Longform

Dirty or Duped?

Page 6 of 12

Yet in case after case, the same scenario played itself out. Informant goes inside an auto mechanic's shop, undercover cops set up outside, informant brings them dope. One time DeLaPaz was late to the scene, other times he was blocks away, unable to "observe the informant enter the premises where the controlled purchase is made," which Dallas narcotics procedure requires "whenever possible." The narcotics standard operating procedures are more onerous for "buy-busts," in which the arrest occurs when the buy is made, than "buy-walks," in which the arrest occurs after the buy is made, but the distinction seems artificial. Buy-busts require that a supervisor direct the operation at the scene, though most of these auto shop cases had no supervisor present; they require visual observation, a rudimentary safeguard that might ensure the wrong person is not arrested. When a suspect is arrested after the execution of a search warrant "a sergeant will ensure that after suspects are secured, they will be...interviewed/recorded as appropriate."

That just didn't happen.

"The name of the dope game is to get the big fish, and no one was willing to swim upstream," says attorney Wright. "To my knowledge, none of these people were questioned, none were interviewed."

Alonso claimed he had connections to high-level dealers in Mexico, but his biggest strikes turned out to be day laborers, Mexican immigrants who congregated at the intersection of Ross and Carroll looking for work, say their attorneys.

On July 19, Emigdio Esparza stood at the intersection, just as he did every day, hoping to find work as a painter. According to his attorney Bill Stovall, at approximately 2 p.m. two Hispanic men approached him, offering him $8 an hour to paint a room. Esparza agreed and stepped into their vehicle, but after traveling a few blocks, the men claimed they needed more painting supplies. A second vehicle, a Ford Escort, was parked nearby and the men wondered if Esparza would drive it to a 7-Eleven on East Grand. That's where their boss would be waiting, and they could then caravan to the job site.

When Esparza arrived at the convenience store, Alonso and DeLaPaz pulled up in a white Lincoln Continental. Alonso approached Esparza out of the earshot of DeLaPaz, who remained in the car. Esparza gave the car keys to Alonso, who immediately opened the trunk of the vehicle, according to Stovall, and looked inside. As they both peered at four black trash bags inside the trunk, Esparza grew suspicious. "Does this have anything to do with drugs?" he asked Alonso, who brushed aside his fears and told him to follow them to the job site. Using the pretext of a traffic violation, patrol officers detained Esparza long enough for Herrera to obtain a search warrant. Confiscated were 68 kilos of what police claimed to be cocaine, though the arrest affidavit does not reflect whether any field tests were performed.

On August 6, Stovall scheduled an examining trial, a proceeding used by criminal lawyers to discover evidence. Greg Long, the chief prosecutor of the District Attorney's Organized Crime Division, called Officer Eddie Herrera to present his case. Herrera testified he had set up visual surveillance at the convenience store because a confidential informant (Alonso) had given them information that a suspect was "bringing a large amount of cocaine to Dallas" from Houston.

"But I mean, there is no way we could exactly be sure where it was coming from," Herrera testified. Since the informant wasn't wearing a wire and the police were in no position to hear, Herrera was relying on the informant's word that when Esparza was in the parking lot, he had told the informant, "It's in the trunk [referring to the cocaine]." Herrera also testified that the informant was being "fronted the 60 kilos," meaning no cash was required for the $6 million worth of drugs, even though the informant had never dealt with the suspect and had only made the deal that day.

"Is this one of the largest cocaine seizures you are aware of in the history of the city of Dallas?" Long asked.

"It's one of the largest that I have been involved in in my nine years as a police officer," Herrera said.

That is, until two weeks later.

On August 19, a light brown car followed by a Chevy Astro minivan approached Denny Ramirez and Daniel Licea, also day laborers, also standing at the intersection of Ross and Carroll. According to Ramirez's attorney, Adrianna Martinez Goodland, each vehicle was driven by a Hispanic man, one of whom said his name was Enrique and asked Ramirez and Licea if they wanted a job building houses. The pay would be $40 a day. The men said they had to buy more construction supplies at Home Depot and asked them if Licea would drive the van to a Jack in the Box restaurant on West Illinois Avenue where they would meet and go to the house. The two laborers agreed, arriving at the Jack in the Box first, Goodland says, going inside to eat lunch and leaving the van unattended with its windows down and doors unlocked.

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Mark Donald
Contact: Mark Donald