Cops Descend on Apartment Complex as Trial Continues in Case of Cop Killer. But Why?

Not sure what's going on in the trial of Charles Payne, 29, accused of murdering of Dallas Police Senior Corporal Norm Smith during a botched attempt to serve a warrant at Payne's east Oak Cliff in January 2009, but it looks like somebody on the prosecution side is worried.

Alex Stolarski, owner of the Oakwood Apartments where the shooting took place, told me Dallas police officers showed up en masse at his apartment complex last Wednesday and interrogated everybody in sight.

"The manager went out to ask what was going on and what were they doing, and she was told not to interfere and was threatened with arrest for obstructing police business," Stolarski told me in an email.

Stolarski is the man The Dallas Morning News slimed in an editorial, blaming him for Smith's death. They said he caused the killing by running a bad apartment complex.

I wrote about him. Stolarski is actually a respected and committed citizen and businessman who runs one of the city's better low-end apartment complexes and has always tried to cooperate with police.

The police department piece of this is sticky and very complicated. Smith was extremely popular. He was married to a fellow officer who worked in the chief's office and who has been high-profile about seeking a conviction for the man who shot her husband.

But there were issues with that raid. The smaller piece of it is that Smith seems to have contravened standard procedures designed to protect officers' lives. The bigger problem - and the issue at the center of Payne's trial -- is whether the police gave Payne any way of knowing they were cops.

Payne doesn't deny shooting. He says he assumed he was being home-invaded and shot to protect his life.

The prosecution rested yesterday. The judge, meanwhile, has heard testimony not yet provided to jurors from an apartment resident who said the police did not make it clear that they were cops.

After that testimony, the police contingent apparently showed up at Oakwood looking for new witnesses at the last minute.

A spokesman for the Dallas Police Department told me police records showed only one officer at Oakwood that day on a routine patrol. The office of District Attorney Craig Watkins did not respond to my request for comment. An attorney for Payne told me he didn't know anything about it.

Stolarski painted it as quite a scene: "We had a group of police cruisers, crime scene vehicles and police camera crews descend on Oakwood. They fanned out and and started interrogating residents all over the place."

Stolarski said in a subsequent email: "The tenants told us that they were asked if they lived there at the date of the shooting, and if so, if they saw what happened or if they knew anything about it or about Mr. Payne."

Oakwood is a actually a well-run place where Stolarski, an honest businessman, tries to provide private sector housing to poor and working-class citizens. Both The News and City Hall have an unfortunate history of painting poor people and anybody who does business with them as criminals. The way to fight crime, according to this worldview, is to tear down buildings that poor people might occupy.

That doesn't make Payne innocent. In the end, that's what trials are for. But the show-up at Oakwood Apartments means somebody has hit a bump in the road.

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