Babe in the 'hood

When Aurelio Castillo was elected constable, it was like dressing a little kid in a grown man's uniform. At 34, Castillo was energetic, proud, and completely unqualified for the post granted him by the voters of Precinct 6.

As elected officials with full law-enforcement powers, constables answer to virtually no one, giving the office, as one veteran deputy puts it, "all the power of the sheriff, without the jail." Mostly, constables serve the civil and criminal orders of the courts, making the job anything but glamorous.

But Castillo, the first Hispanic to win a constable post in Dallas County, was bursting with ideas and wanted to flex his newfound muscle. "We basically can do anything, whether it's drug interdiction or making a traffic stop," he says--quickly adding, "We're not here to do drug interdiction, because we don't have the manpower."

Castillo planned to use his men--15 full-time deputies and 21 volunteer reserve deputies--to take a high-profile approach to law enforcement. "When a constable comes knocking on the door, people should know they are peace officers--that they are cops," he says.

Within weeks of taking office, Castillo had his deputies making traffic stops, patrolling the business section near his Oak Cliff office, and raising money to buy five bicycles for a bike patrol. He wants to buy a radar gun to catch speeders in school zones, and work with schools to enforce truancy laws.

Castillo has gone to Houston for law enforcement classes (because he was not previously a police officer, Castillo has a year to earn his state peace officer certification) and to watch the work of a similarly aggressive Hispanic constable in Harris County. While he was there, Castillo also met with supermarket executives to find out how his office can more effectively collect on bad checks.

Castillo, in short, is an ambitious newcomer. Groomed for power by political veterans--former state legislator Roberto Alonzo and the man who unseated Alonzo, Domingo Garcia--he is unmistakably young, and more than a little naive. His only previous political experience was a stint on the Dallas Park Board.

The venerable office of constable, on the other hand, dates back to medieval England. In Texas, where the office is an almost sacred part of the state constitution, it has earned a more memorable reputation for abuse of power, malfeasance, and election high jinks--all for $57,000 a year and a $350-a-month car allowance.

It did not take long for grief to find the very young man in the very old office.

In recent weeks, Castillo has come under fire from critics for everything from incompetence to cattle rustling. One justice of the peace won't even use Castillo's office to serve warrants and court papers anymore, in part because his deputies threw an innocent man in jail.

Castillo has been accused of selling a deputy's job in exchange for a campaign contribution, a charge which several people close to the situation say is now being investigated by the Dallas County District Attorney's office. The DA's office is also said to be looking into charges that records in Castillo's office were manipulated to cover up that a full-time deputy was not showing up for work. Officially, spokesman Mike Gillett declines to say whether the DA's office has an investigation under way.

Castillo has also been accused of violating the U.S. Constitution by holding a swearing-in ceremony at a Catholic Church.

Some of the attacks on Castillo reek of malicious gossip, apparently spread by the enemies and ungracious losers inevitably spawned in the small world of constable politics. But other charges are true, the stumbles of a brash young politician who has found himself at the beginning of a very steep learning curve.

In recent weeks, Castillo has learned a lot about his friends. And he clearly has some growing to do before he'll fill out his new constable's uniform.

Five Snap-On tool clocks hang on the walls of Julio Perez's office at his prosperous Oak Cliff auto-body shop. The short, quiet, wiry man in his freshly laundered uniform service shirt is dwarfed by his desk. Softball trophies threaten to crowd the Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce plaques off the desk, and Selena cassettes vie for a toe-hold amid the messy pile of receipts. The clutter could easily serve as Perez's resume, biography, and, ultimately, his epitaph.

"Julio is a nice man," says one of his friends, echoing the sentiments of almost everyone who has crossed Perez's path. "He truly wants to help people."

Over the years, one of the ways Perez has helped his community is by volunteering as a reserve deputy constable. He says he has helped serve warrants, guarded J.P. courts, and even worn a uniform and carried a gun. From his desk, Perez produces letters, one giving him permission to buy his impressive uniform, another praising his courage in the line of duty. "I like to help any way I can," Perez says shyly.  

But this spring, Perez's eagerness has turned into disaster for nearly all his law enforcement friends--most notably newly elected Constable Aurelio Castillo. The problem is that Perez has another history--one found not on his cluttered desk, but on a courthouse rap sheet.

Perez's years of experience with law enforcement, it turns out, also include significant time on the wrong side of the badge--felony convictions for burglary in 1972, and a 1995 charge of tampering with government records for trafficking in counterfeit car insurance cards. Perez plea-bargained the tampering charge down to a misdemeanor. But with his rap sheet, Perez cannot be certified as a peace officer by the state of Texas.

Yet, somehow he has worn the uniform of a deputy constable in two Dallas County precincts, most recently in Precinct 6 under Castillo. So how did a felon on probation for a misdemeanor get sworn in as a reserve deputy?

The buying and selling of deputy constable positions apparently is enough of a concern that a detailed disavowal of the practice takes up more than half of the short oath of office sworn to by every constable and deputy constable in Texas. "...I furthermore solemnly swear that I have not directly or indirectly paid, offered, or promised to pay, contributed, nor promised to contribute any money, or valuable thing, or promised any public office or employment, as a reward to secure my appointment or the confirmation thereof, so help me God," the oath states.

But in a signed affidavit obtained by the Dallas Observer, one man claims he was made a reserve deputy constable after giving Aurelio Castillo a $650 campaign contribution, a contribution which Castillo did not report in his campaign finance filings with the county elections office.

The man who signed the affidavit--and who was indeed sworn in as a reserve deputy constable in Precinct 6--is auto-body-shop owner and convicted felon Julio Perez.

"Aurelio Castillo asked me if I could help him with a campaign contribution. I told Castillo I would help him and if he got elected, could he make me a reserve deputy constable," states the affidavit, which is dated January 16, 1997. "Aurelio Castillo said he would. I gave Aurelio Castillo a check for $650 as a campaign contribution...Aurelio Castillo asked me to leave the 'pay to the order of' line blank so he could fill it in later...On 1-1-97, I was sworn in by Constable Aurelio Castillo as a reserve deputy constable."

Although Castillo acknowledges receiving the contribution, he denies promising Perez an appointment in return.

Perez's check, Castillo says, was signed over to the manager of a band which performed at a campaign function. "[Perez] was responsible for paying the band. That was what he was doing," Castillo says. Castillo says he has no idea why the contribution wasn't reported in his required campaign contribution filings. "It should be on it," he says.

Another potential problem with Perez's check is that it was written on the account of his auto-body shop, Automotive Excellence Inc. Under Texas election law, corporations cannot contribute to campaigns.

Nonetheless, Perez did receive an appointment, even though his criminal background should have barred him from serving as a peace officer.

Castillo and his lieutenant, Alex Garcia, say they only learned after the fact--from a routine check with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Education (T-CLOSE)--that Perez is not a certified peace officer. (T-CLOSE wrote the Observer that it was "unable to locate a record of a Julio Perez.") But Castillo says Perez told him that he merely lacked some required training, and would apply for certification soon.

Even though Perez lied about his certification when he was appointed, Castillo only asked him to return his constable identification card. Perez was allowed to continue working in Castillo's office, helping deputies use the computer. "People make mistakes," Castillo says. "I believe in second chances."

Experienced law enforcement officials say that, as matter of routine procedure, Castillo's office should have checked out Perez's criminal background before he was sworn in. Castillo and his chief deputy, Connie Kirby, say they assumed Perez was qualified, believing Perez's claim that he had been a reserve deputy constable in another precinct (he wasn't, according to the constable there). Another reserve deputy in Precinct 6 also vouched for Perez.

Castillo appeared shocked upon learning about Perez's criminal history--and the affidavit Perez had signed--from the Observer. "You can ask him right here," Castillo said, after summoning Perez into his office.

Sitting in Castillo's office, surrounded by deputies, Perez's voice was barely audible as he admitted to the felonies, "25 years ago." As for the misdemeanor, Perez said he didn't think it was important to disclose, because his probation would end in two months.  

What about the affidavit swearing that he had gotten his appointment in exchange for a campaign contribution? At first, Perez said he didn't sign it. When pressed, he replied, "Not that I remember."

Julio Perez's certification problems are just the latest headaches for Aurelio Castillo, whose precinct stretches from his office near Beckley and Jefferson to Oak Lawn.

Since his January swearing-in, Castillo's office has been in chaos, with complaints piling up that he is dangerously sloppy and ineffective at the basic job of a constable: serving warrants and other criminal and civil court papers.

Since Castillo was completely inexperienced in law enforcement, some were willing to give the young constable the benefit of the doubt. But that collapsed when Castillo's office erroneously threw a man in jail on a bounced-check charge--even though the man had already appeared in court, and the warrant for his arrest had been canceled. After that fiasco--which is now legend throughout the county judicial system--Castillo got so crosswise with one of Precinct 6's justices of the peace, Judge Diana Orozco, that they've had to go into mediation to resolve their conflicts.

The fiasco started in December when Minnace Paige, a 39-year-old Lone Star Gas meter reader, wrote a check for $396. When the check was returned for insufficient funds, Paige was in the process of moving, and he says he didn't get any bank notices or store warnings about the problem. Ultimately, a complaint was filed in Orozco's court.

The wheels of justice began turning in January when Orozco issued a warrant--one of hundreds that go out each month in the county--for Paige to be brought to her court. Orozco was already fed up with problems she was having getting her court papers served by Castillo, so she decided to send the warrant to Constable Mike Pappas' Precinct 1, in which Paige lives. After receiving the warrant January 17, a Precinct 1 deputy constable telephoned Paige and told him to appear in Orozco's court. One week later, Paige did as he was told, pleaded guilty, and promised to make good on the check and his fine within 30 days.

After Paige appeared in court, the warrant for his arrest was immediately stamped in red ink, and signed to show that it had been served. The paper warrant was sent back to Orozco's court, and its electronic twin was cleared on the county computer system.

Then something inexplicably stupid happened. Paige's returned warrant, headed for Orozco's office in the Oak Cliff Government Center, wound up in Constable Castillo's office.

Even if the clerks in Castillo's office overlooked Orozco's address on the envelope, they should have noticed that the warrant was stamped twice--in red ink--indicating it was "returned," meaning canceled, already served, null and void. Instead, somebody reentered the warrant into the computer and dropped the paper warrant into the drawer with the fresh warrants. Paige was again a wanted man.

"It could happen," says one court official. "But this one is so tangled--so dumb. Major foul up. MAJOR foul up."

When veteran Deputy Constable A.C. Gonzales picked up the warrant, he also failed to notice, or ignored, or misunderstood, the bright red stamps and signature.

On January 27 at about 7:30 a.m., Gonzales went to the Lon Star Gas office where Paige works, carrying the warrant and a pair of handcuffs. Paige remembers being shocked. "He asked me if I was going to resist," Paige remembers. "I couldn't say I wasn't going--when someone comes to your work and says you're going to jail, you say OK." As he was being led off to jail, Paige asked a fellow worker to call his wife and tell her what had happened.

Gonzales took Paige to the county's Lew Sterrett Detention Center and had him booked. "They fingerprinted me, gave me a mug shot, the whole deal," Paige says. Some other inmates, perhaps disoriented at the sight of a Lone Star Gas meter reader behind bars, took pity on Paige. "They're all paralegals, you know," Paige says. "These guys were all looking at my uniform--they said, 'You a turnaround, you'll be outta here in a minute.'"

They were right, of course. There's no jail space to waste on folks who haven't done anything more heinous than bounce a check. Paige was released on his own recognizance at about 2 p.m. "To those guys in jail, five hours must seem like a minute," says Paige, in remarkably good humor for a man who has seen the inside of a jail for the first time, courtesy of a monumentally stupid error.  

When Orozco, who takes pride in running a fair and just court, heard about the Paige fiasco, she was mortified and not a little angry. "There's a lot of things I can do to protect the public from things the system can do wrong," Orozco says. "But something like this isn't one of them. This is outrageous."

Privately, some county officials use terms like "unlawful detention" and "civil rights violation" to describe Paige's experience.

On February 17, 24 days after he first appeared in court, Paige's warrant was still on the county's computer system as active.

By the end of February, Paige made good on the check and his fines, and appeared in Orozco's court to change his plea to not guilty. "I don't want that on my record," he explains. But the incident has deeper ramifications for Paige. "They handcuffed me at my job, took me out in front of people," Paige says. "That was a mental thing for me."

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that Paige has a "slam dunk" law suit against the county. But apparently, lawyers he has contacted have trouble believing anything so stupid could have happened. "I can't get an attorney to take my case," Paige says.

Gonzales would not talk about the Paige incident, except in the presence of Castillo. But Castillo declined to discuss the arrest. Nor would Castillo talk about a cascade of lesser blunders committed by his deputies in the past few months.

"Yeah, we slipped and fell," Castillo says. "We've gotten up. We've made some corrections. Hopefully, that will not happen again." The deputy involved has been disciplined, he says, and all his deputies are being trained to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Those assurances aren't enough for at least one critic. Orozco, though loath to criticize another Democrat, and a Hispanic at that, is refusing to send any of her court's business to Castillo's office, because she has lost faith that it will be carried out properly. It's a stinging rebuke for Castillo, and it shifts a significant amount of work from Precinct 6 to other constables.

"At this point, I have no confidence in Castillo," Orozco says. "I felt like my warrants weren't being worked."

Questions have also arisen about just who is working warrants in Castillo's office. Some court papers, including subpoenas, were served by volunteer reserve deputies, who should have then signed the forms to show they had handled them. Instead, the paperwork was later signed by a full-time deputy, making it appear as if the full-time deputy had been out working.

Castillo attributes the mix-up to ignorance on his part about who should sign what form. But sources tell the Observer that the signature switch was conducted to cover up that the full-time deputy was neglecting his duties and spending his time engaging in political work.

At the end of March, Orozco and Castillo met with County Judge Lee Jackson, Commissioner Mike Cantrell, Precinct 8's chief deputy Richard Orozco, and Precinct 6's other J.P., Judge Juan Jasso, to try to end the civil war in Precinct 6. Castillo agreed to send some of his key people to other precincts for training, and to allow a justice of the peace and a chief deputy constable from another precinct to evaluate his office's procedures.

If the outside officials find that Castillo's office is operating efficiently, Orozco says, she will start sending Castillo her warrants again. "Until they give me the green light, I'm not sending him papers," she says.

County constable politics in Texas have a reputation for nastiness that would appall Machiavelli. As one local constable explains, "down-ballot" races involve a lot of face-to-face campaigning. With usually less than 10,000 votes cast, a mere 200 votes can swing an election. Campaigning tends to get very personal, and very brutal. "It's not hard to make enemies," the constable says.

To win his position, Castillo first defeated incumbent James Paschall in a primary runoff that drew one of the smallest turnouts in county history, then went on to overwhelm Republican Bertha Root in the general election. It was a typically overheated Oak Cliff clash, and included charges by Castillo that Paschall was having deputies pick up mail-in ballots on county time.

Even though he made being Mexicano part of his campaign, Castillo says he never intended to purge Paschall's deputies and replace them with his own people--something he says surprised the staff. "These people couldn't believe that I wasn't going to fire them all," he says.

Nevertheless, at least one deputy left with a grudge that would come back to haunt Castillo. Mike Dupree, who is a private civil process server, was a reserve deputy constable with Paschall, but lasted less than a week under Castillo.  

Dupree, a former sheriff's deputy and full-time deputy constable, says that he left the office because he didn't like the way the inexperienced Castillo was running things. It probably didn't help that Dupree had lost against Castillo and Paschall in the Democratic primary, and supported Paschall in the runoff.

Castillo says his relationship with Dupree further deteriorated when Castillo rebuffed Dupree's suggestion that the office set up a sting operation in Lee Park to catch gay-bashers.

After Dupree and Castillo parted ways, Dupree apparently began taking steps to settle his grudge with the young new constable.

The man who has found himself embroiled in the fight is none other than auto-body-shop owner Julio Perez.

Perez, who goes back years with Dupree, says that Dupree approached him and wanted help trying to convince the Dallas County District Attorney's office to investigate Castillo.

"I said, 'Mike, you told me yourself that you were going to do a vendetta because he had a position that you lost,' " Perez recalls. "I told him, 'Mike, all you are going to do is open a big can of worms and it's going to cause a big scandal. And you're going to look bad, and you're going to be the one to get burned, because you were a deputy with Castillo and you didn't like the way he was running his office."

But it was Perez who would be caught in the middle. On the one hand, he loved working as a reserve deputy for Castillo, and liked the fact that Castillo counted on him for his help researching warrants on the computer.

On the other hand, Dupree was an old friend, Perez says. The two men had gone through a lot together--including, supposedly, a harrowing night when they went to serve a warrant in a crack house. "He wanted me to go with him because I know the south side. He asked me to wear a gun," Perez remembers. "It was a crack house. There were people lying on the floor with needles in their arms." (Although Perez has a March 1988 letter from Dupree praising, in general, Perez's "courage," Dupree says the crack-house incident never happened. But Dupree does say that he and Perez have known each other for years and "Julio is a really good man.")

Perez says Dupree promised to help him clear up his arrest record--which would make him eligible for a peace officer's certification--by making a deal with the DA. In return, Perez was to give Dupree evidence against Castillo to pass along to the DA's office.

The chance to legitimately become a reserve deputy was apparently too much for Perez to pass up. Perez says he agreed to sign the affidavit attesting that he had given Castillo a campaign contribution in exchange for a deputy constable position. Perez says now that the notarized affidavit is a lie. "I didn't write it," he says. Dupree typed out what he wanted Perez to say, Perez says. "I signed it, but I didn't type it."

Perez told the Observer that he gave the contribution to Castillo simply because he wanted Castillo, his friend, to win. Castillo, Perez now says, promised him nothing in return. Then why did he sign the affidavit? "I had a reason to do it. Mike Dupree promised me a deal--to go to the DA [and get his record cleared]."

Shortly, after being interviewed by the Observer, Castillo produced two more handwritten affidavits signed by Perez. One states that "Aurelio Castillo did not offer me any job, position as deputy constable, for a contribution of any kind," and the other states that "...Mr. Mike Dupree made me an offer to clean my record and get me T-CLOSE certified for money contribution to his campaign and help him get elected to constable..."

Perez has now executed three sworn--utterly contradictory--affidavits concerning the incident.

For his part, Dupree told the Observer that he couldn't talk about his involvement with any possible investigation by the DA's office. Dupree acknowledged that he did type the first affidavit Perez signed. But Dupree says the words were Perez's, and that Perez swore that it was true. "I told him, it's up to you if you want to sign it," Dupree says. Dupree denies making any promises to Perez about helping clean up his criminal record.

The matter of Perez's record raises concern beyond Castillo's decision to let Perez work as a volunteer.

Before he became a volunteer in Castillo's office, Perez contends, he "was a reserve deputy for Pappas, and no one ever checked into my record about that." In fact, Perez claims, when he was busted by the DPS for selling forged insurance documents, he told the state investigators that he was a reserve deputy in Pappas' District 1 office. (Perez also claimed that he was working a forged document sting for the Dallas Police Department. The detective that Perez claimed to be working for did not return Observer phone calls.)  

Perez showed the Observer an October 26, 1993, letter from Pappas which authorized Perez to buy a constable's uniform.

In an interview, Pappas confirmed that Perez was a volunteer employee in his office. But Pappas says Perez was never a reserve deputy constable. Instead, Perez did clerical tasks and worked as an interpreter. A routine check turned up Perez's felony record, Pappas says, prohibiting him from being deputized as a peace officer. "I don't deny the fact I tried to make him a reserve--I wanted to," Pappas says. "But due to his past record, I couldn't."

Pappas says that even though Perez couldn't be certified as a peace officer, he allowed him to buy a uniform and badge to wear when he accompanied deputies as an interpreter. Pappas says he doesn't see any problem with that because "I never allowed him to carry a gun."

When the DPS searched Perez's auto-body office, Pappas says, they found his Precinct 1 volunteer employee identification card--it had been crudely altered to make it appear that Perez was a "deputy constable volunteer." The DPS asked Pappas if he wanted to pursue forgery charges, Pappas says, but the constable decided DPS should handle the case.

Despite Perez's conviction for altering government documents, including the constable ID card, Pappas apparently wishes Perez the best. "I knew him [Perez] to be a pretty good guy and, I think he's still a pretty good guy," the constable says.

Dupree was a full-time deputy for Pappas for just under a year. "He didn't make probation," Pappas says. "That's all I'll say."

All of which brings up another point: Why didn't Dupree or Pappas warn Castillo that Perez was a felon and not eligible for certification?

Dupree says he didn't know at the time that Perez had a criminal record. That explanation seems unlikely, since Perez's arrest in 1996 made the television news and was the talk of the precincts. Dupree also said during the same interview with the Observer that Perez's wife called for advice when Perez was arrested.

Pappas' explanation is a little better. Pappas says he didn't tell Castillo "because Castillo would not have listened to me. He has his constabulary and I have mine. Aurelio Castillo does not want Pappas telling him what to do, right or wrong."

Constable James Roberts of Palo Pinto County says it was after midnight when some land owners in the Lone Camp area of the county caught a cattle rustler red-handed trying to round up some of their stock in December of 1995.

Roberts says when he talked to the alleged rustler, the man claimed that he had been just passing through on his way from Strawn to Dallas when he spotted some cattle on the loose. "He said that they were on the highway," Roberts remembers. The motorist said he stopped to herd the stock safely off the road.

Besides being skeptical of a midnight Good Samaritan, Roberts says it seemed to him that Lone Camp was out of the way for someone on his way from Strawn to Dallas. Furthermore, Roberts says that when he was questioning the suspect, the man said an odd thing. The suspect volunteered that he didn't have anything to do with some goats reported stolen in Strawn. Roberts figured he had a case of attempted cattle rustling on his hands, and maybe one of goat rustling, too.

The alleged would-be Palo Pinto cattle rustler was Aurelio Castillo, almost exactly a year before he would be sworn in as a Dallas County constable. Roberts says he investigated the rustling case, but no indictment was brought against Castillo. "We didn't have enough evidence," he says.

Castillo laughs when asked about the cattle-rustling incident. "I knew that would come up," he says to his lieutenant and chief deputy, who are sitting in on the interview. Castillo says that he did stop in Lone Camp to drive some cattle off the road after knocking at the doors of some nearby ranch houses. Later, he says, some men stopped him, and he gave them his name and phone number. And, yes, he says, he had earlier purchased some goats from the mayor of Strawn and loaded them into his trailer in the mayor's presence. Later, he says, some of the mayor's prize goats turned up stolen, and neighbors may have remembered him driving off with a trailer full of bleating goats. In both cases, Castillo says, he confronted his accusers to stop rumors in their tracks.  

As far as Lone Camp being off the beaten track from Strawn to Dallas, he says, "I can drive anywhere I want to."

Roberts says the case is still open. "We might have filed something [already]," he says. "But the county attorney didn't think we had enough evidence." Roberts later called the Observer and asked that nothing be printed about the rustling incident because it was still an open case and a story could jeopardize the investigation.

Castillo says the rustling report is just another crazy rumor to smear him. He may have a point. The Observer checked the campaign finance records of Castillo's general election opponent, Bertha Root. Root received a campaign contribution of $180 from Constable James Roberts of Palo Pinto County.

If accusations of selling deputy constable positions, rustling cattle, and running an office that throws innocent men into the jail aren't bad enough, Constable Aurelio Castillo is also accused of violating the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state.

On the crisp, clear evening of January 3, Castillo gathered together his deputy constables, who had already been formally sworn in by Justice of the Peace J.P. Jasso two days earlier. Castillo organized a second, ceremonial swearing-in at St. Cecilia's Church on Davis Avenue in Oak Cliff. Castillo is a proud Mexicano, and says he wanted his moment of glory as the first Hispanic constable in the history of Dallas County.

"I'm very strong with family," Castillo says. "That [ceremony] was for the church and my family and the families of the officers. That was something private. Something to bring us together."

Not all the deputies understood Castillo's good intentions. "I assumed the ceremony was going to be in the cafeteria," says one former reserve deputy. "Then he comes in and tells everyone to go into the chapel. We sat in pews. Twenty-five officers in the first four pews. Three priests come in and the next thing I know they begin Mass. It was 30-40 minutes before anything having to do with swearing-in begins. I'm a Baptist."

Castillo's lieutenant, Alex Garcia, who is a Methodist, says the deputies knew that the ceremony was not required. "I called every officer and told them it was optional," Garcia says.

When the priests finished the mass, Judge Jasso gave the oath to Castillo, who in turn swore in the deputies with the priests sitting in the background. (A county official who heard about the planned church ceremony joked that she offered to give Protestant deputies lessons in how to genuflect.)

"We took an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution," says the Baptist deputy, "and here we are violating the separation of church and state. It left a bad taste in my mouth."

Castillo doesn't dispute that the church ceremony occurred. In fact, he's proud of it. "This is my statement. I am a Roman Catholic, and I do want people to understand that," he says. "That is a very big part of me. I believe in the church. I believe in God. Maybe more elected officials should have their ceremonies in a church--or in some kind of presence where there's God. Then people can say, 'Hey look, we're going to have some people who are accountable--people who have good intentions with what they are going to do with their office.'

"It makes me kind of frustrated that people are bringing that [violation of church and state] up," Castillo adds. "The problem is they're not Catholics."

The swearing-in ceremony, though, is only one of Castillo's ham-handed attempts to build a Hispanic political base in Oak Cliff, Castillo's detractors say. They say he has let the basic purpose of his office--serving court papers--lapse while he has pursued a high-profile law enforcement role that his men are ill-trained and -equipped to carry out.

Precinct 1's Mike Pappas, who was a veteran deputy sheriff before he became a constable, says his office focuses on doing its primary job, serving the J.P. courts. "We are the civil end of the criminal justice system," he says. Getting aggressively involved in law enforcement can lead to problems, he says. "Just because you're a licensed police officer doesn't mean that you're an experienced police officer," Pappas says.

Castillo deflects speculation about his future political aspirations, "I just want to do the job I have now to the best of my ability," he says. But he admits he is a politician, and he has heard the talk of him building a Mexican "empire."

"They call us Los Federales," he says with a grin. Over his shoulder, on the wall of his office, hangs a large photograph of Pancho Villa and Zapata. Below it is a painting of Jesus standing behind the helmsman of a ship in a stormy sea.  

"I am Mexicano," Castillo says. "I am proud of that."
Castillo's attempt to turn his office into a high-profile law-enforcement agency isn't all that new. A county official who asked not to be named says that constables come in two flavors. Those who realize a good deal when they see it simply hire a handful of good deputies, set up an efficient system, and sit back and collect their salary. Then there are the "cowboy" constables. "There's a cop in every kid," the county official says. "Apparently, Castillo's got more than a little of that."

Other county officials say that a rumor was going around that Castillo tried to "shake down" a merchant. Castillo denies it, but says that he has heard about it in a very pointed way. "[Assistant DA] Tom Keever asked me point blank, 'Are you selling protection?'" Castillo says. "Maybe he's asking all the Hispanics that. Personally, I found it insulting.

"He [the DA] is hearing things. I'm sure he's heard a lot more other things. If they are [investigating]; they are. Let them do their investigation."

Sitting in his auto-body-shop office, Julio Perez is forlorn. He only wanted to help, and now everything is a mess. He has betrayed Aurelio Castillo--who was willing to give Perez a break even after he found out that Perez had lied to him--and his old friend Mike Dupree, who he says had offered to help him expunge his criminal record.

"He [Dupree] told me that he was going to work out a deal with the DA," Perez says. "All he did for me is create more problems for me. Now, they don't even want me as a deputy there. I helped him [Castillo] with the computer--now he probably won't let me touch it."

In his own office, Castillo wrestled with the ramifications of the revelations about Perez. The constable seemed honestly stunned.

"I called to check on him [Perez]. They (people in Precinct 1) said he's a nice guy," Castillo says. "I figure that from one law enforcement agency to another--they would at least tell me something about the guy."

As for Perez's criminal record, and the explosive affidavit in which Perez claims to have bought his position, it's just starting to sink in with Castillo.

"What am I going to do?" Castillo says bleakly. Then he laughs, "Yeah, Jesus Christ. I'm going to consult with an attorney, that's for sure, and that would be Domingo [Garcia]."

A reporter tosses the question to Chief Deputy Kirby: "What do you think ought to be done about Deputy Perez, Chief?"

Kirby laughs, then draws his finger across his throat.

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