By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
But what perhaps will be considered Foster's crowning achievement or most colossal blunder came in September 2009, when he joined Mayfield and Dickey in hiring former FBI Agent Danny Defenbaugh to investigate Constables Jaime Cortes and Derick Evans for alleged corruption. The decision to team up with two Republicans in a matter that many Democrats viewed as best left in the hands of Democratic District Attorney Craig Watkins likely sealed Foster's fate within his own party.
Beyond political affiliations, however, there's the whole odd series of missteps and controversies that dogged Foster's handling of the case from the get-go. Take, for example, what should have been the investigation's grand moment, its big reveal, the day Defenbaugh's first report was released to the public.
On February 15, the day before early primary voting begins, Peggy Lundy, Foster's senior assistant and a former Republican consultant, is uneasy.
She had a couple hours earlier called local media outlets announcing a 4 p.m. news conference at which Foster would release and discuss a report by Defenbaugh regarding the employment practices of Precinct 5 Constable Jaime Cortes, who the commissioners had appointed in 2007 after Mike Dupree resigned amid allegations of corruption and sexual misconduct toward employees.
It's been a rocky road to get to this point. Defenbaugh was hired by the commissioners court to investigate the behavior of both Cortes and Precinct 1 Constable Derick Evans. Foster, Mayfield and Dickey supported the investigation in large part because they believed Watkins wasn't taking the matter seriously. Price objected strenuously.
Foster says when he first started receiving complaints from county employees about Cortes and Evans, he forwarded the information to the county's human resources department. When he was told that human resources would not move forward, he turned the affidavits and other information over to the public integrity unit of the District Attorney's Office.
After sending 12 affidavits to prosecutors in one day, Foster says he arranged a meeting with Watkins to find out whether he had planned to launch an investigation. "He looked me straight in the face and said, 'I can't talk about it.'" One month later, Foster says the two had lunch, and he asked Watkins when he planned to act on the information that he had been receiving. "He said, 'I can't discuss it.'"
It was at that point that Foster took his greatest leap. Watkins wouldn't tell Foster whether he was investigating the constables—Watkins says he can't ethically discuss pending investigations—so Foster decided to take the reins himself.
It was a curious move, both legally and politically. It suggested a lack of trust and communication between the county's chief administrator and chief law enforcer. It also put the county judge, who does not have a law license and is a judge in title only, squarely in the middle of a potential criminal investigation.
Foster's decision to meet with Mayfield and Dickey to determine the best course ensured that the entire investigation would have a political taint. "I said, 'Something has to be done. This is not right,'" an unapologetic Foster recalls.
A month before Defenbaugh was hired, The Dallas Morning News had revealed that Cortes and Evans were using Dowdy Ferry Auto Services almost exclusively for towing vehicles. The two constables towed more cars in a two-year span than several large municipal police departments in Dallas County, yet they provided no oversight over the process. Therefore, no record exists of how or if owners were notified of their vehicles' whereabouts or what happens to vehicles deemed abandoned.
The decision to hire an outside investigator was controversial to begin with, but Foster's next big step in the case was either courageous or a monumental blunder. At approximately 5 a.m. on October 13, Foster ordered county staff to make a copy of Cortes' computer hard drive so Defenbaugh could have a forensic expert analyze it.
There was no subpoena, no search warrant, just the county judge acting on his own dubious authority. All hell broke loose.
Domingo Garcia, one of Cortes' attorneys, attributed Foster's early-morning maneuver to his being upset over Cortes replacing his supposed friend, Dupree. Darlene Ewing says Foster was acting like a judge even though he's not one from a legal standpoint, and if he found anything on the computer, he's probably given Cortes' attorneys "a wonderful basis for excluding evidence."
A judge would eventually rule that county commissioners could not view the contents of Cortes' hard drive, but by February 15 all those controversies are in the past. Now, Peggy Lundy is getting ready for Foster to deliver his bombshell—Defenbaugh's report on Cortes.
Lundy scrambles to get copies of the document to hovering reporters, rushing up and down the stairs leading from Foster's office to the chambers of the commissioners court. She tells reporters the document arrived only moments ago, and she'll have to send it to everyone via e-mail. Foster and Dickey walk down into the chambers, but Mayfield is noticeably absent.
Foster and Dickey begin without Mayfield, but it's apparent that nothing of substance will be discussed because no one has had a chance to read the 92-page report, which included 23 sworn affidavits from deputy constables and other county employees. Foster notes his concerns about allegations of official oppression, tampering with a witness, retaliation and deprivation of an employee's rights under the cover of law; however, he's unable to provide any examples.