Kickback City

Over a period of months, a Texas House committee has heard sworn testimony that Dallas City Hall is impotent in the face of one of the worst urban crime rates in America and wants to blame private business.

Business people from Dallas painted an ugly picture in which the city sues businesses for reporting crime in their areas; the Dallas City Council is flat-out corrupt and engages in extortion and kickbacks; cops are goons who do the dirty work of connected politicians; and when you cross the cops you get a bullet through your house.

Some of the most shocking testimony before the Texas House Civil Practices Committee was confirmed by top Dallas elected officials testifying under oath.

To the extent it was reported at all in the Dallas press, the testimony was portrayed as an obscure partisan squabble over a nuisance statute. But it was way worse than that. This was a window on civic madness.

This week the Senate is expected to take up a measure already passed nearly unanimously in the House, based on the hearings and aimed specifically at Dallas. The Legislature wants to stop Dallas from misusing an urban nuisance law originally designed to help cities shut down crackhouses, hot-sheet motels and places where landlords rake in profits from crime.

Incensed legislators, who threatened at one point to send the Texas Rangers to get Dallas City Hall under control, decided Dallas had twisted the nuisance law inside out after hearing several businesses and officials testify. But no case angered them more than the story of Dale Davenport, who owns a car wash with his dad in South Dallas.

It's such a hair-raising tale, it would be impossible to believe if the worst had not been confirmed by top Dallas officials.

For reasons that remain mysterious, the city of Dallas chose Davenport and his 70-year-old father to blame for rampant drug trouble that has raged for decades around their car wash on Martin Luther King Boulevard. These two gentlemen from East Texas, who have not so much as a speeding ticket between them, took the elder Davenport's retirement money from Lone Star Steel and dared to open up a business on MLK in South Dallas, where they have never received a single code violation or citation.

City officials told legislators they went after the Davenports because people in the vicinity of the car wash were found in possession of drugs. But then they had to admit they never went after the crackhouse that operates openly like a Narco 7-Eleven right across the street from them. Instead of helping protect the Davenports' honest business, Dallas police came around to beat up their employees and block customers from entering the property.

Dale Davenport testified about one occasion when he and seven other witnesses watched a Dallas police officer Mace a man on the car wash parking lot and then falsely accuse the man of resisting arrest. When that man's trial for resisting came up, Davenport testified on his behalf.

"The next day after I testified, a bullet went through my house," he told the committee.

The man accused of resisting arrest was acquitted. Davenport told the committee that in early April 2002, on the day of the acquittal, "I had 17 police cars and 26 officers on my lot, and they had the driveway blocked to where my customers couldn't get in."

Davenport said he attempted to complain about the incident to the Dallas Police Department's Internal Affairs Department but that IAD refused to take his report.

Dallas police Chief David Kunkle, also testifying under oath, confirmed Davenport's testimony. Kunkle was not chief of police when these events took place. But he told the committee in Austin last month that the FBI had informed him they had investigated the case and had found that someone had fired a shot through Davenport's house on the night in question.

Kunkle went on: "And it is true, and it makes me angry, and it was very unprofessional that we had 11 patrol cars that next day after the verdict that showed up at the car wash. The officers parked their cars, and it was clearly in my opinion designed to intimidate and coerce, and it was unprofessional behavior that should never have occurred."

Davenport says it wasn't 11 cars: It was 17, and he has videotape to prove it. And listen: I know this didn't happen under Kunkle. It took place under his predecessor, Terrell Bolton. But this behavior wasn't merely "unprofessional," like some lapse in manners. This was mafia. And I have to believe most of the goon cops who went after the Davenports are still on the force.

The committee heard testimony from a Dallas legislator that the Davenports continue to be targets of extortion and kickback attempts by sitting members of the Dallas City Council. State Representative Terri Hodge, who represents the area around the car wash, told the committee that the Davenports' problems all come from the personal enmity and bullying of Dallas City Councilman Leo V. Chaney.

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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