the Curlin case had gone to court and Davis had pierced the shield, damages in the fake drugs cases would go to the stratosphere. Which very possibly may still happen.

One of the most striking things about Biederman's stories in the Observer on Maples and Roper four years ago is the complete lack of interest shown by the police department in the allegations of widespread corruption that Maples made after he broke. Maples described an entire culture of sleaze, law-breaking and brutality among certain cops.

Not all cops. I was struck by something else Maples said last year in a deposition for the Curlin case: "It was like a dividing line," he said. "Half the officers, you know, would hang around Roper, because he generated activity, and the other half wouldn't want anything to do with him."

He talked about the good cops, the ones who go by the book no matter what anybody else says or does. But it's clear from the Davis analysis and the consultant's study, as well as from Biederman's stories and later coverage in the Observer by Thomas Korosec, that those good cops go by the book as a matter of personal commitment, dignity, decency and pride, without one shred of support from this department or this city.

We have a new chief. A new day. A new chance to fix it. But he's going to have to fire people and kick ass. And if we have a single brain in our collective head, we'll support him when he does it. Or we may all wind up taking a stray bullet on this.

If do you get stopped in the meantime, look for tremors.

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