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Dallas Police Chief Continues to Fire Officers; Six More Let Go

Dallas Morning News via YellowBrix

September 24, 2010

DALLAS – Dallas Police Chief David Brown fired six officers Thursday, including two facing criminal charges after a motorcyclist was beaten earlier this month and a third accused of drunkenly firing a gun in a squad car.

Brown has now fired 13 officers in a week, an unprecedented number in such a period, at least in recent department history. Retired Chief David Kunkle fired nine officers in less than a week in June 2006 in what he said at the time was a housecleaning aimed at changing the culture of the department.

Brown did not respond to multiple interview requests Thursday. Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway praised the chief’s actions.

“I think that the message is that we have a ‘no tolerance’ chief,” said Caraway, chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee. “One that is committed to making sure that we shape up our department, and that the sworn officers understand that they are sworn to serve and protect.”

Part of the reason for the sudden spike in dismissals is that Kunkle stopped hearing disciplinary cases late in his tenure, leaving pending cases to Brown. The chief’s early months were tied up with the fallout from the shooting death of his son after David Brown Jr. killed a Lancaster police officer and another man.

But former Chief Ben Click said the sheer number of terminations could be a cause for concern.

Before last week, Brown had not fired anyone through the formal internal affairs process since taking office in early May. At least two other officers, both rookies, have lost their jobs because they failed their new officer probation and are facing unrelated criminal charges.

“That is a lot of people to think about firing,” said Click, who was Dallas chief from 1993 to 1999 and is now an independent consultant. "The question raised too is, ‘Are there some systemic issues that need to be addressed as opposed to individual acts of misconduct? Is there something going on with the hiring or training or supervision?’ "

Click said he had some of those concerns during his term, which followed a significant spike in the hiring of new officers, similar to recent years, in which Dallas has hired nearly 1,200 officers.

Brown announced last week that he plans to rotate more veteran officers on night and weekend shifts to improve the supervision of inexperienced patrol officers.

Attorneys for some of those fired expressed frustration with the firing surge. Attorney Bob Gorsky said lawyers in his firm are representing 18 other officers who are awaiting appeals to Brown on suspensions.

“These are officers who are working the streets, but transfers are being put in limbo, and promotions are in limbo,” said Gorsky, who also acknowledged that Brown inherited some of the backlog.

Attorney John Haring said he was troubled that Brown moved so quickly in firing Paul Bauer, who faces charges in the motorcyclist’s beating.

“I just don’t think you can conduct a full and fair investigation in basically two weeks,” said Haring, who is also representing fired officer Johnny T. Rodriguez, who is accused of stealing boots from a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper..

Attorney Dan Montalvo, who represents Manuel Romani, said his client’s initial interview with investigators was last Friday.

Brown is “trying to send a message to the rank and file that he’s trying to clean house and show the citizens of the city of Dallas that he cares about that,” Montalvo said. “But in the process sometimes the officer is not able to fully give all the details that we think should be considered.”

Chris Livingston, attorney for fired officer James B. Rucker, said the department often waits for drunken-driving cases to be adjudicated in criminal court before punishing the officers.

“Obviously, on this case Chief Brown has decided to move more quickly even before these people have been found guilty,” Livingston said. “We think Officer Rucker has a good chance of being acquitted.”

Attorney Haakon Donnelly represents fired officers Kelly Beemer and Henry Duetsch. He declined to comment. Duetsch also faces charges involving the beating of the motorcyclist.

All of the fired officers can appeal. Earlier chiefs were often frustrated by the frequency with which dismissed cops got their jobs back.

Such was the case for Rodriguez, who was also fired in June 2006 after internal investigators concluded he took a set of tires from the auto pound.

A grand jury twice declined to indict Rodriguez in the case, and an administrative law judge ordered the city to reinstate him with full back pay and benefits. The judge’s order included no explanation.

But that reinstatement was among the last in a string of controversial decisions. The city charter was stiffened in 2005, so that civil service trial boards and administrative law judges have less discretion in reversing disciplinary decisions on appeal.

Even if a firing doesn’t stick, the chief has the option to assign cops to positions with limited public contact.

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