Monday, November 22, 2004

Profile of a Gypsy Cop

Guadalupe County Sheriff's Deputy Keith Majors is a "gypsy cop." That's law enforcement slang for a peace officer who floats from department to department regardless of, or because of, misconduct or poor job performance. With 2,540 law enforcement agencies in Texas, it's relatively easy for a licensed officer to find another gig. And there are plenty of law enforcement agencies like Byrne-grant funded drug task forces that have pretty low standards for who they'll hire.

Majors presently
serves as a narcotics officer for the Guadalupe County sheriff's department. Before that, though, he served as commander of the 24th/25th Judicial District Narcotics Task Force, based in Seguin, Texas.

The Texas Department of Public Safety
disbanded the task force after a 2002 audit found evidence missing from 20 percent of task force case files, and 30 files missing altogether. Many of the missing items were drugs and guns. According to records obtained by the Seguin Gazette, Keith Majors stalled and delayed the DPS investigation of missing evidence. Along with Seguin Police Chief Gary Hopper, Commander "Majors was said to have been the most significant obstacle in the path of DPS authorities requesting assistance in establishing a more accurate inventory system and locating and destroying drug evidence," the Gazette reported.

The Gazette quoted a DPS inspector
recommending that if Keith Majors could not be replaced as task force commander, the task force should be disbanded.

"It is my opinion that the only way to make the Task Force viable is to replace the project director and the commander and have all agents reapply for their position. If this is not an option, then I recommend that the Task Force not be funded,"” the inspector recommended.

This year, DPS established a new task force, run by DPS, not local officials, that includes the territory of the 24th/25th Judicial District Task Force and also the neighboring, scandal-ridden 81st Judicial District Task Force, which had one officer
set up innocent people and another steal 70 pounds of cocaine from the evidence locker. Commander Majors was not invited to re-join the task force, so the sheriff's office kept him on in its own narcotics unit. He did have the chutzpah to apply for Hopper's old job, though.

Documents obtained by ACLU of Texas under the Public Information Act, however, call into question whether Majors should even be employed in law enforcement at all. Ten years ago when he was an agent at the South Texas Narcotics Task Force based in Kleberg County, the Texas Rangers and DPS investigators caught Majors destroying evidence to conceal conversations regarding the task force commander's theft and consumption of seized cocaine.

Ironically, the DPS investigator ten years ago was Patrick O'Burke, today the DPS Deputy Commander of the Narcotics Division. At the time, though, he was merely Sergeant O'Burke, assigned to investigate the incident along with Texas Ranger Charles Brune. The following information comes from O'Burke's and the Ranger's investigative reports, obtained with an open records request.

After a duffel-bag full of 54 pounds of cocaine disappeared from the task force evidence locker, then-task force Commander William Bywaters confided to a female task force agent that he had become addicted to cocaine. He was stealing his supply from evidence scheduled to be destroyed. She told O'Burke that Bywaters admitting to starting his cocaine use prior to joining the task force, while he was still a narcotics agent for Texas DPS. Bywaters denied any involvement stealing the duffel bag of coke, but admitted an ongoing addiction. He lost his job running the task force, but unlike the average citizen caught using cocaine,
Grits can find no evidence Bywaters was charged with or convicted of any crime. (UPDATE: Bywaters was convicted of a misdemeanor offense and served just five months probation, according to a source close to the incident. No one else from the incident was prosecuted.)

Majors' old task force in Kleberg County suffered many of the same record keeping problems that would recur under his command at the Seguin task force. "Inspection of the evidence log revealed that the entries contained thereon were far from complete and accurate," reads the investigative summary. "It was determined that since 1991 evidence has been removed from the evidence locker for court ordered destruction, but it has never been logged out of the evidence locker."

For those of you who think, "Oh, that's just paperwork," check out the consequences of such oversights in police work, especially when coupled with downright pitiful defense lawyering. According to O'Burke's synopis, then-task force agent Joe R. Luna recalled:

" ... one occasion when they were in the process of going to court on a marijuana case. The defense counsel requested to see the evidence. At this time they swept up some marijuana residue off the floor, placed it in a plastic bag and took it to the courtroom. Then they advised the attorneys that mice had apparently eaten the rest of the evidence. [!!!] The defense attorney, satisfied with the answer, pled his client guilty."
That's not a paperwork problem. Large amounts of drugs were simply missing from the evidence locker, and drug task force officers lied to the court. What did they do with the missing drugs? Use them? Sell them? No one knows. Plus, I can't tell from the documents I've got, but wanna bet that Agent Luna and his co-conspirators weren't prosecuted for perjury or evidence tampering? Huh? Dyawanna?

So, a decade ago, the South Texas task force experienced nearly identical problems to the 24th/25th Judicial District task force in 2002: crappy record keeping and many different cases of missing evidence.

It was in this context that Commander Bywaters told a female task force agent that he'd developed a drug problem, and asked for her advice. She told him to turn himself in to the sheriff, but he refused, so she asked Agent Keith Majors, her immediate supervisor and training officer, to speak to the commander. She and Majors called the commander and spoke to him for 1-1/2 hours about his problem. Majors recorded the conversation on a microcassette tape, he told O'Burke, "to ensure that Bywaters would not try and turn the situation around on me." Bywaters and Majors later discussed the matter further, and Majors said "Bywaters told me that the former commander of the South Texas Narcotics Task Force Fermin Islas was also using cocaine," according to his sworn affidavit, witnessed by O'Burke.

The female agent told investigators that "Majors had destroyed the tape recording of the telephone conversation. [She] showed Sgt. O'Burke a micro-cassette tape in the garbage can near Agent Major's desk. Sgt. O'Burke observed that the recording tape had been pulled out of the plastic body of the microcassette and then discarded. ... Sgt. O'Burke later rewound the tape on the microcassette reel. A portion of the tape was not able to be rewound due to being too knotted and twisted. The portion of the tape that was rewound was found ... [to contain] a conversation between Agent Majors and BYWATERS where BYWATERS admits using cocaine."

So, ten years ago, task force Agent Keith Majors was caught by DPS and the Rangers destroying evidence of felony criminal activity by the drug task force commander. Rather than being run out of law enforcement for such behavior, though, eight years later Majors found himself
commander of a different drug task force, and this time DPS concluded the task force wouldn't be viable unless Majors weren't a part of it.

He's still in law enforcement though, further evidence that the gypsy cop culture in Texas is alive and well.

Profile of a Gypsy Cop, Part II


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