'There's Going to Be Some Changes'
The latest Mala Sangre testimony dismantles the APD party line
Was Austin police Officer Jeff White transferred as punishment for raising unpleasant questions about the Mala Sangre scandal? Did APD Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman lie under oath and try to interfere with an Internal Affairs investigation? And did APD adequately investigate the charges of police corruption at the heart of Mala Sangre? The official response to all three questions -- from Chapman, police Chief Stan Knee, and City Manager Toby Futrell, among others -- has been "no." Yet deposition testimony in White's lawsuit against the city includes revelations that directly challenge the official version of events.
White filed suit in May 2002, claiming he was transferred from APD's narcotics and organized-crime division by Chapman after White questioned the department's handling of the now-infamous, mid-Nineties drug investigation code-named Mala Sangre ("Bad Blood"). White's is the third such suit filed in the aftermath of Mala Sangre; in a 1997 lawsuit, APD officers Stan Farris, Dennis Clark, and David Gann alleged they were transferred (and replaced by White) by APD brass, an alleged effort to shut down the probe before it could address numerous allegations of criminal acts by Austin police and other law enforcement officers, including Chapman and then-FBI agent John Maspero, now the Williamson Co. sheriff. Chapman and Maspero have vociferously denied these allegations, and Knee and other APD and city leaders have repeatedly told the Chronicle that the Mala Sangre charges have been thoroughly investigated. The Farris et al. lawsuit was settled in late 2000.
In his own deposition in White's case, taken July 10, Chapman testified he had no idea White was involved in the Mala Sangre probe, had nothing to do with White's January 2002 transfer, and was "shocked" and surprised by White's allegations that Chapman had thwarted the Mala Sangre investigation. Chapman said he first heard about those allegations when White filed a grievance protesting the transfer. However, in Knee's own July deposition, the chief testified that Chapman had told him of the potential for a lawsuit if White were transferred, because of the allegations White had made about Chapman's involvement in Mala Sangre.
In August, Knee hired James McLaughlin, director and lobbyist for the Texas Police Chiefs Association, to conduct an independent inquiry into a separate allegation that Chapman lied in his July deposition. At issue is if and how Chapman and Maspero learned that Maspero's phone records and other information were included in a 1997 Internal Affairs file about another case, unrelated to Mala Sangre, and whether the two then demanded that the records be removed. Such a demand could itself be illegal, and during his deposition, Chapman adamantly denied the charge, saying that even inquiring about the contents of an IA file would be "inappropriate." Chapman is now on restricted duty while McLaughlin completes his probe; in mid-September, several APD veterans who have been questioned by McLaughlin were also deposed -- at the city's request -- by White's attorney Donald Feare and by the attorneys defending the city in White's case. The testimony calls into question much of what Chapman and other APD brass have claimed about Mala Sangre.
Despite receiving a September 2001 work evaluation that rated him "highly effective," White was transferred in January 2002 for "poor performance" -- though he had never been placed on an improvement plan, which Knee testified is standard procedure before such a transfer. According to the testimony of Lt. Manuel Peña, one of White's former supervisors, "The decision to initiate this transfer was my decision," because he didn't think White was "initiating" enough investigations. In response to questions from Feare, Peña said he placed little emphasis on White's job evaluation, or on commendations the officer had received for his work on other investigations; rather, Peña testified, he made his decision to transfer White "looking at the total picture, from my viewpoint" -- without offering any details.
Who Transferred Jeff White?
Both Peña and Sgt. Troy Long, White's former direct supervisor, testified that no paperwork outlining White's "poor performance" was ever generated until Jan. 31, 2002 -- one day after White filed a grievance challenging his transfer. According to Long, he and Peña were asked by then-Cmdr. Robert Dahlstrom (now an APD assistant chief) to document White's poor performance -- "Dahlstrom asked that we all write memos in regards to this."
"So Dahlstrom just said, 'Write a memo as to why Jeff was transferred,' and you wrote a memo as to why he was transferred?" asked city lawyer Ryan Henry.
"Exactly," Long answered.
According to Peña's Jan. 31, 2002, memo, he didn't even make the decision to transfer White until that month. "I made the decision to transfer ... White after consulting with Sgt. Long during the second week of January," Peña wrote. "I made the decision entirely on my own." However, testimony from APD Detective Howard Staha -- also subpoenaed by the city -- contradicts both Peña and Chapman's accounts and supports White's claim that Chapman had in December already let others know of his intent to transfer White. "I received a phone call from ... Chapman to come up to his office," Staha testified. During that meeting -- Staha couldn't remember the exact date, but said it was some time before Christmas -- Chapman indicated that Staha and several others, including White, would be transferred to new or different units. "I said [to Chapman], 'Wow. What's going on?'" Staha testified. "He says, 'Well, there is some issues ... with supervision, and there's going to be some changes.'"
The latest Mala Sangre testimony also challenges Chapman's version of his alleged pursuit of the Maspero phone records -- the issue being probed by McLaughlin. Despite acknowledging that it could be "inappropriate," Chapman said he did ask former APD Internal Affairs investigator Gary Fleming whether the Maspero records had been included in the file -- but did not request that they be removed. That testimony was directly contradicted by Fleming -- a now-retired 31-year APD veteran, including 17 years in Internal Affairs -- in his Sept. 17 deposition. According to Fleming, Chapman and Maspero "showed up unannounced" at his office, asking about the records. "They come in, they sit down, they are both quite visibly agitated," Fleming testified. "Chapman immediately starts into the conversation about, 'We are here to discuss the [IA] file and particularly why John Maspero's phone records or any entry and mention of ... Maspero is in the [IA] file.'" Fleming recalled being told that Maspero "may seek litigation; in other words, he may sue those responsible for this material being in the file" if he wasn't "satisfied" with Fleming's response. "I told them ... 'I am not removing anything without a court order or legal process,'" Fleming testified.
Jumping the Track
During a deposition lasting nearly three hours, Fleming also dismantled the official line that the original Mala Sangre allegations of police corruption -- as summarized in a 1997 investigative memo by Farris and IRS Special Agent Wayne Young -- have been thoroughly investigated and reviewed and should be put to bed. The memo containing the allegations "was given to us after the fact," Fleming said. "I don't believe any investigation was ever done pertaining to this document. It was simply put with a previous file."
Since 1997, IA investigators only conducted "several interviews" related to the case, Fleming said, reporting the findings to supervisors in the chain of command, "who I assume reported back to [Chief Knee], and then they decided who else was going to be interviewed."
"So what you're saying is, that somewhere up there [in APD administration], the decision was made as to where this [investigation] was going to go, if anywhere?" Feare asked the retired detective.
"Yes," Fleming responded. "[IA was] not pulling the strings and controlling the investigation." Fleming later testified that not only in Mala Sangre, but in other IA investigations near the close of his career -- he retired in 2001 -- all officer-related allegations were first sent to APD brass. "It went to the assistant chief, Mike McDonald, who made the decision whether it should go to the Officer-Involved unit, or anywhere else. That's where everything jumped the track. You have got an assistant chief of police making decisions in lieu of the county and district attorney of Travis County, which is totally inappropriate to me. ... Some of the people in [IA] complained to Chief Knee, and he did nothing about it. He allowed it to continue."
At press time, it is still unknown whether APD has initiated any kind of criminal investigation stemming from either McLaughlin's probe or the testimony in White's suit. Feare intends to call on Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle to empanel a special grand jury to investigate whether Chapman and Maspero attempted to coerce a public servant, obstruct justice, or conspire to alter government documents, as well as to investigate whether Chapman or Peña committed perjury. "Some of this stuff has been talked about for years, and nothing has been done about it," he said, adding that a grand jury investigation may be the only way to finally resolve years of serious criminal allegations.
Feare had asked Fleming during the September deposition if he would consider a special grand jury the best vehicle to resolve the Mala Sangre mess. "Truthfully, I don't know what it would take," Fleming replied. "But no one is going to trust the police department. ... All the smoke screens, all the allegations, all the they-said-this-and-that needs to be resolved by somebody outside that department. And that's not -- we are talking about James [McLaughlin], who is going to turn around and take the information, give it back to Chief Knee to make a decision on. Even if [Knee] made a fair decision, do you think anybody in this community at this point in time would believe it?"