The past few days haven’t been the finest hours for the Dallas Police Department, under fire originally for not notifying residents of a serial rapist in the city’s Fair Park area and then for what happened when they did.After finally informing the public of the rapes earlier this month, police then put a man in jail and identified him as a “person of interest” in the rapes but somehow allowed the real suspect — the one now connected to a number of the crimes through DNA — to flee.The department issued a news release Sept. 3 asking for the public’s assistance in identifying and apprehending a sexual assault suspect who detectives believed had committed seven attacks between June 22 and Sept. 1. After that announcement, two other women said they were assaulted by a man whose actions were similar to those of the rapist in the other cases.All of the victims were walking between midnight and 6 a.m. when a man approached them, pointed a gun and forced them to a secluded area where he robbed and raped them, the initial news release said.At 9:45 p.m. on Sept 5, Police Chief David Brown tweeted, “Alan mason [sic] a person of interest at this point.” And shortly after midnight Sept. 6, the Police Department posted on Facebook that it “is asking the public’s assistance in locating a person of interest in the multiple sexual assault offenses,” noting that it had received an anonymous tip about a person needing to leave town “because he had done something wrong.”The Facebook posting named Alan Mason, 29, and gave his description as a black male, 5-foot-10 and weighing 185 pounds.The first thing I saw on my television that Friday morning was a picture of Mason, who had been arrested at his apartment in Arlington.He had not been charged with the rapes, but instead had been arrested on a probation violation stemming from a DWI conviction. He was still being called a person of interest rather than a suspect, something I still don’t understand, particularly when we now know that police had taken DNA from another man and were awaiting test results.The next day, police issued another news release with the headline, “Wanted Person in Sexual Assault Offenses.” It noted that lab reports had connected a different man, Van Dralan Dixson, to one of the nine sexual assaults and that officers were “working diligently to locate the suspect.”Dixson, a crime watch block captain who had been charged previously with rape, has since been connected through DNA to at least four of the attacks. He also quickly went missing.Police had talked to Dixson last week and got a DNA sample, but then couldn’t locate him again. The Dallas Morning News reported that Dixson’s house had been cleared out and he had left three of his kids at his sister’s. His car was found abandoned the next day in a Garland parking lot.Dixson was arrested Tuesday afternoon in Baton Rouge, La.Mason remained in the Dallas County Jail on Tuesday evening and, according to a police spokesman, he was still labeled a “person of interest.”If in fact Mason had nothing to do with this crime, the police chief and his department have caused this man great harm, and they owe him an apology at the very least. There was no sufficient reason for the hasty release of his name and photograph to the press. It seems that the police chief’s main motivation was to try to calm an angry public that wanted the crimes solved quickly.That was a bad decision, which had one man sitting in jail while the actual suspect was on the run, escaping out of state.We can hope that Dallas police have learned from this case, and it will not serve as a precedent for how they will act in the future.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders