Membership Has Privileges
Earlier this month, attorney Anthony Lyons persuaded a Dallas County prosecutor to drop a misdemeanor case against his client, ex-cop Deanna Hammond, because she had already been punished when the Dallas Police Department fired her after her legal problems arose. What Lyons failed to mention was that Hammond had already appealed her dismissal and now can ask the city for her job back because the original charges that caused her to lose the job have been dismissed.
Feeling dizzy yet?
Last week, the Dallas Observer's blog, Unfair Park, broke the shadowy story of how DeSoto police Captain Gary Perkins recorded a conversation that suggested that Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins' office cut a break for the well-connected Lyons, who served on Watkins' transition team and shares an office with state Senator Royce West. Both Lyons and West were also on hand when Watkins announced the dismissal of several high-profile prosecutors, with The Dallas Morning News reporting that Lyons helped hand out the termination notices personally.
Lyons' clout wasn't lost on Perkins. The DeSoto police captain instantly became suspicious when he saw how Watkins' office handled a seemingly open-and-shut case against Hammond, who was accused of lying to one of his officers in connection with a criminal case. Hammond even wrote Perkins a letter of apology. But on February 8, the District Attorney's Office dismissed the charge of making a false report to a peace officer, leading Perkins to believe that Lyons finagled a favorable deal for his client.
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So Perkins called the lead prosecutor on the case, Brandon Birmingham, and cued his tape recorder. After Birmingham hemmed and hawed a bit, he explained why he dropped the charges.
"It was communicated to me by a member of the transition team at the DA's Office that she lost her job and maybe they wanted the case dismissed."
Who was it who called? Perkins wanted to know.
"It was a member of the transition team," Birmingham reiterated.
That member of Watkins' transition team just happened to be the attorney of record on Hammond's case—Lyons.
The District Attorney's Office later explained that Lyons is the one who called the prosecutor but merely as a defense attorney working on behalf of his client. So why didn't Birmingham explain it that way to an already suspicious Perkins? Watkins' spokeswoman Trista Allen says that Birmingham referred to Lyons as a member of the transition team to highlight his credibility, not to suggest he was exploiting his pull. This wasn't an attorney who advertises above barroom urinals, but an esteemed member of the defense bar who helped advise Watkins shortly after his election. (Lyons did not return repeated calls for comment.)
But Birmingham says that Lyons never told him or the other prosecutor on the case that Hammond had already filed an appeal of her dismissal with Dallas City Hall. "It was made very clear that she was not going to get her job back," Birmingham says.
Interestingly, in an announcement sheet for county criminal court, Lyons marked a "plea of guilty" for his client. Announcement sheets, however, are nonbinding, and shortly afterward Lyons informed the District Attorney's Office that Hammond had lost her job and "that was sufficient reason to get the case dismissed," according to Birmingham.
Now Hammond, who declined to comment on her case, has an appeal hearing with an assistant city manager on March 6. Police Chief David Kunkle says he doesn't know if Hammond could win back her job.
"It depends on what evidence we have independent of the indictments," he says.
On March 16, DeSoto police officers responded to a disturbance call at a home after they received a report that a young girl was attacked. Around that time, Hammond arrived at the home to pick up her son. According to the police report, the DeSoto officers wanted to talk with her because they believed her son witnessed the attack. When they asked for her name, she hesitated before identifying herself as Michelle Deverou. She also told them she was unemployed.
Hammond also gave DeSoto cops an incorrect phone number and the wrong name for her son. Hammond wrote Perkins a letter of apology stating, "I simply did not want to be involved with the situation since I was only there to pick up my son." But Hammond's contrition aside, Perkins still reported her conduct to the Dallas Police Department and also filed charges against her for lying to a peace officer.
"Her son was the only witness besides the victim, and not being able to locate a witness affects your investigation," Perkins says about why his department chose to press charges. "She is a police officer, and she hindered our ability to file a case."
Interestingly, the Dallas Police Department had already disciplined Hammond for other encounters with the DeSoto Police, including one that led to a four-day suspension. In her three-year career with the force, Hammond had been investigated four separate times by the department's internal affairs division for various alleged infractions. She was also disciplined for being disrespectful to a supervisor and participating in a disturbance. This latest scrape, however, was the straw that broke the officer's career. On September 1, the department fired Hammond. Within 10 days, she appealed her dismissal with Dallas City Hall.
Trista Allen says that Watkins had no knowledge of the Hammond case and how it was handled. "In January we had 6,600 misdemeanors," she explained last week. "Last year we had 75,000. We have to move cases, and if someone no longer has a job, what more needs to happen?"
Perkins, though, says that the issue isn't that the District Attorney's Office dropped the charges, but why. "There's nothing wrong with dismissing a case; it's how it was handled and by whom."
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