Union Suit

Union Suit
A lawsuit targets a Dallas Police Association leader

According to people close to the lawsuit, the cover-up goes straight to the top: to the police chief's office and then the mayor's.

The alleged cover-up involves an influential cop--Eddie Crawford, vice president of the Dallas Police Association, the largest union within the Dallas Police Department--taking taxpayers' money when he shouldn't have four and five years ago and no one, not the assistant chiefs, not the chief of police or the acting chief of police, ever reprimanding Crawford for it, though everyone knew of it, a lawsuit filed by one former and four current officers claims.

One of the lawsuit's plaintiffs, Lee Bush, a former DPD sergeant, says that Mayor Laura Miller has known about Crawford's actions for more than a year but didn't act.

The lawsuit Bush and four current DPD police officers have filed claims the five plaintiffs faced discrimination and racism from Crawford, former police Chief Terrell Bolton, former acting Chief Randy Hampton and other police officers. The plaintiffs--two of them black, two white and one Hispanic--seek $400,000 total in damages. The claims that Crawford took city money he shouldn't have are a sidelight included in their lawsuit. Still, what exactly do the plaintiffs claim Crawford did?

"He was double-dipping," says Bush, who was Crawford's supervisor four years ago.

Crawford, as vice president of the Dallas Police Association, is encouraged to attend the organization's monthly meetings. But before attending any meeting, Crawford must first receive approved leave from his DPD supervisor, which, for a time, was Bush, who retired in August. Asking for, say, two hours of leave to attend a DPA meeting means not getting paid by DPD for those two hours. DPA awards Crawford a $500 stipend every month to make up for the missed pay.

The claim against Crawford is that for months at a time, years even, he didn't ask Bush or any other supervisor for leave, so while on association business, Crawford was also getting paid by the city.

The Dallas Observer has received internal police documents that show Crawford's name absent many times from the department's approved leave list on the same days he attended an association meeting. In fact, from September 2000 to July 2001, Crawford attended 10 DPA meetings. For six of them, his name was not on the department's approved leave list.

Bob Gorsky, the Dallas Police Association's lawyer, reviewed the documents and scoffed at them.

Gorsky says that any approved leave list is a "work in progress." Throughout the day, leave is approved and names are added to the list. "All that your document says is that at that point in time here is the roster for the approved leave for the day," Gorsky says.

But according to city code, police officers conducting association business on department time are to notify their department supervisor "at least 24 hours in advance," which means Crawford should have had approved leave from his supervisor by at least the afternoon before.

Bush, who became Crawford's supervisor in February 2001, says there were many instances when Crawford didn't get the leave. But then, Bush and Crawford never got along. In 1999, Bush, who's black, won a discrimination lawsuit after the police department three times refused to promote him to sergeant. When he moved to the Northwest bureau in 2001 and became Crawford's supervisor, Crawford thought Bush had gained the post only because he had cried racism, Bush says. Crawford, through city attorney Janice Moss, declined to comment. Moss directed all questions to her client's answer to the lawsuit. There, Crawford denies resenting Bush.

On the morning of September 19, 2001, Crawford tried to enter Bush's office without permission, the lawsuit claims. Once Crawford noticed Officer Shawn Wash, an African-American, watching him, Crawford withdrew his keys and walked away, according to court documents. Wash wrote a memo to Bush, as did Kevin Ellis, a white officer who didn't see the alleged break-in attempt but heard of it. (Wash and Ellis are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit alongside Bush, as is Ellis' partner Steve Fuentes and another officer, Tom Clayton, a Caucasian.)

Bush in turn wrote a memo to Ron Waldrop, the deputy chief over the Internal Affairs Division. (Crawford, in the lawsuit, denies attempting to enter the office.) Three and a half years later, Bush says, nothing has come of that investigation, nor a subsequent one into Bush's allegation that Crawford didn't get approved leave before attending DPA meetings.

Nothing, that is, but trouble.

The five plaintiffs are a racially disparate group. Their lawyer, Douglas Larson, says they were discriminated against because they thought Bush was a decent man and a good cop. Yet all five went through hard times for sticking behind Bush. They were denied overtime and faced frivolous misconduct charges, according to the lawsuit.

The city contends that all claims of discrimination in the workplace are without merit.

Yet Bush will not concede. "I filed several complaints [on Crawford]. With internal affairs. With public integrity. This went on for years...up and down the chain of commands...They've bounced around the complaints. Some of the chiefs don't want to investigate."

Wilma Avalos is the chairwoman for a neighborhood crime watch in Northwest Dallas. A few years ago, she filed an open records request to see if Crawford was receiving leave to attend DPA meetings; she had a hunch, independent, she says, of any outside influence, that he wasn't. According to the documents she says she received, that was indeed the case.

About a year ago, she took her evidence to Mayor Miller. Miller said she would look into it, Avalos claims.

"Well, it's a year later, and she hasn't yet," Avalos says.

The mayor's office says it has no record of Avalos' meeting. --Paul Kix

The Next Wave

We know that tens of thousands died in the southern Asian tsunami, and we know how we can help those still living, but how do we limit the damage of the next giant wave?

Peter Raad has some ideas. He's a leading researcher in tsunami mitigation and a professor of mechanical engineering at Southern Methodist University. For 10 years Raad has received funding from the National Science Foundation to study the effects of tsunamis in the ocean and on land.

"We've got to recognize sometimes that the forces of nature are awesome," Raad says. Yet the way in which people are warned of a coming tsunami is inadequate. That's why Raad is working on real-time computer simulations that will predict where a tsunami will hit, and with what force.

"At least, that's the hope," says Raad. There are still a few factors to consider--like the topography of the ocean floor.

It's not flat, he says. This means tsunamis progress through water at different speeds, with differing levels of strength and height. To predict where the next tsunami will hit, and how many people should be evacuated, Raad needs the information from a bevy of past tsunamis, a "catalog" as Raad calls it, to compare the old with the new. That information isn't available yet.

Juan Pestana is the program manager of the Civil and Mechanical Systems Division at the National Science Foundation. "Tsunami numerical simulation," he writes via e-mail, "...is extremely computationally intensive." The ocean floor is difficult enough to compute, Pestana says, but close to shore there are still more factors to consider.

Raad, however, remains hopeful. With the near-constant evolution of computer hardware and software, he says, in five years he'll have the technology to help lower the next tsunami's death toll. --Paul Kix

Strand of Evidence

When Rick Wamsley was literally fighting for his life on the night of December 11, 2003, he made a last, desperate grab and came away with the evidence that would eventually lead police to his killers.

A 20-year-old Everman woman pleaded guilty with no right of appeal on January 7 to the murder of Wamsley and his wife, Susanna, who lived in Mansfield. Charged with murder, Susana Toledano felt she couldn't defend herself in the face of the incriminating DNA evidence: strands of her hair police found clutched in Rick Wamsley's hand.

"That didn't help," says Toledano's attorney, Tim Moore, of the recovered hair. "That was kind of the bottom line."

Toledano is one of four people police say were involved in a murder-for-hire scheme reported by the Dallas Observer in the July 15 cover story, "Family Plot." Police have charged the Wamsleys' 20-year-old son Andrew with enlisting the help of his girlfriend and her roommate, Toledano, in the murder of his parents in order to collect their million-dollar life insurance policy.

Both Wamsley's girlfriend, 20-year-old Chelsea Richardson, and Toledano had dyed hair, and police tested Toledano's only to distinguish between the two roommates. When the DNA results came back, Toledano led investigators to arrest Wamsley and Richardson as well as a 25-year-old Arlington man.

Moore would not provide details of the plea bargain but says Toledano would probably testify against the others. A sentencing date has not yet been set, though court documents show that the assistant district attorney has recommended a life sentence.

Toledano declined to speak with the Observer, but Moore described her as "a young lady who got caught up in something that she's very remorseful for." --Andrea Grimes

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