Saturday, March 09, 2013

Open records improves Dallas media coverage of police misconduct

The Dallas Morning News IMO has the best coverage of police misconduct issues in the state, not only because of top-notch reporters like Tanya Eiserer, Kevin Krause and Scott Goldstein, but also because Dallas never opted into the state civil service code - which closes most records about police misconduct - and so there is much more transparency regarding officer discipline under the Public Information Act than in any other major Texas city. A story published yesterday ("2 Dallas deputy police chiefs disciplined over handling of actions involving fired officers," March 9) provides a good example, exposing discipline against errant supervisors who failed to initiate an investigation into police officer testilying in a drug case. Reported Eiserer:
Dallas police announced late Friday that an investigation into the handling of two fired officers accused of lying about the arrest of a drug suspect had led to a major departmental shake-up and the disciplining of two deputy chiefs.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown said he reassigned Deputy Chief Andrew Acord and ordered “verbal counseling” for Acord and Deputy Chief Ches Williams because they failed to initiate an investigation when they became aware of possible misconduct in the drug case.

Brown also said he was moving two more deputy chiefs and two assistant chiefs into new roles as part of a wider reorganization of the department’s command structure.

The announcements came one week after Brown and his second in command, First Assistant Chief Charles Cato, denied allegations that top police commanders were slow to investigate allegations of misconduct on the part of Officers Jon Llewellyn and Randolph Dillon in a December 2011 bust on Ravinia Drive in Oak Cliff.

The two officers were fired last week — more than a year after questions were first raised among police officials about the drug raid. On the day of the firings, the district attorney’s office announced it had dismissed at least 60 cases Llewellyn and Dillon had handled. ...
Police did not open a criminal investigation into the conduct of Llewellyn and Dillon until late last year after a judge ruled that they repeatedly lied during a civil forfeiture proceeding in which authorities were seeking to keep money seized in Williams’ case.
In cities with closed disciplinary files under the state civil service code (which only applies to police and firefighters in jurisdictions that have opted in - most of them many decades before closed-records provisions were added to the law), such disciplinary actions against administrators would have remained secret forever. Credit first-rate reporting by the Morning News, but also the luck of the draw that Eiserer and her colleagues don't happen to work as reporters in a jurisdiction where most police officer discipline remains secret, as would have been the case in Austin, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and around 70 other departments out of the 2,600+ law enforcement agencies in Texas.

MORE: See a followup blog post from Eiserer.

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