Sticks and Stones

Last weekend I'm watching the news on Channel 8, and I see this amazing story. Gloria Campos leads the newscast: "Two men arrested in one of the largest drug raids in Dallas history are back on the street tonight, freed on a technicality."

A technicality? That's no good.

The rest of the story is something about the cops going to one house but spying suspicious activity at another house nearby, stumbling on 15 kilos of cocaine, grabbing some bad guys who are running around. Then some kind of technical problem comes up with a search warrant. So the D.A. puts all these major drug dealers back on the street.

The D.A. just sets them loose for no reason? I mean, I consider myself to be professionally paranoid, and even I couldn't believe that one.

So I spent last week looking into it. I think I was pretty unbiased going in. I considered on the one hand it could be a case of egregious malfeasance, but I tried to keep my mind open to the possibility it could also turn out to be a case of nefarious misfeasance on the other. I try not to pre-judge.

I talked to the D.A.'s office. Talked to the cops. Talked to the defense lawyers. Guess what. I don't think it's any of that. At the very worst, this might be a case of flatfeasance.

This was not a case of cops making good arrests, then getting stabbed in the back by lawyers. There was no way these arrests would have stuck. The D.A.'s decision to kick out these charges was logical and realistic. The sleazy political decision would have been to pursue the charges in order to look tough on TV, knowing in advance that everything will be thrown out before it ever gets to a jury.

So did the cops do bad? That's an even more complicated issue. It gets into the city's severe shortage of officers and the police chief's commitment to doing something about the crime rate anyway with what he's got.

Chief David Kunkle has said publicly in recent weeks that Dallas needs 800 more police officers in order to get to an effective ratio of cops per citizens. We have 2,972 sworn officers on the force now, according to the Police Public Information Office. So we need an increase of 27 percent in order to get to where the police force could significantly reduce crime.

Our courageous city council--busy sucking up to billionaires by granting them $7 million tax cuts they don't need--is giving Kunkle 50 more cops this year. Fifty. Instead of 800. That's an increase of less than 2 percent.

That's a joke. What can Kunkle do about the joke? Jack. So he's trying to do something else. A work-around.

These drug arrests grew out of a crack-down campaign the chief is calling "Operation Disruption." He takes 60 cops off regular duty and sends them into targeted areas to do a kind of intensive rolling law enforcement, turning over every rock to see what scurries out.

Maybe it just moves the crime around. But at least the criminals can't do crimes on the days they're busy scurrying. This time what scurried out was a $15 million drug ring, according to the account books the police found. The cops scurried in after them. Things got messy.

But, you know, you can look at this and say that things also definitely got disrupted. Come to think of it, I notice the chief isn't calling it "Operation Conviction."

Eric Mountin, chief of the organized crime section of the D.A.'s office, pointed out that the drug dealers freed from jail in this deal didn't exactly get their 15 kilos of cocaine back, or their $200,000 in cash and some dozen weapons seized from the scene.

"With the level of violence that has continued to escalate south of the border," Mountin said, "somebody's on the hook for all 15 kilos of coke, and somebody's going to have to pay for it. There's people getting killed for a lot less than this.

"In some respects they were probably safer where they were [in the jail] than where they probably are now," he said. "I mean, that's kind of crass, but it's a practical reality."

It is crass. It is a reality. I think it's a crass reality most of us can live with. These people make their money sucking down human souls.

In this case, there just never were going to be convictions, based on the way the police mismanaged their search and the subsequent arrests. And in order to call the issues here a technicality, you'd have to say the entire Constitution of the United States is a technicality, too. There was a reason we fought the Brits.

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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