Undercover cop uses book to help children left behind

Posted Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The numbers were staggering.

A 15-month undercover operation dubbed “Operation Fish Bowl” culminated in May 2006 with the arrests of 41 people on federal charges and the seizure of 25 guns and $1 million in drugs.

More than 200 officers participated in a drug raid that resulted in the defendants receiving a combined 629 years, seven months and one life sentence in prison.

But for Tegan Broadwater, the narcotics officer in the middle of the investigation, another number stood out. As a result of the sting and the convictions, 104 children were left without one or more of their parents.

“Overall, kind of the whole gist of the operation was to salvage that neighborhood from the violence that was going on,” Broadwater said. “Not necessarily to eradicate dope, because you don’t eradicate dope anyway, but the violence and the gangs who were using the dope.

“The most startling part of this was realizing that these kids are basically screwed as far as a support system and everything else,” he said. “Not that they were being supported properly anyway.”

Motivated to help in some way, Broadwater has written a book about the undercover operation and is donating all profits to charity.

So far, he has given $2,500 to H.O.P.E. Farm, a Fort Worth nonprofit that serves children from the neighborhoods that Operation Fish Bowl affected. In addition, a foundation that wishes to remain anonymous has donated $20,000 to H.O.P.E. Farm in honor of Broadwater’s commitment to the community.

Life in the Fish Bowl is described as “the true story of how a white cop infiltrated and took down 41 of the nation’s most notorious Crips.”

It chronicles Broadwater’s methodical emergence into the booming drug trade run by Crip gang members in the east Fort Worth neighborhood bordered by the western edge of Cobb Park and bounded by Colvin Street, Belzise Terrace, Glen Garden Drive and South Riverside Drive.

Transformation to ‘Tee’

Embarking on the undercover operation brought risks. At 6 feet tall, Broadwater, self-described in the book as “not just white but pinkish pale with blond hair,” didn’t exactly blend into the predominantly black neighborhood. Getting people to trust him would be a challenge.

“I equate it to being afraid but wanting to parachute for the first time,” Broadwater said. “You’re kind of standing there and you’re nervous about it, but you kind of make yourself just lunge far enough where you’re out. From there, you’re kind of on autopilot. You’re just in survival mode, so you’re just kind of doing it.”

While his looks wouldn’t change much, Broadwater transformed himself into “Tee,” a “no-BS, cash-heavy guy from the rich side of town, with a long list of wealthy clients from uppity country clubs and west side inheritors.”

With the help of confidential informants who introduced him to some of the smaller dealers, Broadwater used each connection to delve deeper into the operation until reaching the man he called the kingpin.

Broadwater had to play his part convincingly. He carried a gun and drove a Mercedes-Benz. To head off suspicions that he wasn’t using drugs himself, he carried a probation card and sometimes stood in line with probationers as if waiting for a urine analysis.

Drug transactions — mostly crack, cocaine and heroin — were often carried out with guns on the table, their barrels pointing in his direction.

Broadwater’s identity was almost exposed when a rerun of Cops that featured him came on in a room where he was brokering a drug deal. Broadwater positioned himself in front of the TV and, in his words, “proceeded to filibuster to keep anyone from recognizing the voices behind me.”

When a dealer later “threw a jacket” on Broadwater — spreading word that Tee was a snitch — he had to save face by tracking the man down and beating him up, a move that he knew could cost him his job but was necessary to keep his cover.

“If I’m really this big dealer that’s coming out and finding new sources and working his way up, I’m going to give myself away — this is over — if I don’t do something,” Broadwater said. “That’s the least of what I should have done. In real life, I should have done more.”

‘Part of the lifestyle’

The fate of the children growing up in that environment weighed heavily on Broadwater.

During later interviews with the arrested men, Broadwater said, he was stunned that some of them knew little about their own children.

“They’re trying to remember their kid’s middle name or how to spell it. They have three kids born in the past year to different people,” Broadwater said. “I’m thinking, ‘This guy is spitting out kids. He doesn’t care. It’s just a part of the lifestyle. There’s got to be something to change it.’”

Compelled to help, Broadwater and his wife, Holli, turned their attention to a drug-addicted single mother. Broadwater had arrested her as part of the investigation and was convinced that she wanted to change her life.

Broadwater lobbied for a lenient sentence. He and his wife provided Christmas for the woman’s children and later a birthday party for her daughter.

The woman, who is not being named to protect her identity, said she was a “little hurt” at first when she learned that Broadwater had written a book about the operation that mentioned, without names, her and her family.

“You’re from a type of neighborhood and you switch sides and still have to live with that without really being able to tell anyone,” she told the Star-Telegram.

But the woman, who is now clean and attends college, said she has come to view Broadwater’s book as part of God’s plan.

“God brought us out of a situation and brought me out of a situation through him,” the woman said. “I do feel like whatever he’s doing, he’s doing it in the right spirit. I don’t feel like it’s out of being selfish. I trust God with the outcome. I trust Tegan.”

Without Broadwater’s help, she said, she would be locked up and her children would be living with relatives.

“If it wasn’t for him showing me the love he showed me, I probably would have never been able to love myself,” she said.

Broadwater said a desire to help more children motivated him to write the book.

“It’s a great story, but it’s just a means to bring attention to the charities at this point,” said Broadwater, who left the Police Department in 2008 and founded Tactical Systems Network Llc., a security, personal protection and consulting firm.

Giving kids a chance

Gary Randle, also a former Fort Worth officer, began H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People Excel) Farm in 1989.

“As a police officer, I went to the Clements Unit and walked into the prison and the prison was 80 percent African-American,” Randle said. “We’re just 12 percent of the population. The numbers were exasperating to me. I knew there wasn’t anything I could do with the people that were in prison, but there was a lot that God could use me to do with the people that weren’t in prison.”

The group works with the families of 55 boys from across Fort Worth who have been left fatherless for various reasons.

“The boys that don’t have fathers are going to find a family, and they’re going to find someone to follow,” Randle said. “… They get involved in criminal activity because … they are looking to be part of a family.”

H.O.P.E. Farm tries to compete with the drug dealers and gang members by mentoring the youths and building partnerships with their mothers to enforce the same teachings at home.

“People are going to grab on to what’s available … so what is really available in the model of making it in these inner-city communities are these guys who are selling drugs and guys who are driving nice cars. And they’re role models: ‘I want to be like this gangster.’” he said. “It’s tragic that these kids grow up with these type of models.”

Broadwater said he knows that rehashing the undercover drug operation may anger those affected, including some already being released from prison. But he hopes that the book’s result will help quell that anger.

“I think certain Crips would even appreciate the fact that the proceeds from this are going back into the community, into that neighborhood, to mentor the kids that are left behind, as well as others, to kind of stop that cycle,” Broadwater said.

“Those guys might like the lifestyle, but I know they don’t like being incarcerated. They certainly don’t wish that on their children.”

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd

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