Naked City

APD's bad blood set to spew

Get some soap ready, because the dirty laundry will be flying in district court in November, when a Travis Co. jury finally hears Austin Police Detective Jeff White's 3-year-old whistle-blower lawsuit against the APD. And if last week's court hearing is any indication of the tone the proceedings will take, this promises to be a contentious battle that will finally bring into the open more than a decade's worth of allegations of official corruption, criminal activity, and cover-up by high-ranking members of the APD.

White filed suit in May 2002, alleging that former APD Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman had him transferred from a plum assignment in organized crime and narcotics, and then blocked his assignment to a joint federal task force, in retaliation for White's alleging that Chapman may have interfered with a defunct mid-Nineties drug-trafficking investigation code-named Mala Sangre (Bad Blood). White's is at least the third such whistle-blower lawsuit filed in response to the alleged hijinks plaguing the Mala Sangre operation, by APD officers who, in the course of investigating a drug-trafficking organization, began amassing allegations against a handful of their fellow officers, who were accused of various infractions – including drug use, aiding the traffickers, and attempting to thwart the entire undercover operation.

White is the first officer to actually see his suit through to this point; the previous cases each settled before too much city blood, and money, was shed. Available evidence suggests the city should've tried a little harder to resolve this matter – deposition testimony has lent much credibility to White's claims and has raised more questions about the city and the APD than even White sought initially to ask. Questions about the veracity of Chapman's testimony finally prompted APD Chief Stan Knee to order an independent investigation into Chapman's conduct. Although sources suggest there was strong evidence to make a finding in that case, the official end was that the case was "inconclusive," according to independent investigator James McLaughlin; Chapman announced he was retiring from the force one day later.

White's attorney Don Feare was in court last week to respond to a bid by the city's new lawyer, Nancy Ebe, to put the trial date off until some time next year. There was just no way she could be ready for an October or November court date, she said, since the city had only recently retained her services. Council approved a $150,000 contract with Ebe on June 23. "I've been diligent ever since I've been in this case," she told visiting Judge Pete Lowry. "We are not talking about a long continuance. Just a little over four months." But Feare wasn't buying it; Ebe is the third lawyer the city has had assigned to the case. In November, District Judge Lora Livingston granted Feare's motion to disqualify lawyer Lowell Denton, who he argued would likely be called as a witness when the case actually made it to trial. After that the city tapped staff lawyer Lynn Carter to head up the case, before doing a 180-degree turn in June by hiring Ebe, just four months before the October trial date Carter and Feare had already settled on. Ebe "says [she] needs time," Feare told Lowry. "I can appreciate that, but this is the third lead counsel [the city has had]. Perhaps Ms. Ebe should've considered [the time constraints] when she agreed to take the case."

In the end, Lowry agreed to bump the October trial date, but ruled that the case will go to trial Nov. 14. Nonetheless, Ebe's bid for a continuance has Feare hot under the collar. "The city is playing musical lawyers," he said. "They're manipulating the system."


A Mala Sangre Timeline

1995: Mala Sangre investigation officially begins.

1997: First whistle-blower lawsuits filed by former Mala Sangre investigators who say they were transferred because they persisted in investigating leads alleging police corruption. After initial investigators are transferred, Jeff White is assigned as the lone investigator on Mala Sangre.

2000: White, interviewed as a potential witness in whistle-blower lawsuits, tells city attorney Lowell Denton that in order to "get to the bottom" of the case he should look at then-Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman.

2001: Other Mala Sangre lawsuits settled.

May 2002: White files suit against APD claiming Chapman had him transferred from a plum assignment in retaliation for his comments to Denton.

July 2003: Chapman testifies in a deposition that he had nothing to do with White's transfer, and that he had not interfered in an unrelated Internal Affairs investigation.

August-September 2003: APD Chief Stan Knee announces that he'll hire outside investigator James McLaughlin to investigate whether Chapman lied under oath during his deposition testimony. In September, Chapman is placed on restricted duty while McLaughlin investigates.

December 2003: On Dec. 17, McLaughlin reports to city officials that his investigation into Chapman's conduct was "inconclusive." On Dec. 18, Chapman announces his retirement, effective Dec. 31.

June 2004: A Travis Co. judge denies city's bid for summary judgement in White's case, saying there's enough evidence to warrant a trial.

November 2004: Lowell Denton disqualified from continuing to represent city in the case. City later replaces him with in-house counsel Lynn Carter.

May, 2005: White files second whistle-blower claim, alleging that he was denied another transfer because of his pending civil suit.

June: City Council authorizes $150,000 contract to hire Nancy Ebe to defend against White suit.

August: Retired Judge Pete Lowry declines to postpone White trial until next year, ruling that trial will begin Nov. 14.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Police DepartmentMala Sangre, Bad Blood, Mala Sangre, Jeff White, Don Feare, Stan Knee, Jimmy Chapman, David Smith, Nancy Ebe, Lora Livingston, Pete Lowry, Lowell Denton, whistle-blower lawsuit, Austin Police Department, APD

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