Prosecutors and Police in Dallas: How Bad is It?
So, what’s going on here in Dallas County with our prosecutors and our police department? Well, there are lots of things going on right now that impact criminal justice – and criminal defense – here in North Texas.
Because excessive force by the police and prosecutorial misconduct isn’t just stuff that happens in other parts of the country. Consider the following:
1. Interim Dallas Police Chief Fires Four
Well, first let’s point out that there is an interim police chief running the Dallas Police Department as the City of Dallas is currently on a job hunt for a new Top Cop. The interim chief is working hard: Dallas Interim Chief of Police David Pughes fired four employees earlier this month.
Includes Firing of Police Officer Indicted in Shooting Death
Included in the terminations was Dallas Police Officer Christopher Hess, who was indicted late last month on aggravated assault charges surrounding the shooting death of Genevive Dawes. Read the details on these four terminations at the Dallas Police Department on its Facebook page.
2. Appointed Dallas County District Attorney Replaces Hawk
Last fall, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appointed Faith Johnson to be post of District Attorney of Dallas County after Susan Hawk resigned. Hawk quit after successfully defeating a huge effort to force her out of office. The reason for her resignation: her mental health. Hawk had spent time both before and during her tenure as the head prosecutor in an in-patient treatment facility for depression.
3. Court of Inquiry Demand into Alleged Conspiracy at Dallas County District Attorney’s Office
Meanwhile, Susan Hawk’s predecessor, Craig Watkins, is facing a demand for an official court of inquiry over in Denton County. Seems that Albert G. Hill III has filed a formal request for a special investigation into what he alleges is a criminal conspiracy at the Dallas County District Attorney’s office.
Specifically, Hill alleges that former Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, several of the DA’s staff investigators, and more were involved in doing bad things, including filing false indictments as an abuse of power.
4. Allegation of Misconduct by Two Dallas County Prosecutors
Last year, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office got accused of withholding evidence and doing other bad things in a case where a man spent almost two years in jail. Seems that two attorneys working in the child abuse section of the District Attorney’s office allegedly not only kept back evidence that would have helped the defense, but they went after a second indictment when the defense refused a plea deal.
5. Dallas Police Officer Allegedly Lied on Stand but Not Charged With Perjury
A couple of months before that, there was a news story about a Dallas police officer who took the witness stand and lied under oath – but the Dallas District Attorney’s Office never charged him with perjury. For details, read Tanya Eiserer’s story for WFAA entitled “Dallas officer lied under oath, never charged.”
6. Judge Rules Dallas Federal Prosecutors Improperly Withheld Evidence
In the recent John Wiley Price trial, there was a ruling from the bench that the prosecutors had acted “improperly,” in withholding evidence from the defense. Seems the federal prosecutors acted in a way that Judge Barbara Lynn viewed as perhaps endangering the “fundamental fairness” of the trial. For details, read “Judge in John Wiley Price trial blasts prosecution for ‘improper conduct,’ delays ruling on dismissal,” by Kevin Krause, published in the Dallas Morning News on April 11, 2017.
7. Dallas DA Never Charged Police Excessive Force until Austin Newspaper Expose
And this month, federal authorities are looking into the possibility of bringing charges against the Mesquite police officers for excessive force which may have caused the death of 18-year-old Graham Dyer while he was in their custody.
Seems the Dallas County District Attorney’s office at the time never brought any charges in this case, and never presented to a Dallas County grand jury before the statute of limitations had passed.
Now, the FBI is investigating. And to be fair, the current Dallas District Attorney’s office is pushing this case to the federal agency, asserting that there is enough evidence to charge the Mesquite police officers with Dyer’s death. It should be noted that this came after an expose by the Austin American-Statesman which reported on the boy’s family finally getting the police dash cam (among other records) out of the City of Mesquite.
For details, follow the coverage provided by the Austin American-Statesman including the articles written by Eric Dexheimer, including “DA seeks FBI review of police role in Texas teen’s death” and “DALLAS COUNTY DA: Officers who Tased teenager committed crime — but can’t be charged.”
8. Dallas Police Department Reportedly in “Crisis Situation”
According to the Dallas Morning News, things are very dicey at the Dallas Police Department, for several reasons. These include low pay — and the serious problem with the police pension fund.
See, “For Dallas police, low morale, exodus of veteran cops, pension mess add up to ‘crisis situation,” published by the Dallas Morning News.
Prosecutorial Misconduct and Police Excessive Force
The reality of police and prosecutors doing bad things isn’t new. It’s a big problem for North Texas as well as the rest of the state – and the country.
We had a trial recently of a state district attorney for prosecutorial misconduct under the State Bar Ethics Rules. He won. But up in Philadelphia, an ex-district attorney just pled guilty in a federal case where he was accused of bribery. Prosecutors rarely come into the system to address their bad actions, but these news stories suggest that things may be changing and prosecutors (and police) will be held more accountable in the future for misconduct.
We must all persist in the hope for justice to prevail – and for criminal defense lawyers, we have to remain zealous and watchful to the possibility of police or prosecutors doing bad things because it does happen here.
- Prosecutorial Misconduct: How Bad Is It? Dallas Chief Investigator Pleads Guilty to Taking Bribe;
- Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins Facing Prosecutorial Misconduct Charges and Maybe an FBI Investigation: Here’s the Scoop (The Hearing is March 7th);
- Who’s Running Dallas? Big Changes in Law Enforcement; Know Your Rights With Police;
- Is There Chaos in the Dallas Criminal Justice System? Consider These Five News Stories in May 2016; and
- Can You Trust the Police? Police Excessive Force and the Dallas D.A. List of Names.
Things will get better, but for those accused and arrested in North Texas today it’s vital that we all remain vigilant and prepared to fight wrongs done by those who have sworn to do right.
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