Earlier this week I spoke with Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle about his department’s investigation of three officers for writing fake tickets and making false arrests, largely of prostitutes and low-level street criminals. The officers -- Timothy Stecker, Jeffrey Nelson and Albert Schoelen -- have been suspended pending the completion of an Internal Affairs investigation into their conduct.
In a rare betrayal of the police code of silence, the inquiry into the three officers began after their own colleagues accused them of behaving recklessly, if not illegally.
“What I’ve heard most often is that the officers thought they were making a difference, cleaning up prostitution, small drug sales and petty theft,” Kunkle says. “Some people think they did it to mess with street people.”
There is certainly some good evidence of the later. One of the investigated officers gave a ticket to a known prostitute for the high crime of jaywalking. For her occupation, he listed “Mary Kay.” Everyone’s a comedian.
Both The Dallas Morning News and D have done good jobs fleshing out the allegations against the three officers. For reasons that are unclear, the three officers have written an excessive number of at-large tickets, which are handed out when an officer doesn’t have custody of the suspect but has knowledge that a crime might have occurred. Some cops have accused the three of writing at-large tickets that fabricate offenses against known criminals; while others have accused them of making arrests without probable cause.
Kunkle has been relatively proactive in dealing with this burgeoning scandal, appointing a special panel comprised of three lieutenants to investigate the officers. This is in addition to other ongoing investigations into the officers' behavior.
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“The biggest issue is going to be the number of at-large citations and the circumstances under which they were written,” Kunkle says. “As far as what we’ve been able to determine so far, it appears that [on] every citation the officer has written, the officer was at the location and the offense actually occurred.”
Of course, if that’s true then why write an “at-large” ticket to begin with? Well, here’s one reason: If an officer mails a ticket to a prostitute he just arrested -- rather than just handing it to her -- she may never receive it and then fail to appear at her court hearing. That will result in extra fines and a warrant for her arrest.
“Our concern with at-large tickets is if someone got a citation and didn’t know they received a citation and later had a warrant issued for their arrest," Kunkle says.
Right now, it’s not clear why the panel did not investigate the conduct of officer David Kattner, who has been friends with the investigated trio. In the D story about the ticket scandal, Kattner’s former partner, Shanna Lopez, accused him of combing through the county’s criminal database and arbitrarily handing out tickets to defendants who were recently arrested for other crimes. Then, in our story this week Lopez accused him of searching a car illegally for drugs. George Milner, the attorney for the woman whose car Kattner searched, will likely call on Lopez as a witness. --Matt Pulle