Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dallas Sheriff: Deputies were right to allow armed robbery by snitch

Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez says she hasn't read a report about one of her deputies assigned to the auto theft task force who knew ahead of time his informant planned to commit a robbery in Waxahachie. Reported the Dallas News yesterday ("Dallas County Sheriffs department task force criticized for truck heist," April 29):

When several men broke into a Waxahachie truck terminal last October, tied up a security guard at gun point and crashed a semi-trailer loaded with $1 million in cigarettes through the front gate, they didn’t know one of them was a snitch for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department.

A sheriff’s detective who was in contact with the informant that night said he didn’t know the crime would turn into an armed robbery. But the informant was surprised to be arrested months later, saying the detective knew for weeks what he was planning.

The Sheriff’s Department launched an internal investigation of its auto theft task force after local police officers complained that the detective hid key information from them to protect his informant.

That investigation cleared task force officers of any wrongdoing, but it exposed what critics called sloppy procedures by the sheriff’s department and lack of controls over the use of informants. ...

Task force detectives knew days in advance that the truck heist was going down at the Celadon trucking terminal in Waxahachie. They did not intervene and, in fact, weren’t even at the scene. The plan was to find out where the stolen cargo was headed. But it was thwarted when Dallas police were alerted to the abandoned truck.

If the investigation cleared officers who knew ahead of time about the crime, the the department doesn't just have sloppy procedures, it has sloppy supervisors and internal affairs investigators. There's no way that kind of abuse should be tolerated.

It's one thing to say you didn't know the theft would turn into an armed robbery, which was the Sheriffs deputies position, but then months later officers with the task force refused to cooperate with Dallas PD when it investigated the case, said a DPD investigator: “They just weren’t real cooperative in helping them identify or take this guy into custody.”

I was particularly disappointed to read Sheriff Valdez's comments, which make me seriously question whether this kind of activity is widely tolerated in her department:

Sheriff Lupe Valdez said she hadn’t read the 10-page report, which she called a special assignment and not an investigation. Nevertheless, she said she was satisfied with the task force’s performance based on the staff briefing she received and doesn’t see the need for any changes.

“The informant did what he had to do,” she said, referring to the informant’s participation in the heist.

Sheriff Valdez said she plans to read the report when she has time but doesn’t want to micromanage her departments.

“I have good officers who do their job. They inform me of what’s going on,” she said.

Sheriff Valdez said she plans to read the report when she has time but doesn’t want to micromanage her departments.

You know, Sheriff, if your officers don't show up to stop an armed robbery when they know a million dollar heist is about to occur, maybe you (or somebody who's more of a reader) needs to micromanage that department!

The News quoted several sources (including me!) to describe the boundaries for informant use crossed in this case:

Ellis County District Attorney Joe Grubbs said officers cannot have an agreement to permit someone to break the law.

“The danger in having a crime like that is that you don’t know how far it could go,” said Mr. Grubbs, whose office will handle prosecutions in the case.

Terri Moore, who is Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins’ second in command, agreed that police cannot allow informants to commit crimes. “You’ve got to draw a line between you and a snitch somewhere,” she said, declining to comment specifically on the sheriff’s report. ...

In the Waxahachie case, the thieves had to drive the stolen truck past a manned security gate. Had the security guard been shot during the robbery, the Sheriff’s Department would have had some difficult questions to answer, experts say.

“When there is a known risk of harm to innocent victims, that crosses the line,” said Gerald F. Uelmen, a Santa Clara University law professor and former federal prosecutor. ...

“Very often, an informant is given a free pass to engage in criminal activity,” said Mr. Uelmen, who is also executive director of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which has studied the use of jailhouse informants. “There needs to be tighter control over what informants are allowed to do.”

Finally, I'm anxious to see a copy of this full ten page report, even if Sheriff Valdez isn't interested in reading it, to find out more about how the Sheriff's department justifies promoting violent crime by its snitches. In part, they do so by attacking their critics, even others in law enforcement:

While clearing its own officers, the sheriff’s internal investigation blamed Det. Wallace, a member of DPD’s commercial auto theft unit, for the interdepartmental distrust. The report said he has interfered with task force investigations and told other police officers the task force had an improper relationship with Mr. Kelly.

The report concluded that there is an “element in the Dallas Police Department who is not beyond calling into question the trustworthiness” of the task force and the sheriff’s department in general.

Quite honestly, anyone who hears this story will inevitably and rightly call "into question the trustworthiness" of the task force and the Sheriff's department. That's largely because in a case where they have proven themselves untrustworthy, they continue to insist they did the right thing by protecting a criminal instead of arresting him.

See also this sidebar detailing several past high-profile scandals involving police snitches. Via Robert Guest and Bill Baumbach.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

This would have been a very "dicey" call if the informant had in fact been a covert member of law enforcement and a cover team was readily available. I hope there is more to this story than we are reading (No, I do not know what else could create this type of decision to be made).

These police agency rivalries are getting out of hand ( or more succinct: individuals in these agencies).

Retired 2004

Doran Williams said...

The attitude and actions of the Dallas County Sheriff's Department certainly add new and deeper meaning to the rubric of "community caretaking" by law enforcement.

It looks like one or more of the Dallas Deputies involved might be vulnerable to some accusations of criminal conduct. Look at Penal Code section 7.02, Criminal Responsibility for Conduct of Another; Penal Code Chapter 71, Organized Crime; and Penal Code section 15.02, Criminal Conspiracy.

TxBluesMan said...

Other than a situation where an informant breaks the law by making a 'buy' or something similar, I can't see any justification for knowingly allowing the informant from breaking the law.

Having said that, the offenses in Chap 71, TPC won't be applicable to this case (you have to show the deputy's intent to "establish,
maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a
combination," which would pretty much be impossible to do). I also don't think that Criminal Conspiracy would fly (it's possible, but difficult to prove, and most Texas DAs stay away from that charge). Criminal Responsibility might fly (again, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case).

In any event, that type of conduct is unacceptable in a law enforcement officer, and it is unacceptable for the Sheriff not to take strong and swift action to maintain the integrity of her department.

Anonymous said...

Amen!

Retired 2004

TxBluesMan said...

Grits,

I hope you understand how difficult it was to post something that agreed with you....

ROTFL

robert holley said...

retired 2001-you never allow a crime to be committed because too many things can go wrong.what would they say if the guy who was tied up had a heart attack and died?lupe saying this was ok shows she does not have a clue about what goes on.the state the dept is in right now is truley sad.