Weight of Evidence
As a crime scene investigator, Dallas police Detective Roosevelt Holiday's job involved sifting through evidence to find clues to solve crimes. Before he was booted out of the crime scene unit nine months ago, the 26-year veteran officer claims he uncovered hints of a different sort of violation—rampant cronyism and discrimination.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and current and former members of the department say he may be onto something.
Eighteen months ago, Holiday filed a departmental grievance claiming unfair treatment at the hands of his bosses in the crime scene unit, and so far the department has failed to respond. Nine months ago, he was involuntarily reassigned to the patrol, and now he's hired a lawyer to pursue his case.
Holiday alleges Detective Bill Pepsis led a special committee within the crime scene unit that unfairly targeted minority officers and used subjective tests to push them out. Although Holiday was the only officer removed from the unit, several others of all races retired or voluntarily transferred after the committee was formed.
Holiday was transferred less than a month after amending a grievance he filed with the EEOC. "It was disheartening, like being hit with a heavy blow. I couldn't believe it because I took a lot of pride in my job," he says.
The problems began for Holiday and other detectives in early 2005 when Captain Deborah Melancon took over the crime scene unit and created a system to rank detectives from Level 1 up to Level 3, with probationary and non-probationary designations for each level. Detectives also were required to take fingerprint proficiency tests and were given only one chance to pass. Those who failed were to be transferred out of the unit.
Ken Shaw, who spent 12 years in the crime scene unit as a civilian technician, and Holiday claim that that Pepsis, the training detective, failed the fingerprint test but was not transferred. Melancon said afterward that Pepsis' test was merely for practice, they say. Shaw says he overheard Detective J.R. Smith, a member of the committee, say that Pepsis was targeting Holiday, who is black, along with Ernell Smith, another black detective. (Neither J.R. Smith nor Pepsis would comment for this story.)
Ernell Smith, now retired from DPD, said only: "We've had many investigations about discrimination in the Dallas Police Department, right? So, if the crime scene unit is a part of the Dallas Police Department, ergo, it's not a big leap of the imagination. I'm not angry with anybody, but I know what's going on."
After one day on the committee, J.R. Smith asked to be removed from it and was replaced by Dennis Williams. Williams, who served in the crime scene unit for nearly 20 years and now works in the patrol unit, says getting rid of Holiday and Ernell Smith was one of the ways Pepsis intended to use the committee. Pepsis didn't directly make any racial comments, but "everyone in the room was white," Williams says, "and the people that were being discussed were black."
Detective Kyle Kreun, who has spent 19 years with DPD including two in the crime scene unit, says he failed the fingerprint test in 2005, but nothing was ever done. He voluntarily transferred to the assault unit because, he says, "I just got sick of the bullshit."
He says it was "obvious" that Holiday was singled out, but there was nothing said about his race. "It's not like somebody overtly runs out and says, 'I'm gonna take Roosevelt out because he's black," Kreun says. "I got the sense that somebody didn't like Roosevelt, and they obviously wanted to get rid of Roosevelt."
Following the fingerprint testing, Holiday says, he and two other minority detectives were subjected to crime scene tests. Michael Gonzalez, a Hispanic detective who still works in the crime scene unit, was one of the detectives given the tests, but says he was unaware at the time that it was only given to minorities. Because their "level" wasn't high enough, both Gonzalez and Holiday were removed from the police shooting team, which is reserved for top detectives who respond to calls at which an officer has fired his gun or has been shot.
"I was more hurt than anything, but I didn't think it was racial," Gonzalez says. "I don't know if I'm naïve or what, but I was hurt at the fact that they took me off because I wasn't qualified, and they put two individuals on with less experience."
Gonzalez, who has been with DPD for 10 years with almost six years in the crime scene unit, also says Pepsis and the committee paid specific attention to Holiday. "Everybody had their eyes on Roosevelt," he says. "They knew something was going on with Roosevelt for some reason."
As a result of these new rankings and tests, two collective grievances were filed criticizing the fairness of the process since the tests were not standardized and were graded subjectively by peers. The grievances were filed by the sworn and non-sworn employees, with sworn employees consisting of the peace officers and the non-sworn employees consisting of civilian technicians.
Ken Shaw led the group of civilian employees in the grievance process, which reached Chief David Kunkle. Shaw says he warned Kunkle that failed tests could result in a landslide of appeals from convicted criminals looking to discredit detectives who testified in their cases.
He claims that Kunkle, speaking to the group of civilians with the grievance and attorneys, responded, "We'll worry about that when we come to it."
Kunkle denies saying that.
Shaw also remembers Kunkle saying when he took office in 2004 that he'd no longer tolerate cronyism in the department. "Yet, I have never seen as much cronyism in all my life as there was in the crime scene section," Shaw says.
"I don't know what he's referring to," Kunkle says. "I don't know which relationships he's talking about and what the basis of those comments are."
Kunkle describes Melancon as "competent, driven, maybe hard-headed" and says the testing was developed as a reaction to increasing standards for crime scene detectives.
Holiday, who says he's received nothing but praise from the district attorney's office, medical examiners and homicide detectives, was told he failed a crime scene test in late 2006. On February 7, 2007, he was given a memo from Melancon which said he was going to be involuntarily transferred, even though Holiday was never given his score. Detective Gonzalez, who took the same test, says he wasn't given his score either, but assumed he passed it because he was put back on the police shooting team. Melancon retired in July 2007 and could not be reached for comment.
Three days after receiving the memo, Holiday filed his own grievance. Holiday claims Melancon offered to "forget about" the test if he would drop the grievance, but Holiday refused. Holiday also filed a grievance with the EEOC.
In August 2007, Melancon sent Holiday another memo saying that he needed a score of 90 on a second test to remain in the unit. Detective Mike Epple, who administered the test, then issued a memo claiming Holiday failed with a score of 91 out of a possible 149, needing 130 to pass. Holiday was transferred from the unit in November.
On June 19, 2008, Michael Fetzer, director for the Dallas district of the EEOC, sent Holiday a letter saying: "I have considered all the evidence disclosed during the investigation and find that there is reasonable cause to believe that there is a violation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
Fetzer urged Holiday and the DPD to join the EEOC in resolving the case. Chief Kunkle says Holiday's grievance was postponed because of the pending EEOC case. Assistant Chief Ron Waldrop says the EEOC information has been forwarded to the grievance board.
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