SAFE as Hell

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"I had a secret camera that they didn't know about," Davenport told me, "and I videotaped that whole deal. It showed that that car came in, and right behind the car was the two policemen. It was a set-up deal, and I can prove it."

Last year an investigative committee of the Texas Legislature caught wind of how the city was using state nuisance laws to persecute the Davenports and many other businesses. A very cranky Mayor Laura Miller was hauled down to Austin to testify, as was police Chief David Kunkle, City Attorney Tom Perkins and a bunch of other city officials.

The investigating committee was especially incensed by sworn testimony showing that political agendas were sometimes at work beneath the surface of SAFE Unit operations, as when certain businesses became targets after failing to kick in money for a council member's birthday party or for a pet charity. The legislators tongue-lashed Dallas officials and even accused them of "official oppression," a class-A misdemeanor in the Texas criminal code.

Chief Kunkle agreed with the legislators that some of this SAFE Unit business had been less than copacetic. Later he made a big speech to the city council about how he'd reformed the process. Even though he never said it explicitly, the central idea in Kunkle's reform, as I understood it, was to get the SAFE Unit out of the political sewer.

OK, now we fast-forward one year to just a few months ago, when Freddy Davenport received a letter from the Southeast Division warning him that a brand-new SAFE Unit action had been initiated against his car wash.

But Davenport's son, Dale, had been meeting regularly with police at Southeast to make sure the car wash was still in compliance with the terms of the agreement that came out of the original SAFE Unit case against him. He was stunned to hear that it was all starting over again.

"I want to know where this came from," he told me.

I tried to find out for him. I called Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Richie, who had handled the earlier Davenport SAFE Unit matters, and asked her what had caused this new process to be initiated. She was very nice and said this was not her case or a case that belonged to the SAFE Unit in police headquarters at 1400 S. Lamar St.

"My understanding is that the SAFE team doesn't have this case," she said. "Last time I heard, SAFE didn't have the case. It was with Southeast Division."

So I called Patricia A. Paulhill, deputy chief over Southeast, and asked her about it. Paulhill was very nice and said her division was indeed carrying out an enforcement action at the car wash. But she said the case had been directed to Southeast from the SAFE Unit at 1400 Lamar.

"Actually we do have an open SAFE team referral at that location," she said. "It was a referral that was sent from Lamar."

So I called Deputy police Chief Sherryl L. Scott, who is over the SAFE Unit at Lamar. She was very nice and agreed that the new car wash initiative had been requested by her division at police headquarters, but she was uncertain why. She said it could have been the result of a request by any number of entities, including various divisions of the police department.

"It could have been through the Narcotics Division or other divisions that may be having problems over there," she said. "Any division on the department might call and say, 'Hey, we had a shooting out at this location. We need to check on this.'"

I would have tried to call Chief Kunkle, who has always been nice about returning my calls, but I knew that he was honeymooning in the Caribbean.

So let me put this together for you. This is the same old shit. Here comes this big bizarre mobilization—cops in paddy wagons, cops on horseback—cracking down on the illegal-solicitation-of-car-wash racket, turning a totally blind eye to the grotesque open drug trade all around the car wash. When the cops rack up enough citations, the city will sue the Davenports again and use the tickets as evidence.

The police, I believe, are almost as much victims in this as the Davenports. I can tell you exactly why their story is so fuzzy on where this all comes from. It comes from some place above them.

It's political. Follow this string far enough (which I intend to do), and it will lead you to City Hall, maybe up to the fifth floor where the mayor and city council have their offices, maybe somewhere else where city employees are busy helping developers get their hands on land they covet.

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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