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The king of Cockrell Hill

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Mark Graham

When you meet him, you can't help but like Aurelio Castillo. At 36, he's a big man, but in the jolly sense of the term. There's no menace to his presence, despite his reputation for unbounded machismo. He invites you into his constable's office with a glad hand and a large grin. He wears civilian clothes -- blue suit, red tie, and white shirt bulging precariously over his belt buckle -- not the police uniform you'd expect after hearing the wannabe cop stories that permeate the Oak Cliff courts building. Castillo takes a moment to visit with the postman, to press his flesh and ask for his support in the upcoming election. "I hope I can count on it," Castillo says.

The postman looks puzzled, thinking Castillo had decided not to run again for constable. But the constable quickly counters that rumors of his political demise probably have been orchestrated by one of his opponents, Mike Dupree. He blames a lot on Mike Dupree, as well as on Justice of the Peace Diana Orozco, his most strident critic and part of what he claims is a political conspiracy to oust him. Castillo tells the postman that he had spoken earlier to a Hispanic activist who told him the word on the street was that he is working at Home Depot. Castillo worries that someone might think he is not seeking re-election. After all, the postman is a former mayor of Cockrell Hill, the small town embedded within his Precinct 6 that is the source of many tales about Castillo.

"That's why I'm not in politics," says the postman. "I'll leave politics to the politicians."

Aurelio Castillo, the first Hispanic constable in Dallas County, is in all things political. Schooled at the knee of his mentor, Dallas state Rep. Domingo Garcia, Castillo has been a Democratic activist since high school, an ardent worker bee for voter registration, a champion of the Hispanic agenda to bring diversity to the local political landscape. But since taking office in 1997, he has made a mess of his public trust. He was indicted by a Dallas County grand jury on two felony counts -- one for bribery, the other for taking illegal campaign contributions; he has run a constable's office that is fraught with mismanagement, incompetence, and infighting; he has unsuccessfully lobbied the Commissioners Court for permission to go beyond the traditional duties of the constable's office -- serving court papers -- and begin a traffic patrol program. He also has sought permission to implement a novel truancy program -- a way to monitor kids who cut class and the parents who let them. His critics believe he is a grasping, bellicose politician willing to do whatever it takes to get more deputies, more patrol cars, more power. It's that grab for power that has some residents of Cockrell Hill worried, even to the point that the current mayor fears the constable is trying to take over his town.

But Castillo has his friends too. The Tejano Democrats, an influential Hispanic caucus within the Democratic Party, announced it would endorse him for re-election, making him part of the young organization's largest slate of candidates to date. Their support comes despite the fact that much of the criticism aimed at Castillo comes from Hispanics. It also flies in the face of the two indictments scheduled to go to trial February 7 and two federal lawsuits filed by three of his deputies for alleged civil rights and whistleblower violations. Of course, the Tejano Democrats' endorsement of Aurelio Castillo may say less about the constable than it does about the feudal world of local Hispanic politics, where personality is more important than platform and who your friends are defines you more than the issues.

His constituency might be new, but Castillo has been accused of using methods as old as politics itself: Help those who helped get you elected. Whether it's City Councilman Al Lipscomb in the black community, George W. Bush in the white, or Aurelio Castillo in the Hispanic, it's still the same game. The only question is, Was it played by the rules?


Castillo came of age at a time when ambition met activism and created opportunity for young Hispanics willing to challenge the established order of things. Federal lawsuits brought by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed in the '70s and '80s demanded equal rights in the workplace, the courts, the voting booth. Voter registration was seen as the antidote to the status quo, a chance to give political voice to Hispanics.

Castillo's roots run deep into the barrio of West Dallas: Much of his large family lived in Precinct 4100, a fount of political activity. "It's the most closely knit and politically sophisticated Hispanic neighborhood in the city," says Hispanic community advocate Joe May. "They vote in large numbers, and they block vote."

 

Castillo's mother, Casimera, worked at the Marillac Social Center in West Dallas, a Catholic charity that serves the poor. His father, Pete, was an active Democrat, working to enlist Hispanics to support Dolph Briscoe for Texas governor in 1972. Young Castillo quickly entered politics himself, running for Democratic precinct chair and losing just after his graduation from Bishop Dunne High School in the early '80s. During this time, he met Domingo Garcia, who had just graduated from law school and was planning the first of his three unsuccessful runs against Oak Cliff Democratic state Rep. Steve Wolens.

Garcia created his own political machine, a group of friends from North Oak Cliff -- mainly his former law partners, clerks, and assistants -- young bulls willing to buck the system. They registered voters, organized precincts, and positioned themselves to leap on any favorable outcome from the voting-rights litigation they had filed, joined, or supported.

"It was all about power and politics and economic advancement," says Jake Fuller, a political consultant for Hispanic candidates. "Domingo and his friends figured no one was going to do it for them, so they had to do it for themselves."

Garcia was the architect of this Oak Cliff Hispanic revolution, but his allies all stood to gain. In addition to Castillo, they included Roberto Alonzo, Garcia's law-school roommate; Alonzo's brother-in-law Steve Salazar, who would be elected to the Dallas City Council; lawyer Juan Jasso, who would become a justice of the peace; and Mario Casarez, a process server and voting-rights plaintiff. Although they failed to get Garcia elected to the Legislature in 1984, 1986, and 1990, Garcia pushed them into the political arena as well. In 1985, Castillo, though only 22 at the time and on probation for drunken driving and unlawfully carrying a weapon (a hunting knife, he says), unsuccessfully ran for Dallas school trustee against board president Mary Rutledge. "Domingo told me I got 27 percent of the vote," Castillo says. (He actually received 14 percent.)

Each failed campaign was further evidence that Hispanic voter strength was being diluted by Anglo incumbents who had gerrymandered themselves into office and had little chance of being evicted. Despite the growing Hispanic population, in 1990, other than Rene Castillo, who sat on the school board, there was not a single Dallas Hispanic holding a city, state, or countywide office.

In 1991, after U.S District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer did away with at-large city council seats and ordered the city divided into 14 single-member districts, Garcia finally came up a winner, taking a seat on the city council. Of course, he didn't forget his friends. Aurelio Castillo, freshly returned from three years at a California college (whose name he now says he can't remember), reaped the spoils. Garcia appointed Castillo, then a legal assistant to Roberto Alonzo, to the Library Board in 1991, the Industrial Development Board in 1992, and the Park and Recreation Board in 1993.

He saw his tenure on the Park Board as a "stepping stone to higher office. I always wanted to be a county commissioner," he says.

Castillo may not have any great love of law enforcement, but when Garcia and Alonzo asked him to run for constable, he seized the opportunity. The commissioners court had finally settled its voting-rights litigation in late 1993 by creating Precinct 6 -- a mainly Hispanic district for justice of the peace and constable -- which included mostly Oak Cliff, West Dallas, Cockrell Hill, and parts of Grand Prairie and Irving. Despite the district's being 57 percent Hispanic, Mario Casarez, one of Garcia's friends, had lost the constable's race in January 1995 to James Paschall, an Anglo who was seeking re-election. The field would be a crowded one with six other candidates running in the 1996 Democratic primary, but Castillo seemed undaunted. "They thought I had a good chance of winning," he says. "I have a lot of friends and family in the area."

Because of his family's West Dallas roots, Castillo was considered "a homeboy, homegrown." Joe May says. "His own family -- compadres and commadres and relatives -- could bring him as many as 200 votes. Those can become the nucleus of your hardcore base vote."

Castillo thought he could also count on the Garcia-Alonzo political machine to back his candidacy. What he hadn't counted on was the civil war that broke out between two old friends and nearly ripped the Hispanic political community apart.

Alonzo had grown powerful in his own right, taking advantage of a federal lawsuit and the 1990 census to win a seat as the first Hispanic state representative from Dallas. He also became chairman of the Mexican-American Democrats, at that time recognized as the official Hispanic caucus of the state Democratic Party. But a vocal faction of the organization, led by powerful Dallas lawyer and activist Adelfa Callejo, had grown disenchanted with his leadership, peeved when he refused to relinquish the chairmanship after serving two terms. In January 1996, Callejo and state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos from Austin broke away from MAD and formed their own political caucus, the Tejano Democrats, which would eventually become the official Hispanic wing of the party. Callejo would also forge an alliance with Domingo Garcia, who decided to exploit Alonzo's vulnerability by announcing that same month that he would run against his friend for state representative in 1996.

 

"The breach was really about respect," says one Hispanic advocate. "Domingo had brought Alonzo to the dance, and he wanted to show him who was in charge."

Justice of the Peace Diana Orozco is more blunt: "It was all about who was king of Oak Cliff," she says.

The Hispanic community seemed to splinter into camps: Garcia or Alonzo, each with his own slate of candidates and always in opposition to the other. "There is no difference between Garcia and Alonzo philosophically on issues," Joe May says. "When you total it up, they are going to vote the same way. It's just a question of personality." Onetime allies became full-time enemies. Casarez joined the Garcia camp; Salazar sided with Alonzo; and Aurelio Castillo, running for constable in the same primary that Garcia challenged Alonzo, was caught in the middle. "I hate to see all the infighting and factionalizing among ourselves," Castillo says. "All it does is teach hate."

Yet Castillo, who says Alonzo is still his friend, slowly sided with Garcia. "He couldn't serve two masters," May says. Although Castillo chose right (Garcia defeated Alonzo in a runoff), he had his own battle to fight, a nasty contest that included charges of racism and voter fraud. Castillo managed to squeeze himself into a runoff and then eked out a primary victory against the incumbent Paschall in one of the smallest voter turnouts in Dallas County history.

"People who were going out to vote for Alonzo, they voted for Castillo," says May, who worked to re-elect Paschall. "If they came out to vote for Domingo, they also voted for Castillo. The war between them wound up killing Paschall at the polls."

Paschall, who has since died, took the loss hard. "He threatened me," Castillo claims. "He said if he saw me on the street, he was going to kick my motherfuckin' wetback ass. He told me that within six months, I would be out of office and in jail."


Castillo has toned down the cop rhetoric recently, but after he was elected constable, he seemed as gung-ho as any rookie with the Dallas Police Department, though much less experienced. He had no background in law enforcement, yet as constable of Precinct 6, he was chief to 15 deputies and 21 reserves. He wore a uniform and carried a gun. He seemed almost bored with the traditional duties of being constable -- serving civil papers, executing criminal warrants, being bailiff to the justice of the peace courts. Clearly, he wanted to play cop.

"We basically can do anything, whether it's drug interdiction or making a traffic stop," he told the Dallas Observer in April 1997. "When a constable comes knocking on the door, people should know they are peace officers -- that they are cops."

Castillo had T-shirts and jackets designed for his officers that bore the words "Dallas County Police."

"His MO at the time was that everywhere he would go, he would come with five, six deputies," says Judge Diana Orozco, one of the two Hispanic justices of the peace in Castillo's precinct. (The other is Juan Jasso, a Garcia ally.) "Castillo had all the wrong elements. Youth, insecurity, machismo, a gun, and a badge."

In December 1996, before he even took office, he had his first encounter with the Dallas County Commissioners Court, asking that they fund a traffic-patrol program for his precinct and growing "quite belligerent" when they turned him down, says senior county budget-policy analyst Ryan Brown.

A traffic program would enable him to re-equip his aging fleet of Crown Victorias with more sophisticated cop gear -- lights, sirens, and security cages -- some $16,000 worth of equipment per squad car. He also demanded more deputies, but the commissioners have a set formula for constable staffing. "For every 2,400 papers served a year, we will give you one deputy," Brown says. "Constable Castillo has requested additional deputies above and beyond what the formula provides, and that was not granted."

 

Castillo resented the commissioners telling him what to do. After all, he was the elected official, and he had big plans for his office, to extend its power and reach. He went to Houston and visited Constable Victor Trevino, who ran both traffic and truancy programs and has more than 50 deputies and 150 volunteer reserves under his control. But it took Trevino four years and many missteps to convince the Harris County Commissioners Court to fund his programs. Castillo wanted his now.

"Constable Castillo has been impatient with the normal safeguards of spending taxpayers' money," County Judge Lee Jackson says rather diplomatically. "He has looked for shortcuts and easy solutions to get around them. That impatience has made things harder to resolve."

The commissioners decided they would fund a constable's traffic program only if that constable secured a city council resolution from each municipality he would be serving. For Precinct 6, that meant Dallas, Irving, Grand Prairie, and Cockrell Hill -- none of which would agree to let Castillo police their traffic.

After three other Dallas constables secured approval for their traffic programs from the commissioners, Castillo felt the commissioners were discriminating against him. "They kept changing the rules on me. Why do three Anglo Dallas constables have it and I don't? It's because I'm Hispanic."

The commissioners, however, had only budgetary control over Castillo. "There is no stick, per se, preventing him from doing traffic," Brown says. "So if Constable Castillo wants to do it, he will find a way of doing it."

For a time, that way was to make traffic stops by running drivers off the road, Judge Orozco says. "I was going toward the courthouse, and I saw a constable car speeding in front of another car. The deputy had no lights and sirens, so he just veered in front of the car to stop it. Then three deputies jumped out with their guns drawn."

When Orozco complained to Castillo that his men were too inexperienced to make traffic arrests, he didn't listen. Their relationship had soured long before he took office, she says, when he first came to her chambers and told him his plans. "He said, 'When I come here, the mayates [the blacks] are out of here. It will be an all-Hispanic office.' I told him later, 'You can't be saying those things, that would be a civil rights violation.'"

Castillo denies he wanted to purge his office of non-Hispanics and claims Orozco is the racist, telling him not to hire Connie Kirby, his chief deputy. Kirby, who is black, was an ex-chief deputy under Paschall and joined forces with Castillo to help defeat his old boss in the runoff. Orozco claims that the only reason she was against hiring Kirby was that "he was incompetent."

Six Anglo deputies from Paschall's old regime transferred to Constable R.L. Skinner's office in Grand Prairie. Of the three black deputies who remained, one quit and the other two, Donald Carter and Donald Artis, quickly fell into disfavor with Castillo. "He had a racist attitude toward us from the get-go," Artis says. "We would get written up for things the Hispanics would never get written up for."

Both claim that the rift with Castillo began when they refused to volunteer their services in early 1997 to work security for then Dallas school Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Castillo says, had asked that he provide officers for a celebration at the Loews Anatole Hotel to honor the school district's first Hispanic chief. Trouble was expected from the New Black Panthers, who were unhappy about Gonzalez's recent appointment. "We weren't trained for that kind of duty," Carter says. "DPD was very upset we were there."

But Castillo often tried to expand the influence of his office, seizing an opportunity to do just that when it came to local bail-bonding companies. During his campaign, he met with many of the city's bondsmen, promising them he would do a better job than James Paschall at re-arresting bond jumpers. That meant money to the bail-bond companies, which stood to lose if their defendants remained at large after they failed to appear in court. Not surprisingly, several bonding companies contributed to Castillo's campaign.

After the commissioners refused to fund his traffic program, he asked at least one of his deputies, Armondo Gonzales, to solicit contributions from bonding companies to help retire his campaign debt, Gonzales claims. The deputy says that in January 1997, only weeks after Castillo was sworn in, he went to Marjorie Walstad at Immediate Bonding Co. and she gave him a check. "I knew it was wrong," Gonzales says. "I was on duty, in a squad car, in uniform. You can't do campaigning on county time. But I'm 58, and I have a bad heart. I was afraid he would fire me."

 

A few weeks later, Gonzales says, Castillo approached him again, saying he needed to raise money to buy equipment for squad cars and bicycles for the patrol he wanted to start for the Oak Cliff business community. According to one source close to the bonding industry, one of Castillo's deputies held a meeting with all the bonding companies, asking that they contribute to the constable's nonprofit corporation, COPS -- Constables on Patrol -- to raise money for a new car that his warrant squad would use to arrest bond jumpers.

"Marge Walstad thought it was a shakedown," Gonzales recalls. "She wanted to know what would happen if she stopped giving money."

Gonzales thought he had the answer when he overheard Castillo tell another deputy: "If Immediate doesn't contribute, I won't pick up their prisoners." Walstad refused to be interviewed for this story.

Gonzales also grew suspicious when Castillo and Mario Casarez, who was then his reserve deputy and bookkeeper, insisted on going with him to pick up a prisoner at Doc's Bail Bonds. When Gonzales introduced the bond company's manager to the constable, Castillo asked Gonzales to step outside. "Our deputies wound up working two Saturdays straight for that particular bonding company, picking up their bond jumpers all over town," Gonzales recalls. "That was personal time -- days off. It was preferential treatment."

In September 1997, Gonzales spoke with Mike Gillett, supervisor of the public integrity unit under Dallas County District Attorney John Vance. The district attorney's office had already begun its bribery investigation of the constable's office. "We can't have our elected officials saying, 'I am only going to do my job if you give me money,'" says one source close to the investigation.

James Paschall's threat that Castillo would be in jail within six months was sounding more prophetic than Castillo might have imagined.


Castillo blamed much of his misery on Judge Diana Orozco, who went public with their feud as early as April 1997, when she accused Castillo of incompetence in the Observer. Since March 1997, she had refused to let him serve her court papers, evictions, and criminal warrants, sending them instead to Constable Mike Pappas in Precinct 1. "I was recalling warrants, and they weren't taking them off the system. One man even got arrested who shouldn't have. Evictions and judgments were being entered by default when there had been inadequate notice given to the parties," Orozco says. "This could cause liability to the county. Obviously something systemic had broken down in his office."

Says Castillo: "The only problem was, Judge Orozco started opening her mouth. Ever since I ignored her by hiring a black chief deputy, I have had problems with her. She is just a mean little lady that hates."

Orozco claims that Castillo was too busy playing cop to focus his attention on the more mundane duties of his office. She became particularly alarmed when undocumented immigrants began coming into her court, complaining that deputies in the constable's office were impounding their cars after seizing their papers -- visas, driver's licenses, and other forms of identification.

Although Deputy Gonzales knows of no instance in which deputies seized papers, he says they were under direct orders to impound any vehicle if the driver did not possess a license at the time of the traffic stop. "No license or insurance papers, and we were told to set them walking," Gonzales says. "Ninety-nine percent of these folks were illegals."

Deputies were also under orders to use only one particular towing company: Rubealcaba Enterprises Inc., whose Chief Executive Officer Steve Rubealcaba Jr. was the largest contributor to Castillo's campaign. "We were friends from childhood," Castillo says. "I am the godfather to his child."

Rubealcaba did own a trucking company, Specialized Carriers, but he did not possess a state or city license to tow cars until last April. His business has never been licensed as a vehicle-storage facility and cannot legally impound cars, according to investigators at the Texas Department of Transportation.

Investigators at the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, however, were more concerned about $5,500 worth of loans Rubealcaba made to Castillo in September 1996 on Rubealcaba Enterprises' corporate credit card. Campaign contributions from corporations are forbidden under state law. What smacked of cronyism -- giving government business to a friend -- looked to them like payback for an illegal campaign contribution.

Orozco also grew furious when she learned that Deputy Raul Palmer had signed his name swearing that he had personally served certain court papers on the tenants in several eviction cases, when in fact other reserve deputies had done it for him. Perjury aside, this meant that any enterprising lawyer could quash service of process and get the case delayed, possibly even dismissed. Orozco subpoenaed Palmer into her courtroom on March 12, 1997, and under oath he admitted he had not served the papers.

 

"They had all these reserves doing the work to free up Palmer to do their [public relations]," says Orozco. "He was out there politicking, running for the Cockrell Hill City Council."

Although Castillo denies he did anything more than support Palmer, others in Cockrell Hill, including Mayor Charles Slayton, believe getting Palmer elected was only part of the constable's grand plan.

The town of Cockrell Hill is one square mile containing 3,800 residents. It is nearly 80 percent Hispanic and surrounded by the city of Dallas. It is a dry area, the closest liquor store being miles across the Trinity River in downtown Dallas. If the town were to vote itself wet, whoever owned the first liquor store in Cockrell Hill stood to make a good deal of money.

Slayton claims that Castillo and Domingo Garcia weren't just pushing Palmer in the May 1997 city election, but that they were supporting two other candidates as well, enough to give them a majority on the five-person council. If their slate won, Castillo could not only have his traffic program, he could run the whole town.

"Castillo scared me more than anything," Mayor Slayton says. "It seemed like he wanted to set up his own little dictatorship." If he could control the city council, he could control the much-beleaguered Cockrell Hill Police Department, which had known 11 police chiefs in eight years. "We heard Mario Casarez, one of Castillo's deputies, wanted to be chief of police," Slayton says. Others speculate Garcia and Castillo wanted Cockrell Hill to be wet.

"Raul Palmer told me that the idea was to get him on the city council so they could influence the vote in their direction," Deputy Gonzales says. "They were planning on pushing Cockrell Hill toward being wet. Domingo was behind it too. Either Mario became police chief or the council would contract with Castillo to run the police department."

Palmer refused to comment for this story. He is currently under indictment for illegally voting twice in his own race -- once as himself and once as a dead man. Casting two ballots wasn't enough to get him elected; it was enough, however, to get him fired as deputy constable.

Castillo laughs at the suggestion that he had any desire to turn Cockrell Hill wet. "Why would I want to do that?"

Domingo Garcia says the claims are "nothing but absurd rumor mongering by Castillo's political opponents."

Palmer's defeat at the polls didn't stop Castillo from pursuing his traffic-patrol program in Cockrell Hill. On August 17, 1997, Slayton informed county commissioners that the city council was content with its own police force and was not in favor of any further traffic enforcement from Constable Castillo. Weeks later, Slayton says, Castillo appeared in front of the city council and asked the aldermen to approve a truancy program known as Absentee Student Assistance Program.

"Officers would get a copy of the truancy list every day after school," Castillo says enthusiastically. "We would then knock on the doors of the parents and tell them their kids weren't at school that day. We would become the eyes and ears for the school district."

At first, Cockrell Hill signed off on the idea -- that is, until Slayton spoke with County Commissioner Ken Mayfield. "The constable didn't tell us that the truancy program was tied to his traffic program," Slayton says. "If we approved the truancy program, Mayfield said, we would also be getting the traffic program. So we killed it."

The commissioners court attempted to mediate the dispute between Orozco and Castillo, and some progress was made. Slowly, Orozco let Castillo begin serving her papers again. But how his deputies got any work done -- between talking to the media, secretly meeting with the District Attorney's Office, and openly meeting with Castillo -- is hard to imagine.

In July 1997, after KDFW FOX 4 presented one of several exposés on Castillo that included on-camera interviews with black Deputies Artis and Carter, Castillo gathered about 20 officers together and became enraged.

"He said, 'There are two black sons of bitches that are talking to the media that I am going to get rid of,'" Carter claims. "'They're taking food out of my baby's mouth. I'll make sure they don't work in law enforcement again!'"

Later that day, Domingo Garcia came by the constable's office "to give us a pep talk," Artis says. "He told us, 'Don't be talkin' to the media or the D.A.'s office. We need to handle this behind closed doors with the constable.' Domingo shouldn't have even been there. He doesn't even work for the county." Garcia did work, however, for Castillo, who retained him as his criminal lawyer.

 

In September 1997, before the grand jury met to consider whether to indict Castillo, his mother, Casimera, presented affidavits for several deputies to sign, stating they had no knowledge that anyone in the constable's office solicited contributions from bond companies. Deputy Artis signed his, but Deputy Gonzales, who had solicited contributions from Immediate Bail Bonds, refused. He had already been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. "I wasn't about to perjure myself," Gonzales says.

On October 3, 1997, a Dallas County grand jury indicted Aurelio Castillo on two counts: one for bribery, alleging that he unlawfully accepted money from two bail-bond companies -- Immediate and Ace -- in exchange for giving them preferential treatment in arresting their bond jumpers; the other for allegedly accepting illegal campaign contributions from Rubealcaba Enterprises Inc.

Domingo Garcia told the media that the charges were part of a politically motivated campaign orchestrated by vindictive supporters of James Paschall. Garcia said Castillo had every intention of filing a civil lawsuit for malicious prosecution and defamation.

Although no lawsuits have been filed, Garcia still maintains that Diana Orozco, constable candidate Mike Dupree, and Deputies Gonzales, Artis, and Carter (all of whom worked for Paschall), were co-conspirators in a plot to overthrow Castillo.

"How was it in my political and personal interest to go after Constable Castillo?" asks Orozco, who is not seeking re-election. "What did I know about bonding companies and illegal campaign contributions? I just thought the man was incompetent."


Beneath a photo of Pancho Villa and a painting of Jesus Christ helping a child navigate a ship through stormy waters, Castillo sits in his office answering questions about why he has chosen to run again for constable -- apart from the $74,000 annual salary and $400-a-month car allowance. Like most politicians, he wants to focus on the positive aspects of his term in office, the outreach he has made to the Hispanic community, how he's worked with the state attorney general to bring deadbeat dads to court, how his officers, when asked, will volunteer as security guards for almost any event or function.

Oddly, when asked whether he has a traffic program in place, something that he had gone to war for with the commissioners since the day he came into office, he claims he doesn't know. He summons his assistant chief deputy and asks him.

"No, we don't," replies the deputy.

It was never about having a traffic program anyway, claims Castillo. His driving passion was the truancy program. That's what he really wanted. That's what he was pushing for all along. He and two other Dallas County constables came close to getting a truancy program off the ground, convincing DISD to fund the $175,000 program. However, when new school Superintendent Bill Rojas took over the district last year, he pulled the plug on the whole idea.

Hostility between Orozco and Castillo seems to have cooled for the moment, in part, Orozco says, because the constable is seldom around. Several deputies claim that for the last eight months, he has rarely come into the office, which seems to be running smoother, apart from a dreadful morale problem.

On December 11, 1997, three months after Deputy Gonzales testified against the constable in front of the grand jury, Castillo fired him, claiming he had used excessive force in arresting a shoplifter at the Carnival Food Store on Singleton Boulevard. Gonzales says that the force was justified and that the off-duty incident was just a pretext -- the excuse Castillo needed to retaliate against him. On December 27, 1997, three months after Deputy Carter cooperated with the district attorney's office, Castillo also fired him for using excessive force during an off-duty arrest. Both Carter and Gonzales filed formal grievances with the commissioners court, and in January 1998 both were reinstated with full benefits. Gonzales, Carter, and Artis would later file multimillion-dollar lawsuits in federal court against the constable and the county, alleging violations of the state whistleblower law, retaliation, harassment, and violations of their civil rights. Castillo has denied liability and refuses to comment on the pending litigation other than by saying the firings were justified.

Castillo also seems unfazed by the criminal charges against him. ("I'm still here, aren't I?") More than two years have passed, and the cases still haven't been tried. They have been reset nearly a dozen times for nearly as many reasons -- legislative continuances by Domingo Garcia, new lawyers entering the case, conflicts in scheduling. There seems to be little political will on the part of the government to get Castillo to trial.

 

Perhaps the cases are just plain weak: Last November, the prosecution offered to reduce the two felony charges to misdemeanors in exchange for Castillo's guilty plea. Sources close to the case say Castillo was ready to take the deal until he learned that he would lose his peace-officer certification and be forced to resign. The case was then reset for trial February 7.

Although Castillo refuses to speak about the charges, his newest lawyer, John Read, is quite outspoken about them. "In the bribery case, he was getting donations for his nonprofit corporation -- every dime can be tracked," Read says. "Whatever he got didn't go into his pocket -- we can prove that." As far as the illegal campaign contribution is concerned, Read claims his client did nothing wrong. "He has a friend all his life that has let him use his corporate credit card to pay for some campaign signs and supplies. He reported it as a loan, but not from a corporation. Well, it's not a campaign contribution if it's a loan."

Clark Birdsall, the assistant district attorney handling the case, has refused to comment. Read maintains, much like his co-counsel Garcia, that the prosecution is politically motivated. "The constable is a pusher, a doer, and he didn't make the best of friends on the commissioners court. Anything to kick out a minority and get some white folk in there."

The only "white folk" running for Precinct 6 constable in the Democratic primary is Mike Dupree, the acting chief of police in Cockrell Hill. That Dupree was a reserve deputy under James Paschall might lend some credence to his being part of some political cabal that is trying to unseat Castillo -- except for the fact that Dupree also ran against Paschall in 1996.

"Bottom line, under Paschall, the office was a respected, efficient law-enforcement agency, and after a few months of Constable Castillo, that reputation was destroyed," Dupree says. "His department has become the laughingstock of every law-enforcement agency in the county."

Dupree may make a formidable opponent: He has been campaigning in the precinct for months, walking door-to-door; he has raised more than $15,000 and has more than 20 years of law-enforcement experience; he has the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, and the Stonewall Democrats, a gay and lesbian political action committee.

One endorsement Dupree didn't receive was from the Tejano Democrats, who, despite Castillo's lingering problems, threw their support behind the constable. "We have certainly had our share of black and Anglo candidates that have been sued and indicted, and they get supported," says Adelfa Callejo, vice-chair of the Tejano Democrats. "I was impressed with Castillo's commitment and his sensitivity to the community."

Although the Tejano Democrats held a news conference on January 3 and endorsed 11 candidates in the Democratic primary including Castillo, Callejo is now hedging on the group's endorsement of the constable, saying it was not an "official endorsement" but more a show of encouragement.

But as strong a player as Domingo Garcia is within the Tejano Democrats, there is little question the group will endorse Castillo, if it hasn't already. And as deep a rift as there is between Garcia and Roberto Alonzo, there is little question that Alonzo won't. But that shouldn't make much difference, says Hispanic activist Joe May. "You can say all the nasty things you want to about the guy, Castillo is still going to get the votes. They are voting for the homeboy."

"It's the same concept as Al Lipscomb," political consultant Jake Fuller says, referring to the black councilman convicted last week of taking bribes. "You have to stand behind your people and convince the voters that the white system is persecuting one of your own."

The voters will decide on March 14 whether this strategy works -- unless, of course, a jury decides first.


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