Mala Sangre - So Not Over

The city is bound (and determined?) to take the APD scandal to court

Heading into a scheduled mediation with the city of Austin on Aug. 27, attorney Don Feare, who represents Austin Police Dept. Detective Jeff White in his whistle-blower lawsuit against the city – the latest chapter in the long-running Mala Sangre affair – felt confident that, by the end of the afternoon, the two-year-old lawsuit would finally be resolved. Just over five hours later, Feare and White walked out shocked. "We didn't even come close to settling," said Feare. "There was nobody more dumbfounded than me and Jeff when we walked out of there."

Although the content of the talks remains confidential, Feare said that the city's settlement offer didn't even approach "reasonable" – given White's years of legal fees, along with whatever financial bone the city thought to throw White for his troubles. Feare and White feel that they were misled by the city and its outside counsel Lowell Denton, who indicated City Hall was interested in "meaningful" talks. Now, Feare is preparing for a trial. "If [the city] want[s] to drag out all the shit, we'll drag out all the shit," he said. "But I don't think they'll like that."

And there is, potentially, a lot to drag out should White's case finally make it to the courtroom. A considerable amount of evidence has been gathered since White filed suit in May 2002, notably through a series of illuminating depositions featuring sworn testimony from over a dozen witnesses, including City Manager Toby Futrell, APD Chief Stan Knee, two former APD Internal Affairs investigators, two federal agents, and a smattering of other APD officers. Among them was former APD Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman, whose actions and intentions are at the center of White's suit, and whose own (allegedly perjurious) claims in his deposition led to an internal probe that ended "inconclusively" the day before Chapman's retirement in December 2003.

White's suit alleges that Chapman transferred him from APD's organized crime and narcotics detail and then blocked another assignment, in retaliation for White's alleging (as had other officers before him) that Chapman and others may have interfered with the mid-Nineties drug trafficking investigation code-named Mala Sangre. White is the sixth officer to file a whistle-blower action in connection with the defunct investigation. The other suits, consolidated and then settled by the city in 1997, were brought by the original Mala Sangre investigators, who alleged they were taken off the probe after they began exploring charges that certain Austin police officers were involved in criminal activities and were aiding the drug traffickers targeted in Mala Sangre.

White claims that after his predecessors were reassigned in an attempt to thwart Mala Sangre, he was assigned to take their places – alone – as a "setup for failure." "It would have been impossible for one person to adequately handle an investigation of that scope and magnitude," White has told the court.

From the beginning of White's case, the city has consistently argued that White was a substandard officer whose transfer (and effective demotion) was an appropriate response to his performance. But this summer White got a boost on this front when Knee, theoretically with the city's blessing, himself transferred White to a plum assignment to an elite intelligence-gathering unit.

This week the march to court will speed up as Feare files a host of motions aimed at getting the case on the jury docket as soon as possible. At press time, Feare was preparing to file notice for another round of deposition witnesses – including a second go-round with Futrell, Knee, and Chapman, and debut Mala Sangre appearances from APD Assistant Chief Robert Dahlstrom and former Assistant Chief (now Assistant City Manager) Mike McDonald. Additionally, Feare said he will be asking the court to open the entire report on the APD's internal investigation into Chapman and added cryptically that he will be seeking information in a host of new "areas," which he "can't really reveal at this point."

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READ MORE
More Mala Sangre
City Loses Its Mala Sangre Brain
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Outside counsel Lowell Denton – both attorney and witness – is disqualified from the case

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Mala Sangre, Bad Blood, Jeff White, Don Feare, Stan Knee, Lowell Denton, Jimmy Chapman, Austin Police Department, APD

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