Picture imperfect

When we last left the city marshal's office, officers were upset that a sergeant was allowed to continue working for months after he admitted taking an unauthorized loan from the Dallas Police Patrolman's Union ("Marshal law," August 5). They also complained about the leadership of interim Marshal Dean Darnell, whom officers accused of humiliating and belittling them, retaliating against them, and generally abusing his power.

Just when we thought morale couldn't get any worse, it did.

A week or so ago, Althea Gulley, assistant director of Courts and Detention Services, informed seven officers who work the evening shift that they were being put on paid administrative leave. Their crime: They dared to take a group photo, which wound up on the Internet site of a local bar where some of them work off-duty as security guards. It was a move akin to the city busting those buff Dallas firefighters who posed for an underwear ad if their pictures somehow wound up in a topless club dressing room.

The irony is that the marshal's office night shift decided to take the group picture as a morale booster. Responsible for serving warrants for traffic violations, the night shift felt their superiors were not giving them proper appreciation, which the officers say they deserve because the number of warrants they serve continues to increase.

So one night several weeks ago, they set up a camera on a tripod. Wearing dark glasses, their arms crossed, the officers posed in front of a squad car with the Dallas skyline in the background. One of the officers took the best shots and used his computer to add the caption -- taken from the theme song for the TV show COPS -- "Bad boys, bad boys. What you gonna do when we come for you!" He handed out copies to the officers, who displayed them on their desks and made them into calendars for family and friends.

Interim Marshal Darnell reportedly liked the photos so much, he told several officers the day shift should have some made. One officer even checked into hiring a professional photographer, but Darnell thought the cost was too high. (Darnell could not be reached for comment.)

One of the officers sent a copy of the picture to a friend who owns Club Remixx in the West End. The club owner promptly put the picture on his Web site, where it appeared directly above a picture of the scantily clad backside of a woman advertising the "nasty dancer" contest.

A week and a half after the marshals took the pictures, their morale booster turned into a big-time bust.

First, Tom Valdez of the marshal's office internal affairs division ordered the officers to turn over all the pictures. The next day, Althea Gulley told the six officers who were in the picture -- and, inexplicably, one who wasn't -- that they were being put on administrative leave until further notice and to surrender their guns and badges. A subsequent memo distributed by Darnell outlined the "serious charges" they were facing that could, he warned, result in terminations. The charges include unauthorized use of a city seal or other insignia; unacceptable conduct; and disregard of public trust.

The only thing the officers will concede is that they took 30 minutes of work time to take the picture.

"This is all so stupid," says Frank Rodriguez, union trustee for the marshals. "These charges are not going to stick. They even charged one guy who is not even in the picture. There is nothing in the picture that distinguishes the officers or tells you where they're from. It's fun over here, let me tell you."

In a letter to Jiroko Rosales, director of Courts and Detention Services, Rick Wilson, president of the Dallas Police Patrolman's Union, implies something sinister is behind the discipline. "It is really a major concern when officers are singled out for trying to show and take pride in the department that they work for," Wilson wrote. "It is of great concern to the Dallas Police Patrolman's Union that these allegations have been brought against these officers. It is also known that each of these officers are members of the Dallas Police Patrolmen's Union. Is this some form of 'UNION BUSTING?' All indications seem to point that way."

Maybe Gulley and the powers that be can take their own group picture and post it on the Internet with the caption: Bad bureaucrats, bad bureaucrats. What you gonna do when they come for you! These six city marshals thought this photo was a morale booster. It might get them fired.

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