The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Mala Sangre Suit Barrels On

By Jordan Smith, April 25, 2003, News

In a hearing that was practically over before it began, District Judge John Dietz ruled April 17 that discovery can proceed in officer Jeff White's whistle-blower lawsuit against the Austin Police Dept. Dietz denied the city's requests both to dismiss White's suit and to prevent White's attorney Donald Feare from deposing city-hired attorney Lowell Denton. Feare also plans to question under oath City Manager Toby Futrell, APD Chief Stan Knee, and Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman.

Dietz made his ruling before either side had a chance to present any arguments in court, suggesting to observers that the judge has had his fill of the city's double-edged attempt to disallow White's claims. White filed his suit in May 2002, alleging that Chapman transferred him in retaliation for charges White made regarding APD actions -- including possible criminal violations by Chapman and other officers -- during the mid-Nineties joint drug task force investigation called Mala Sangre, or Bad Blood. White's is at least the third suit filed in connection with Mala Sangre.

White claims in his suit that he was transferred into the Mala Sangre probe in 1998 as a "setup for failure" after the original investigators filed their own complaints and, later, whistle-blower suits. "I was assigned to the ... investigation after the original ... officers were being reassigned, in my belief, in an effort to thwart and impede the investigation," White said in an affidavit. White in turn reported his charges of APD wrongdoing to Denton, whom the city had hired to represent it in the other Mala Sangre suits, after which White himself was reassigned against his will.

The city argued that, while White may in fact have a valid whistle-blower claim, Denton was not an "appropriate" law enforcement authority with whom to lodge the complaint -- despite the fact that Denton interviewed White in Chapman's office. Thus, White's counsel has sought to depose Denton, as well as Futrell, Knee, and Chapman, to clarify the point -- why was Denton there to interview White, who requested he be there, and what and to whom he reported about the interview. The city asked Dietz for an order to reduce the scope of Feare's questioning of Denton. "Attempting to use [Denton's] position as both a sword and a shield, [the city] doesn't want [White] to ask [Denton] too much," Feare wrote in a court brief, "but wants the court to grant the motion for summary judgment on the very issue of facts revolving around [Denton's] conduct. ... [The city] should not be permitted to have its cake and eat it too!"

Apparently Dietz agreed. As of press time, Denton was scheduled for questioning April 22; Futrell, Knee, and Chapman are scheduled for questioning May 24.

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