January 10, 2014

Charges dismissed against 8 Fort Worth officers in OT scandal

Eight Fort Worth police officers either resigned or were fired after being accused of falsifying ticket information to get overtime pay. Those who were fired will now appeal to regain their jobs, their attorneys say.

The Tarrant County district attorney’s office has dismissed criminal charges against eight Fort Worth police officers accused of falsifying traffic citations to justify thousands of dollars in overtime pay.

Indictments returned by a grand jury in June 2011 charged each officer with multiple counts of tampering with a governmental record and a single count of theft by a public servant.

After an investigation that began in March 2010, the officers were accused of issuing tickets during normal duty hours but altering them to indicate that they were given while the officers worked overtime under a federal Selective Traffic Enforcement Program grant.

Three officers resigned. Police Chief Jeff Halstead fired six. One of the fired officers reached an agreement with prosecutors and did not face criminal charges.

On Friday, Tarrant County prosecutor David Lobingier said in a news release that new information had “been revealed that affected the viability of the prosecution.”

“These issues were unforeseen upon presentation to the grand jury of the case and include unavailability of witnesses, lack of memory by certain witnesses of the events underlying this offense, and new evidence,” Lobingier said.

“Based upon the Tarrant County District Attorney’s high ethical standards, these cases are being dismissed in the interest of justice.”

Halstead declined to comment Friday.

In March 2011, the City Council approved reimbursing the Texas Transportation Department $231,000 in grant money that had been used to pay the accused officers.

The eight officers indicted were Herman Young, Robert Peoples, James Dunn, Maurice Middleton, Marcus Mosqueda, Ron Wiggington, James McDade and Jonathan Johnson.

The ninth officer named in the inquiry, Patrick Aguilar, agreed to undergo mental-health treatment and permanently relinquish his Texas peace officer license, Lobingier said previously. Aguilar served at least two tours in Afghanistan and was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Four of those fired acknowledged inaccuracies on tickets but denied that they did so to collect overtime pay, according to previous reports.

All six who were fired have appealed their terminations.

Had the charges been pursued and the former officers convicted, they could have been sentenced to a maximum of two years in state jail for tampering with a governmental record and a maximum of 20 years in prison for the second-degree felony of theft by a public servant.

Attorney Jim Lane, who represents Peoples, praised the decision to dismiss the indictments.

“David Lobingier did the honorable thing. The circumstances changed, and they didn’t go forward with the case,” Lane said. “That’s what good district attorneys do.

“Robert maintained his innocence from the beginning. [We] will seek to get his job back with the city of Fort Worth. And I’ll bet you he gets his job back.

“He was a 23-year veteran when this happened, and if he wins his appeal, the city will owe him back pay and allowances and all the emoluments of the office, like paying into his retirement account.”

Lane said Halstead has 30 days “to decide if he wants to proceed on some sort of policy violation.”

Attorney Terry Daffron Porter of the Texas Municipal Police Association, who is representing four officers, said Friday that she looks forward to continuing in the appeals process.

“We will now have a forum to expose the truth about so many things in this case the department has kept from the public and others,” Daffron Porter said. “The complete story will finally come out, and many department officials will have to answer for their conduct.”

Attorney Terri Moore, who represented Young, said Young has opened his own business and has no desire to return to the Fort Worth Police Department.

“He had 25 good years as a police officer, and he was a great police officer for the people of Fort Worth,” Moore said.

She said she has high regard for prosecutors for dismissing the charges.

“I have to commend them for that,” Moore said. “It’s not always the easiest thing to do.”

Young’s attorneys asked a judge to dismiss the case against him, but their motions have not been heard in court, Moore said.

The motions assert that the police supervisor who investigated Young stated that former Sgt. David L. Stamp and another officer concluded that Young and three other officers formed the “core group” involved in the overtime abuse.

Also, Stamp protected a female police officer who admitted to being a chronic abuser of STEP grant overtime, according to the motions.

Stamp, the initial investigator and others, perhaps at Stamp’s behest, successfully steered other investigators away from the female officer and toward the “core group,” all of whom adamantly deny abusing STEP overtime, the motions state.

A police official confirmed Friday that an investigation into the female officer’s conduct is ongoing. Stamp, who retired Oct. 1, declined to comment on the motions last year. Stamp could not be reached for comment Friday.

“Those issues need to be addressed, but not by the district attorney,” Moore said.

The department’s investigation in 2010 began after traffic supervisors raised concerns while reviewing the ticket books of an officer who had gone on leave. They noticed that there were inconsistencies in some times logged on tickets issued and that some of the time fields were blank, according to previous reports.

At the Police Department’s request, the FBI, the U.S. Transportation Department’s office of inspector general and the state Transportation Department joined the investigation because federal grant money was involved.

The status of the federal investigation could not be learned Friday night.

In fiscal 2009, before the investigation, the Police Department received about $569,000 to be divided among four STEP programs, including the well-known Click It or Ticket program.

Staff writers Deanna Boyd and Terry Evans contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misrepresented when appeals were filed in the firing of officers. It has since been corrected.

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