Good Cop, Bad Cop

Everything about the State of Texas vs. Daniel Earl Maples Jr. seemed terribly, terribly wrong, beginning with the defendant himself.

The quiet young man on the witness stand just didn't fit the part. At 6 feet and 150 pounds--wet--27-year-old Danny Maples was a wisp of a man, outfitted with an unnaturally large head, prominent ears, and a too-generous Italian-cut black suit. Politely answering questions, speaking softly, he looked like anything but a crooked cop: a computer programmer, perhaps, or a baby accountant, or even an extra from The Twilight Zone. Almost anything but the central figure in the biggest police corruption scandal ever to hit Dallas.

Yet a cop he had been, and crooked as a Peruvian presidential race. Four days earlier, Maples had pleaded guilty to relieving seven people he'd arrested of $27,000 in cash. And so there he sat on the afternoon of April 27, during the sentencing phase of his trial, begging a Dallas County jury for leniency and telling a most extraordinary tale--one that, if even partially true, was deeply disturbing.

For starters, it was troubling that Maples was here at all, throwing himself at the mercy of 12 strangers. When Maples turned himself in back in December 1998, he had cut a deal: Maples would tell what he knew about Dallas Police Department corruption and testify against at least a half-dozen other dirty cops. In exchange, the district attorney would recommend that Maples get probation.

But things had turned out much differently. Only one cop besides Maples had ever been indicted, and Maples never testified against anyone. Instead, Maples was here, alone and radioactive. Reviled by the state that once embraced him, Maples had been reduced to waiving his immunity agreement, claiming he'd been double-crossed by prosecutors, and asking jurors to make the state honor its bargain. Something had clearly gone wrong.

For its part, the state was suggesting it welshed because Maples turned out to be a world-class liar, and somehow the name-calling between Maples and the authorities seemed downright personal. During recesses, Assistant District Attorney Heath Harris would huddle in the hallway with a half-dozen or so members of DPD's Public Integrity Unit and Internal Affairs Division and the FBI, and from this knot of police who police police, catchphrases from Harris' arguments would escape: "Liar." "Convenient lies." "When do the lies stop?"

Yet if any side had a credibility problem, it was the state. All week they'd been caught exaggerating, overreaching, and generally self-destructing, attempting to tar Maples and ending up sticky themselves. And there was this question of exactly when prosecutors decided they couldn't believe a word he said, since only three weeks earlier they were convinced Maples was telling God's own truth. That was on April 5, the last day of the felony trial of former police officer Quentis Roper, Maples' erstwhile friend and alleged partner in crime, when the state fought valiantly to use Maples as a witness. That morning, Maples was dutifully brought up to a holding cell just off the courtroom while, at the prosecutors' request, state Judge John Creuzot recessed Roper's trial. For the next hour, prosecutors begged their superiors, once more, to honor Maples' plea bargain and allow them to use their star rat. When management finally relented, assistant district attorneys Clark Birdsall and Harris debriefed Maples one more time, listening as Maples helped them piece together trial testimony and urging him on as he recalled salient details of the crimes.

According to more than one person who sat in on that debriefing, after listening to Maples spill his story yet again, Birdsall, the lead prosecutor, asked co-counsel Harris what he thought of Maples' tale. "I think he's telling the truth," Harris replied. "Let's use him." (Birdsall and Harris were prevented from doing so by Judge Creuzot's ruling on a technicality.)

Now, three weeks after the state was ready to give Maples probation for his testimony, here was Harris calling Maples a fabricator, asking the jury to send him up for a stretch on the long end of two-to-20.

Even Judge Creuzot was troubled by the about-face. "I think this is going to bite you in the ass," the judge warned prosecutors during a quiet moment. In response, prosecutors shrugged--body language that said, 'Sorry, your Honor, just carrying out orders.'"

And so Maples was now perched in the witness box, offering up a sensational tale.

For two hours, he related how he joined the Dallas Police Department in '95, was assigned to patrol duty at the Northeast Operations Division, and how, early in '97, he was introduced to a "subculture of crooked cops." According to Maples' testimony, he was brought in slowly at first and compromised gradually until, in December '97, he finally crossed the thin blue line, accepting money skimmed from a drug arrest. He lasted a year as a dirty cop, dodging paranoia, guilt, eight separate public integrity investigations, and three failed stings designed to trap him, Quentis Roper, and possibly others. Finally, in December 1998, under investigation by no fewer than four law enforcement bureaucracies, he turned himself in.