Chapman off the Job as Mala Sangre Probe Continues
The APD assistant chief is (finally) placed on restricted duty as questions swirl about his honesty under oath.
On Sept. 10, Austin Police Chief Stan Knee finally decided to place Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman on restricted duty for the duration of an investigation into charges that Chapman lied while under oath in his deposition in a whistle-blower lawsuit filed last year by Detective Jeff White. According to an APD statement, the decision to place Chapman on restricted duty was "routine" and in "the best interest of the department and the community." While that may be the case, exactly what the department is investigating is anything but routine and promises, once again, to highlight some dark days in the APD's past.
On Aug. 28, Knee announced that he had hired independent investigator James McLaughlin, general counsel and executive director for the Texas Police Chiefs Association, to conduct an inquiry after an APD employee told the chief that Chapman "provided inaccurate information" while under oath. But the charge that Chapman potentially committed perjury -- a criminal offense -- apparently wasn't enough for Knee initially to place Chapman on restricted duty or administrative leave, as is often done when criminal allegations are made against rank-and-file APD officers. In fact, the perjury allegation alone wasn't enough to prompt any kind of criminal investigation -- McLaughlin was told only to investigate whether Chapman may have violated any department policies. According to Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman, the department was unable to place Chapman on restricted duty or initiate any criminal inquiry since the allegation came from only one source, which needed corroboration. (See, "Mala Sangre Keeps Flowing," Sept. 12.)
While it would appear that the department has secured its corroboration, whether Knee has initiated a criminal inquiry is still unknown. According to APD spokesman Lt. David Parkinson, the department's announcement that Chapman has been, at least temporarily, removed from his post is all the info they intend to divulge. "We won't be going past the information in that statement," he said.
Chapman, Knee, White, and City Manager Toby Futrell were each deposed in connection with a whistle-blower suit filed in May 2002 by 13-year department veteran White. White alleges that Chapman ordered his transfer from the department's organized crime division, and blocked his attempt to secure a position with an FBI-led terrorism task force, in retaliation for allegations White made regarding the department's handling of the now-infamous mid-Nineties drug task-force investigation Mala Sangre ("Bad Blood") -- including accusations of possible criminal activity by Chapman and several other APD officers. White is not the first to raise questions about Chapman or to file suit against APD; in 1997, officers Stan Farris, Dennis Clark, and David Gann, who had all been assigned to Mala Sangre, filed a similar suit against the city, which settled in late 2000. (See "Bad Blood," Feb. 15, 2001.) Among the recurring Mala Sangre allegations is that Chapman and former FBI agent John Maspero (now the Williamson Co. sheriff) interfered with the joint investigation by thwarting undercover surveillance and warning suspects that they were being watched.
In his July deposition, Chapman told White's attorney Don Feare that he had nothing to do with White's transfer or his inability to secure a job with the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force. Chapman also said that he wasn't aware that White (or anyone else) had ever made any allegations against him in connection with Mala Sangre. These claims, however, were contradicted in Knee's own deposition, in which the chief claimed both that Chapman knew about the potential for a lawsuit if White were to be transferred and that Chapman played an integral part in deciding who would be assigned to the JTTF.
It's unclear whether McLaughlin is investigating those inconsistencies, but the probe does appear to be focusing on another, more insidious bit of alleged "inaccurate information" -- a long-standing allegation that Chapman and Maspero attempted to remove a set of phone records from an APD Internal Affairs Division file concerning a 1997 investigation of Cmdr. Joe Putman. Putman was indefinitely suspended (i.e., fired) from APD in August 1997 after charges that he lied to federal investigators in a case unrelated to Mala Sangre; his suspension was later overturned by the city Civil Service Commission, and Putman is now in charge of APD's homeland security operations. Sources tell the Chronicle that IAD investigators compiled a nearly 1,200-page file on the Putman case, including a set of then-FBI agent John Maspero's phone records. Since Maspero was not involved directly in Putman's case, the significance of those records is the subject of much speculation. Sources close to the case tell the Chronicle it has been alleged that Maspero called Putman to find out exactly what Putman had told the feds -- and whether those conversations had anything to do with Mala Sangre. Thus, the records might provide an investigative lead into the allegation that Maspero and Chapman were somehow involved in obstructing the Mala Sangre investigation, which is why one or both men might be interested in -- as has been alleged -- trying to have the records removed.
Maspero, who though officially assigned to Mala Sangre told the Chronicle in 2001 he had nothing to do with the probe, last month told the Austin American-Statesman that he never asked for any records in IAD's Putman file. During his July deposition, Chapman likewise said that it would be inappropriate to ask to see anything contained within an IAD file, and that he's never sought to remove anything from an IAD file. Sources say that this is the allegedly "inaccurate information" in the Chapman deposition that prompted the city to initiate an outside review. On Sept. 9 -- the day before Chapman, who oversees APD's major investigative units, was finally placed on restricted duty -- McLaughlin interviewed the two former IAD detectives who handled the Putman investigation.
Though the department, or the Travis Co. District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit, may still not have begun a criminal investigation into Chapman's alleged perjury, it appears the city has given Don Feare a green light for further inquiry into the phone records and other issues raised in Chapman's sworn deposition. This week, Feare and the city's outside counsel Lowell Denton deposed six more witnesses -- all at the city's request -- including the two IAD detectives already questioned by McLaughlin and two of White's former supervisors, who allegedly transferred White from the organized crime detail for "poor performance." "How much do you have to prove to show that there are serious problems here?" asked Feare. "This whole thing smells like some real rotten meat left out back."