Cop Hell

Maybe this is the way to put it, in order to get anybody's attention in this town. Maybe I should forget about the fact that we have a deeply corrupted, dangerously out-of-control police department and just talk about the money.

I pay about $1,000 a year in city of Dallas property tax. This year the equivalent of all of my tax payments plus the payments of 284 more Dallas households at my same tax level will go to pay off the legal settlement the city just came to in only one of dozens of cases it faces involving bad cops.

Of the 285 of us, none of our tax payments will go to fix the streets or pick up the trash. Every penny we pay to City Hall this year will go to compensate one citizen who was sent to prison for two years and nine months by two crooked cops, both of whom are now convicted felons.

This is way before fake drugs. We haven't even gotten to those lawsuits or the much larger damages the city may wind up paying out in them.

For sending Anthony Lynn Curlin to prison in 1997 for 1,138 days on fake charges, lawyers for the city agreed in mediation last week to pay $285,000 in damages, according to David Davis, one of Curlin's lawyers.

And consider this: The city should not have had to pay one thin dime. Under normal circumstances, the city is so well-protected, so bullet-proof behind the doctrine of "qualified immunity" that Curlin shouldn't have been able to get a nickel from City Hall.

The law says you almost can't sue a city in Texas for damages if the city was doing its best to carry out city functions according to fair, well-established policies. If individual city employees decide to violate those policies and harm you, the law tells you to go sue them, not the city.

Curlin was framed on drug charges by two of the city's most notorious dirty cops, the shake-down thieves Daniel Earl Maples, Jr. and Quentis Ray Roper, about whom the Dallas Observer has written at length ("Good Cop, Bad Cop," August 31, 2000, and "Dirty Cops, Dirty Games," September 7, 2000, both by Christine Biederman. Keep Biederman's articles of four years ago in mind, by the way, because those stories were eerily prescient--I'm talking hair-on-the-nape-of-your-neck eerie--in terms of what's happening right now with the Dallas Police Department.)

Roper and Maples were dirty cops who stole money from people and lied to get convictions. They got Curlin sent up for 30 years on a drug and weapons charge. The sentence was stiff, in part because Curlin had a prior conviction 25 years earlier. He got out of prison early because he agreed to help in the prosecution of the two bad cops. Then he sued them and the city for damages.

Suing Maples and Roper doesn't do much good because they're convicts, protected by that ancient principle of South Texas law, the Rule of No Dinero, also known as the blood-out-of-a-turnip doctrine. So of course everybody wants to sue the city in a case like this. It has deep pockets. But the city's protected, right?

Not Dallas. The city will never admit this in public or on the record, but I can tell you exactly why the city paid off Curlin. The city paid because Curlin's lawyers were on the verge of piercing the shield of qualified immunity. (A spokesman for City Attorney Madeleine Johnson declined to comment on the case because the settlement has not yet been approved by the city council.)

Curlin had three lawyers: Jim Suggs of Arlington, Mark McClelland of Irving and David Davis of Dallas. Part of Davis' contribution to the effort was an extensive analysis of training and supervisory practices in the Dallas Police Department. His analysis, which I've spent some time looking at, is exhaustive and remarkably close to the analysis unveiled two weeks ago in a study by Berkshire Advisors Inc. of Austin and Team Phillips Inc. of Dallas. That report, called the "Dallas Police Department Management and Efficiency Study," has been seriously undersold for some reason by The Dallas Morning News. The original story about it in the News said it was sorta bad, but by golly, most folks in Dallas still love their coppers.

Then I attended the briefing in which the study was presented to the city council. The only thing the council cared about was whether this would mess up their private "community policing" cops that they use to take care of gripes from constituents.

Oh, man. Maybe it was too thick for everybody to read. Listen. I've read hundreds and hundreds of consultant reports. Normally these guys never say anything remotely critical of the people who hire them. But this report is a major exception. This report will burn your fingers off. Go look at it. It's on the Web at

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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

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