Longform

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Page 6 of 10

Like vice or drugs, public integrity is a regular department, but it investigates a special class of people. "Public integrity has jurisdiction over not just police, but all city employees," explains Lt. Ron Waldrop, who oversaw the department from October 1998 until January of this year. "The distinction is, with cops, we police all criminal activity, on or off the job. With other city employees, we only investigate crimes committed on the job." The unit is separate and distinct from the Internal Affairs Division (IAD), the Dallas police unit charged with overseeing the internal process of disciplining officers. Indeed, thanks to court and city attorney rulings, the two departments cannot share information or access each other's files--a bureaucratic bug that weakened DPD's ability to investigate Maples' allegations.

According to Lt. Waldrop, public integrity handles an average of about 170 complaints per year. Thanks to the complexity of their task, the unit's detectives have the lightest workloads in the DPD; Waldrop says they average "about a case per month per person."

"These investigations are very difficult," Waldrop says. "They require a lot of nontraditional techniques." Among their repertoire is the "integrity check"--in other words, a sting, using undercover officers borrowed from another police force, designed to catch cops doing wrong.

Not surprisingly, public integrity detectives aren't always beloved. "Officers who work public integrity, like DAs who work public integrity, are universally vilified," explains Assistant District Attorney Eric Mountin. This January, Mountin, a lanky, gravel-voiced ex-FBI agent, moved to Dallas to head the Dallas County district attorney's public integrity unit, which, among its other duties, prosecutes cases brought to them by DPD's public integrity squad.

"When I decided to take this job," Mountin recalls, "my roommate ragged me. 'Man, you're gonna be putting cops away. You're a rat.'" Mountin understands; being a policeman, he knows, is a stressful, underpaid, thankless job. "There's a running joke--if you want to be loved, be a fireman. So it's not really surprising that cops have an us-versus-them mentality. It's the blue wall. And of course, since kindergarten, nobody likes a snitch."

For what it's worth, Roper is partially right about how the case got started. In January 1998, public integrity detective Bill Sanders got a call from Frank Perez, a former narcotics detective who went to law school in the early '90s and now specializes in defending drug dealers. Perez had just taken over a trio of related drug cases, among them the case of a woman named Sandra Rodriguez, who had been charged with possession of a kilo of cocaine.

One month earlier, in December 1997, Roper, chasing dope by himself, had arrested Rodriguez. By the time backup officers arrived, Rodriguez, who spoke little English, was cuffed and sitting in Roper's car. Perez's complaint wasn't the bust; his client was guilty, and he knew it. (She was later convicted on federal drug charges.) The problem, Perez told Detective Sanders, was that on the night she was arrested, Rodriguez had been carrying $11,000 cash in her pockets, money that Roper had stolen. Perez also said that within a two-month period, Roper had stolen money from two of his other drug-dealing clients, Josie Rodriguez and Luis Heredia. (The cases against Rodriguez and Heredia were subsequently dropped.)

"I didn't believe it myself at first," Perez recalls. "I separated them, I questioned them, I even made them take polygraphs before I took the allegations to public integrity.

"I'm very proud of being a former police officer, and I didn't want to believe it. In fact, I had heard good things about Roper. But when a charge that serious turns out to be true, something has to be done about it."

Polygraph or not, at first, public integrity appears not to have thought much of Perez's complaint. Asked "what differentiates this [complaint] from some others that don't have as much substance," Sanders later told a grand jury, "Well, at the time...nothing. But after that, we received...14 or 15 complaints." There were, however, some problems with Perez's complaint. For one, Sandra Rodriguez was complaining that Roper, working alone, shook her down and then called backup. But the reports indicated the arresting officer was Danny Maples, a white guy who was supposedly there from the start.

Around that time, though, public integrity started to receive complaints from sources they deemed more credible: DPD narcotics officers. In exchange for payment of some sort, the narcs said, Roper appeared to have tipped the target of an undercover drug investigation that a member of his drug ring was cooperating with police.

Public integrity could do little with the allegation; since the undercover operation was still under way, nobody could call the drug dealer and ask him for a statement. Narcotics' suspicions about Roper had been aroused, though; they started flagging his arrest reports and studying them more closely.

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Christine Biederman