Talk Isn't Cheap
In the spring, as Dallas County Constable Mike Dupree was fighting to save his job, he looked at his longtime employee and deputy Les Willie. He pointed at Willie and drew a circle in the air with his finger. "Everyone close to you," Willie says Dupree told him, "is going down."
In fact, it was Dupree who abruptly resigned last week, pinned by two investigations of his office. Each of the investigations, plus an ongoing lawsuit, turned up evidence of a series of sleazy, unethical or criminal acts from Dupree, from talking in front of his employees about male genitalia to pressuring his deputies to campaign for him on county time. Even while his career lay in the balance and the press began reporting on his every move, Dupree had his own employees followed in April because he worried they were conspiring against him.
"We have now been advised that you have placed several of your employees under surveillance," wrote Bob Schnell, the head of the Dallas County District Attorney's Office Civil Division. "Such actions could be considered unlawful and a violation of the rights of your employees...We, once again, strongly advise you to not take any action that could be considered retaliatory."
You know the old saying, the cover-up is worse than the crime? Sometimes, so is opening up. If only Dupree had kept his mouth shut when we called him six months ago, he might still have a job and a badge. Instead, the once respected law enforcement officer, one of the county's most prominent gay politicos, is unemployed and disgraced after accepting a humiliating plea deal that prevents him from ever running for political office in Texas again.
It all started in December when we received a tip that Dupree had his former sex partner deported to Honduras after the young man, an illegal immigrant, took up with a stripper. Nobody would confirm that bit of juicy gossip on the record, however, so we simply called Dupree and asked him. To our surprise, he confirmed that he was intimate with the teenage Honduran, but said that when the kid got caught up in a gang and stole the constable's gun, Dupree had him deported for his own good. Even more memorably, Dupree divulged the odd fact that he and his lover ended their relationship because they began to view each other as father and son.
"At one point in time, yes, we were intimate. Several times," Dupree volunteered. "However, his position and my position was that's not what we wanted. He looked at me more in a father role, and that's what he wanted."
After our first story came out, we heard from the young Honduran, Angel Martinez, and his girlfriend, Connie Jonez. They said that he was never in a gang and that the constable was merely jealous that Martinez took a liking to Jonez. They said Dupree tricked him into coming over to the constable's apartment one last time, where he had him arrested on an outstanding traffic warrant. That led to Martinez being locked up in a federal detention center before being deported to Honduras.
As the controversy over Dupree's relationship with Martinez bloomed, Dupree's own employees began complaining about their boss to county officials. The Dallas County Commissioners Court ordered an investigation of Dupree, and when it turned up allegations of criminal wrongdoing, the Texas Attorney General's Office got involved as well. Perhaps the final straw came when Dupree's own employees filed a court petition to remove him from office.
Dupree and his supporters claimed that he was the victim of a right-wing, homophobic conspiracy. He's not entirely off base. Some of Dupree's detractors didn't like him mainly because he is gay, while others had reason to attack him after they were given unwelcome assignments. But the sheer volume of sworn statements against Dupree coupled with his own original story of how he let his lover make off with his firearm showed him to be lacking in judgment. Then again, it also didn't help Dupree's conspiracy theory that two of the most damning members of the supposed coup against him included Democratic Commissioner John Wiley Price and one of Dupree's own deputies, Aaron McCarty, who is gay.
McCarty, who joined the petition to remove his boss from office, filed an affidavit claiming that Dupree ordered him to drive the constable around Hispanic neighborhoods in Oak Cliff looking for Latino love. "He would have me drive by those locations real slow, and if he saw someone he wanted to talk to [typically a young Hispanic male] he would make me talk to the guys for several minutes," McCarty wrote in his sworn statement. "It appeared to me that he was flirting with these guys. I felt that was inappropriate, as he was in uniform representing the constable's office."
Other employees made even stronger allegations. Willie, who worked for Dupree for six years, said that his boss ordered him to fix tickets for young Hispanic males so "that the constable could see them socially." Willie also alleged that Dupree ordered him to shoot up Dupree's own vehicle so that the constable could file a police report and accuse a political rival of being the shooter. Rafael Hernandez, a 20-year-old clerk at Dupree's office, said that the constable continually flirted with him and touched him inappropriately. Hernandez also added that Dupree told him "he wished he had a son like me," which was reminiscent of the relationship the constable tried to have with Martinez.
In fact, Dupree's own deputies fleshed out the story of how their boss treated Martinez. Art Lizcano, who worked for Dupree for five years, said that his boss asked him to seek out Martinez, whom Dupree described as a gang member. Lizcano's supervisors told him to ignore the request, but Dupree didn't let up and finally ordered him to arrest Martinez at the constable's apartment where the young man was sleeping. Dupree even gave Lizcano the key to his place.
If Dupree were only dealing with a gaggle of disgruntled employees, he might still be fighting for his job. But earlier this month, Dan Wyde, the attorney who filed the petition to remove Dupree from office, collected arguably the most credible affidavit yet. Leslie Sweet, the legal advisor for Sheriff Lupe Valdez, gave a sworn statement describing how Dupree tried to slander Willie after the sheriff's department hired him to handle medical transfers of inmates. Sweet said that in May he received an anonymous call saying that Willie had fondled a 19-year-old girl. The caller added, "I have a photo of it." Around 10 minutes later, Dupree happened to call and stated he was on his way to Sweet's office with the damning photos. Sweet saw the photos and said they were not damaging at all, merely Willie pictured with a stripper a few years ago. Still, an agitated Dupree insisted that Sweet fire Willie and then added, "The civil DA won't let me fire him. I'm going to get rid of him one way or another."
Sweet's affidavit, on top of the sworn statement from Schnell, echoed all the main allegations of Dupree's employees: That he was a vindictive, clumsy hack, too consumed by paranoia to perform his job. In fact, lost among the sordid details of Dupree's machinations was the fact that he wasn't very good at serving legal notices, which is the most important responsibility of an urban constable. In one case, a county judge found that Dupree "willfully disobeyed' an order to seize a debtor's property as required by law.
"This disobedience was not justified or excused," wrote the judge.
Last week, everything began to crumble for Dupree. The county's investigation into Dupree's workplace sustained allegations of sexual harassment, and a visiting judge allowed the petition to remove the constable from office to go forward. On top of that, the attorney general's office spoke with several employees who claimed that Dupree had them work on his campaign on county time, which is against the law. Last Thursday, Dupree simultaneously quit his job and copped a guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of abuse of official capacity. Represented by attorney John Weddle, Dupree shocked everyone caught up in the drama and fulfilled the wildest dreams of his detractors. Not only did Dupree step down, but as part of his plea deal he can never serve as a law enforcement officer or an elected official in the state of Texas.
And yet, while Dupree pleaded guilty in a court of law, he maintained his innocence to the press. When asked by a reporter if he lied when he accepted a plea, Dupree simply responded "yes." The former constable was less loquacious with the Dallas Observer.
"I believe I don't have any comment for you," he told us.
If only he would have said that the first time around.
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