APD's White Takes 'Bad Blood' Back to Court
White lawsuit is the latest chapter in the Mala Sangre saga
At press time, attorneys for the city and for Austin Police Department Detective Jeff White were headed into court for a hearing to determine the next (plodding) steps in White's 2002 whistle-blower lawsuit against the city. At immediate issue is whether the city's outside legal counsel or anyone else in his firm should be allowed to continue defending the city in the matter and whether the city will be required to release to White the contents of an investigation into whether former APD Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman committed perjury during a 2003 deposition.
White filed suit against the city in May 2002, alleging that Chapman transferred him from his plum assignment in organized crime and narcotics, and blocked his assignment to a joint federal task force, in retaliation for White's alleging (as had other officers) that Chapman may have interfered with the mid-Nineties drug trafficking investigation code-named Mala Sangre (Bad Blood). White's suit is at least the third whistle-blower action filed in connection with the defunct investigation. The other suits, brought in 1997 by the original Mala Sangre investigators, alleged that they were taken off the investigation once they began pursuing charges that certain APD officers may have been involved in criminal activities and in aiding the drug traffickers targeted by Mala Sangre. (For more, see "Bad Blood," Feb. 15, 2001.) In his pleadings, White argues that his predecessors were reassigned in an attempt to thwart Mala Sangre and that his assignment to the operation was a "setup for failure."
The court rejected the city's initial request for dismissal, and the parties spent most of last year in depositions that did little to support the city's contention that the whole mess is much ado about nada. In fact, the depositions uncovered more nastiness and additional allegations of oppression, retaliation, and other various and nefarious activities; in June, Travis Co. District Judge Paul Davis denied the city's request to have the case tossed, opining that there was now enough evidence to warrant a trial.
On Nov. 17, White and his attorney Don Feare were back in court, seeking to have Lowell Denton the San Antonio attorney who has represented the city throughout all the Mala Sangre madness disqualified along with the rest of his firm. White says that he reported Chapman's alleged criminal activities three separate times once to APD's Internal Affairs division, once to a local FBI agent, and once to Denton himself, when the lawyer was interviewing him in connection with a previous Mala Sangre-related whistle-blower suit. Feare says that since Denton was privy to White's concerns about Chapman's conduct, the city's lawyer has become a witness. Since at least two other lawyers from Denton's firm have also worked on the suit, Feare argues, the whole firm has been compromised. "Testimony by Denton and firm will certainly be adverse to the position of [the city]. Leaving other members of the firm representing the [city] would create a situation whereby those attorneys would be impeachment witnesses while representing the [city]; the same situation as with Denton," argues Feare in his pleadings. "No matter which attorneys from ... Denton's firm testified, one or the other would end up arguing the other attorney's credibility to the jury."
Additionally, Feare wants the court to provide the contents of an investigation into whether Chapman committed perjury in his deposition last year. More than one witness alleged that Chapman had once attempted to have phone records removed from an Internal Affairs file (unrelated to White's case) by threatening retaliation against two IA detectives. Under oath, Chapman denied the allegation, sparking an independent APD investigation for which APD Chief Stan Knee hired an outside investigator, James McLaughlin, to determine whether Chapman may have violated any departmental policies (pointedly skirting any potential criminal violations) by offering perjured testimony. Several months and $30,000 later, McLaughlin determined that the investigation was "inconclusive"; Chapman retired the following day. The city released a "summary" of that investigation, but because Chapman wasn't found to have violated any APD administrative policies, McLaughlin's complete report was deemed exempt from public disclosure under state civil service laws even to White, who argues that the report is part of the discovery materials in his case. Feare argues that by releasing a summary of the report to the media, the city waived its right to confidentiality. (The Chronicle used the same argument in an August open-records request seeking disclosure of the entire report, but the AG agreed with the city and rejected our request.)
According to Denton, White's quest for the full McLaughlin report is nothing more than a "fishing expedition" for irrelevant allegations of wrongdoing against Chapman. Feare disagrees, writing that White "is not asking to drain the lake in order to find a fish." Chapman's questionable testimony and the resulting investigation, Feare argues, were "undertaken as a result of testimony in [White's] case," and he believes the report may contain evidence that Chapman used his "position to intimidate, coerce and threaten retaliation against a lower level employee," and may impact Chapman's credibility and show that he "engages in criminal activity (perjury) to conceal other unlawful acts." Whether Chapman was disciplined or not, McLaughlin's summary suggests that Chapman was involved in some sort of untoward, if not illegal, activity. "[T]he statement by McLaughlin in his summary that he could not determine whether Chapman did or did not violate policy," argues Feare, "constitutes an admission that he was presented with some evidence thereof."