Schutze

Bad Ticket

Here's the thing with the Dallas transit police: It's not that DART cops are totally insane wacked-out Nazi Robocops. But they do have a way of turning absent-minded missteps by otherwise law-abiding people into high-drama scenes.

Another damn jaywalker eatin' some sidewalk!

I'm not saying people should jaywalk. But come on! It's like the case I wrote about last month ("Bus Gestapo," December 8). A guy walks against the traffic signal. He gets jumped by six cops, pepper-gassed and beat up pretty good in front of his son and winds up in jail for the better part of two weeks.

You have to wonder: Is it because they're bus cops?

Since that column appeared, I have been gathering string on complaints from other people who say they've had bad encounters with the DART police. And I'm really trying to do a service here. As far as I can tell, DART doesn't have a real internal affairs operation the way most police agencies do in major cities. Instead of an independent staff of investigators assigned to check out complaints against officers, they have a process by which they turn the complaint over to the supervisor of the officer being complained about.

Sort of like asking the squad leaders: "Did you fail to train and supervise your officer properly, and would you say you need to be fired or demoted?"

Guess what the answer is 99 percent of the time? According to documents I acquired through an open records demand, it's usually some version of: "After the chain of command review, it has been determined that there is no evidence of wrongdoing or policy violation."

Surprise, surprise. In spite of a remarkably consistent stream of complaints from citizens about rudeness, overzealousness, brutality and sloppy record-keeping, the DART police department comes out pretty close to squeaky clean when it investigates itself. Pretty close. But not 100 percent, which brings us to the interesting case of Terra Deshea Cummings:

Cummings committed the heinous offense of crossing the double white line in her car to get out of an HOV lane so she could exit the freeway on southbound Highway 67 last October.

She did it. She never denied doing it. She is a self-confessed double white line crosser. You're allowed to exit a High Occupancy Vehicle lane (two or more passengers per car) only at the places where there's a break in the double white line. She was late spotting her exit from the freeway and pulled out of the HOV lane to make it.

So she winds up with a DART cop yanking open her car door, ordering her out of the vehicle, yelling at her, threatening to slap the cuffs on her and haul her off to jail. And lest you think she did something to provoke all this, let me tell you why her "internal affairs" complaint to DART is so interesting: The cop's supervisor agreed with Cummings (whom I was not able to reach by telephone).

The finding was that Officer Nick McGregor, Badge 291, did not follow a new policy directive on traffic stops issued by DART police Chief James Spiller on May 24, 2005. The complaint against McGregor was sustained.

More intriguing: After counseling Officer McGregor on the right way to approach a typical double white line crosser, McGregor's boss sent a memo to his own supervisor in which he said, "I think this about covers the issue. I don't think this means anything to him and will be surprised if his attitude or actions change at all."

McGregor's supervisor, Richard Tear, goes on in the memo to tell his boss that the officer "wanted to argue with me about his interpretation of both the general order and the e-mail [from the chief].

"He seemed to me to take it all lightly and didn't seem to me to be very concerned about our counseling session at all. After we left the conference room, he turned to me and started to tell me again about what he was going to do."

Of course, I don't know all the background for that conversation. But would you agree with me that the impression here is not of a tight ship? They call the guy in and tell him he's not supposed to yell at double white line crossers and threaten them with jail. And according to his boss, he sort of flips them all off and heads out the door to do it his way anyway.

I can't tell you what the ultimate outcome was in this case: I was told before the holiday that no one at the DART police agency will have time to chat with me before January 17, 2006, when the chief said he will see if he can squeeze me in for half an hour.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze