More Bleeding at APD?

Austin Police Chief Stan Knee
Austin Police Chief Stan Knee (Photo By Jana Birchum)

Nearly a year and a half after Austin Police Department officers Stan Farris, Dennis Clark, and David Gann settled out-of-court a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the police department in 1997, another suit hit the district clerk's office just before closing on Thursday, May 16 -- a suit that revisits allegations of retaliation by department brass for officers' complaints about alleged corruption within the department.

Detective Jeff White filed suit in state district court against the city, alleging that his transfer from the department's narcotics and organized crime division early this year was the result of retaliation by Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman, after White came forward with detailed allegations about Austin officers who were involved in various criminal activities -- including allegations against Chapman.

Further, the suit alleges, White's attempt to secure a position within the federal-state Joint Terrorism Task Force was also blocked by Chapman, despite the fact that White was "recruited and supported by FBI personnel." "It has become necessary to bring this suit," White's petition continues, "because of certain practices within APD wherein officers, including Plaintiff, have been, and continue to be, subjected to retaliation in terms of assignments and discipline for investigating illegal practices within APD and reporting violations of law."

White's suit raises allegations similar to those originally voiced in 1997, and which formed the basis of the Farris, Clark, and Gann suit. The three officers had alleged that APD brass transferred them away from a major joint (federal-state-local) Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force narcotics case, in an effort to end an investigation that was uncovering numerous allegations of criminal activities on the part of Austin officers (see "Bad Blood," Feb. 16, 2001). According to court documents filed in that case, the investigating officers turned up the names of 27 Austin police officers whom informants alleged were involved in criminal activities. The allegations ranged from buying and using cocaine while on duty, to aiding the drug trafficking activities of the OCDETF's main target, former East Austin businessman Roger Lopez. Furthermore, the officers alleged, their superiors in the task force operations -- specifically Chapman and then-FBI agent John Maspero (now Williamson County sheriff) -- interfered with the officers' ability to investigate the possibly dirty cops by thwarting undercover surveillance operations.

After the OCDETF operation successfully netted Lopez -- who was convicted of drug trafficking charges in 1998 and sentenced to seven years in federal prison -- and all that remained were the mounting allegations of criminal activities by Austin officers, the 1997 suit alleged, department brass transferred the investigators off the case and transferred in one officer -- Jeff White -- without providing any resources to wrap up the two-year-old case.

Now White has brought his own lawsuit, alleging that he was named as a potential witness in the Farris, Clark, and Gann suit, and was called to Chapman's office to provide a statement to attorney Lowell Denton, who handled the case for the city. "White communicated his reasonable belief that [Chapman] was suspected of interference in the investigation involving the APD officers," White's court petition reads. "During the statement, White expressed concerns that the information he was providing would result in retaliation from various officers and supervisors, namely Chapman."

Then, early this year, within three months of Chapman's being placed in White's chain of command, White's petition charges, White was transferred out of narcotics (allegedly for "poor performance") and then blocked from the Terrorism Task Force. "Plaintiff would show that his transfer was professionally damaging and stigmatizing and was specifically in retaliation for his reporting of the criminal activity by fellow police officers," the complaint alleges. "This retaliatory action was taken against Plaintiff specifically because Plaintiff had exercised his freedom of speech and, indeed, followed through with his duties as an officer by reporting the violations and perceived violations to his superiors."

Lawyers for the city have a month to respond to White's petition.

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