Fort Worth

Officers accused of lying, ‘winging it’ by Tarrant County prosecutors, documents show

Three men, including one from Fort Worth and another from Westlake, have been accused by federal agents of bilking investors out of more than $364 million they used to buy expensive cars, jewelry and homes
Three men, including one from Fort Worth and another from Westlake, have been accused by federal agents of bilking investors out of more than $364 million they used to buy expensive cars, jewelry and homes Star-Telegram archives

One prosecutor wrote “this guy is a chump” in accusing a Willow Park officer of lying on the stand.

“Don’t trust anything he says,” another prosecutor wrote about a Euless lieutenant.

Regarding a Watauga officer’s testimony, a prosecutor said, “I thought he was making stuff up or just winging it.”

The comments are among the opinions written by Tarrant County prosecutors and filed in binders in past years in the district attorney’s office, where thousands of forms called “DA Office Updates” are under the review of District Attorney Sharen Wilson.

“We are continuing to recover the transcripts from as many of the cases as possible to review the testimony, however many of the forms didn’t include the name of the defendant — which is how the cases are recorded — and in some instances the cases have since been expunged, which means the record no longer exists,” Wilson said in an email.

Wilson said that though she could not confirm the allegations, she believed that handwritten notes on 19 of the forms potentially rose to the level of being Brady material — information that under the law must be turned over to the defense. Accordingly, her office as sent out some 4,000 Brady notices to defense attorneys who had cases in which the officer was in any way involved.

The 16 officers and three Breathalyzer operators whose credibility was questioned in the forms were unfairly maligned, were never given a chance to defend themselves and their agencies were never alerted, according to both a police union leader and an attorney for two of the officers.

“If there was enough evidence to substantiate this opinion, why wasn’t the Fort Worth Police Department’s internal affairs division notified promptly of this possible perjury and/or why were perjury charges not filed at the time?” questions Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association.

“Barring any of those actions being taken, you have to seriously consider the fact that these are just unsubstantiated opinions that can have a devastating effect on an officer’s career.”

Two Fort Worth officers and a former civilian breath test operator with the department were among those accused of lying, many times in testimony, during misdemeanor trials dating to 1993.

Nine other law enforcement agencies also received notice from the DA’s office that a former or current employee’s credibility had been questioned by prosecutors, including an Arlington sergeant who now serves in a high-ranking position.

The Star-Telegram is not identifying the 19 people named in the forms because the allegations made against them have not been investigated. The 19 forms in questions were released to the newspaper through an open records request.

Terry Daffron Porter, an attorney with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, and Rick Van Houten, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, speak out on behalf of officers and breathalyzer operators accused of lying in

‘Ill-advised training exercise’

Wilson emphasized that her office is not vouching for the validity or credibility of the statements on the forms.

“These officers had no idea these statements were being made about them, and have not had the opportunity to tell their side or have name-clearing hearings,” Wilson said. “We are not passing judgment in these cases. We don’t have prosecutorial discretion on whether or not to notify. Our obligation under the law is to disclose the discovery and notify the related parties, and we’ve completed our obligation.”

Wilson, who took office in January, said the forms were apparently created as part of an “ill-advised training exercise.”

She said the assistant district attorneys who completed the forms were, in most cases, directly out of a law school and their supervisor believed that the notes would be a useful internal tool in helping young attorneys prepare cases.

“The inherent flaw was that the supervisor did not follow up by reading them for content, which would have alerted the management to the seriousness of some of the observations,” Wilson said in an email.

Richard Alpert was the misdemeanor chief for the majority of the time that the forms were being written, Wilson said.

“He did not monitor the forms for their content, and it was a poor management decision,” Wilson said.

Alpert, considered the state's leading expert on DWI and manslaughter cases, now focuses solely on those specific areas of the law and no longer supervises other attorneys, she said.

Alpert declined to comment when reached by the Star-Telegram on Saturday.

‘Neither are OK’

Terry Daffron Porter, a lawyer with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, questioned the substance of the allegations made in the forms.

“It’s the equivalent of a high school burn book but instead it’s being done with prosecutors about police officers,” Porter said. “Just because it’s written in there doesn’t make it true.”

The printed forms sought prosecutors’ personal observations about the officers’ attitudes before trial and their performance when testifying. Options that prosecutors can check on the forms include being “wishy-wash,” being “brutally honest” and has “Super Cop syndrome.”

Among the most concerning to Porter and Van Houten was the testimony description option of “Fudges (good/bad).” The form gives no clear definition of “fudges,” nor why a prosecutor would deem a fudge good or bad.

“A lie is a lie is a lie. It’s not good when you’re testifying in a court of law,” Porter said. “To make a distinction between a good fudge and a bad fudge, to me, is just absolutely incredulous. That one would be OK and one is not? Neither are OK.”

Some prosecutors did not specify how the individual lied.

In a 2000 DWI trial involving an Arlington sergeant, the prosecutor said: “Jury did not think he was credible. He tries to be too much of an advocate for state. Lied on the stand.” But no details were provided about the alleged lie.

In a 2000 DWI trial involving a Euless officer, the prosecutor wrote: “If did not know answer, then made one up. I would be very reluctant to sponsor this witness. … He’s very nice but he testified to things that he knew were not true, then got caught in a lie on the stand.” Again, no details were provided about the alleged lie.

‘Adding to the frustration’

On other forms, prosecutors were more specific, sometimes attaching a page or two of handwritten notes to explain the perceived dishonesty.

One prosecutor accused a Watauga officer of giving an entirely different account of a DWI arrest during an undated DWI trial from what a transcript used by the defense showed he had given during an earlier hearing over whether the defendant’s driver’s license should be suspended.

“He could not explain the discrepancies and had no idea what FSTs [field sobriety tests] he did or where or if he did them at all,” the prosecutor wrote as one of many complaints regarding the officer.

Another prosecutor accused a Fort Worth officer of lying on the stand because he testified that there was a strong odor of alcohol when he had previously told prosecutors he didn’t smell any alcohol or couldn’t remember.

In only one of the 19 forms does a prosecutor indicate that a defense attorney was alerted by prosecutors to the perceived lie.

In that case, a Tarrant County sheriff’s deputy, during a pretrial meeting, allegedly told prosecutors about a case in which he served as a backup officer that he would not have arrested the defendant, nor did he think the defendant had lost the normal use of his mental and/or physical faculties.

The prosecutor wrote that officials informed the defense attorney about the deputy’s statement, noting that it was Brady information, but that the “deputy lied [and] testified that he never told us that” when the defense asked him about it during cross-examination in the November 2008 trial.

Sheriff Dee Anderson said the deputy, in recounting the case, denied he was dishonest and said he had been asked two different questions.

Fact-finding on an allegation that is now almost seven years old is difficult, Anderson said.

“I assure you in 2008, had I been notified we had a deputy lying on the stand, we would have investigated. There’s no doubt about it,” Anderson said. “It’s just adding to the frustration of it all.”

Departments react

Law enforcement agencies contacted by the Star-Telegram called the allegations troubling but said they are only allegations. Like Anderson, other officials expressed frustration that they were not told about the perceived problems when they came up.

Anderson said that the Sheriff’s Department is still studying the issue and that he has not decided whether to launch a formal investigation of the allegations.

“We are still trying to find out if there’s any good course of action that is fair to the deputies involved and deals with this perceived problem,” Anderson said. “We have not come up with a good answer.”

Anderson called the forms “an ill-conceived idea that should have never happened.”

“We can’t go back and change it,” he said. “Obviously the records exist and we’re going to have to deal with it and, unfortunately, a lot of these officers and deputies are going to have to deal with it for the rest of their careers.”

Sgt. Jason Babcock, a Watauga police spokesman, said his department has not yet decided whether the allegations will be investigated.

“This information is fairly new to us. We’re currently reviewing it to determine what our next step is going to be, if there is any to be taken,” Babcock said.

Sgt. Steven Enright, a Fort Worth police spokesman, said the department will not be investigating because the timeline for an administrative inquiry has passed and the statute of limitations on criminal perjury charges expired.

“We would have loved to have the information of this perceived impropriety and perceived dishonesty when it did occur so we could have investigated it,” Enright said.

Enright said the department will, however, use the information as a teaching tool to make sure that officers and cadets are properly trained to testify.

“We don’t condone or permit dishonesty in a criminal trial,” Enright said. “We don’t condone or permit dishonesty in any facet of our profession.”

Bedford Police Chief Roger Gibson said that although one of the officers is still on the force, no investigation will be done.

“I will not be opening any investigation into a 2007 note that is ambiguous and is flawed with due process issues,” Gibson said. “This officer is a very dedicated officer and has been for many years. …

“I stand behind this officer.”

Prosecutors’ role questioned

Van Houten and Porter say that while they applaud Wilson for bringing to light an issue she inherited, more needs to be done to determine the validity of the allegations.

“This issue needs to be legally put to bed so it does not continue to be a dark shadow over these officers’ careers,” Van Houten said. “At this point, I think every decision-maker in the process, whether it be the DA’s office, the chiefs of police, or the heads of the associations that represent these individuals, needs to be collectively thinking about options to clear these officers’ names.”

Porter said she believes that the prosecutors who filled out the forms — some no longer work with the DA’s office — should be made to give depositions about what they wrote and why.

She said pertinent information missing from most of the forms includes the final outcome of the trial, which could have played a part in the prosecutors’ comments. Most of the forms did not include a case number or the defendant’s name who was standing trial.

“Right now we’re focusing on the officers and the harm that’s going to come to them,” Porter said. “Let’s look at the prosecutors who started this. … You may look and see this is just a prosecutor who is upset because they lost a case and they let the officer take the hit for it.”

“Let’s put them under oath and make them swear to what they wrote on this and why and when their responses are ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I don’t remember,’ then let’s put their names on a list and let’s see how they feel about their character out in the legal community when it’s been affected that way.”

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

The 19 cases in question

Arlington

▪ An Arlington officer who is still with the department testified in a December 1999 DWI trial. The prosecutor alleged that the officer failed to respond to messages and pages and that future prosecutors might want to consider a subpoena. When told to come to court on a certain day, the officer didn’t show up or respond to pages and calls. He later denied to another DA’s employee that anyone had tried to reach him. “This guy is a liar,” the prosecutor wrote, underlining “liar” twice.

▪ An Arlington sergeant, and now a high-ranking member of the Arlington Police Department, testified in January 2000 DWI trial. The prosecutor alleged that the sergeant was arrogant and corrected prosecutors’ grammar and wording of questions during the trial. “Jury did not think he was credible. He tries to be too much of an advocate for state. Lied on the stand,” the prosecutor wrote, not elaborating on the alleged lie.

In a statement, a department spokesman, Lt. Christopher Cook, said, “We have serious concerns about the veracity of these documents and believe the assistant criminal district attorneys prosecuting these cases would have fulfilled their legal and ethical obligations to disclose the information if it were believed to be credible and material.”

Bedford

▪ A Bedford officer testified during a DWI trial, date unknown. In forms filled out by two prosecutors, they alleged that the officer couldn’t recall details of an offense that was only five month prior. “Lied about PC [probable cause] … and willing to say almost anything to establish PC,” one of the prosecutors wrote. “Offer to say whatever we wanted,” the other prosecutor wrote. “I did not want to sponsor him as a witness.” Bedford Police Chief Roger Gibson said the officer voluntarily left the department in 2008.

▪ A Bedford officer who remains with the department testified in a March 2007 DWI trial. The prosecutor gave mostly positive assessments of the officer but said he “agreed with defense that he lied and would lie to get someone to cooperate.” The prosecutor stated on the form that this was the only “bad thing” about the officer and that the prosecutor would talk to him about it. Gibson said he believes that the note made by the prosecutor refers to field investigative techniques, not courtroom testimony. Gibson said he stands behind the officer and will not be opening an investigation into a 2007 note that he called “ambiguous.”

Crowley

▪ A Crowley officer testified in a August 1999 DWI trial. The prosecutor alleges that the officer was “very coercive” with the defendant, repeatedly calling her a liar until she said she drank a beer. He gave her a field sobriety test, in which she did quite well … and told her he will not arrest if she submits to and passes a breath test. Though she received a 0.07, under the legal limit, he arrests her anyway, telling other officers she blew an 0.08 and writing down in the offense report that the result was 0.09.

Police Chief Luis Soler said the officer quit in 2001 to move out of state.

Euless

▪ A Euless officer who has left the department testified in a February 2000 DWI trial. The prosecutor said the officer testified to matters not discussed before trial and not in the report and changed his testimony from what was discussed before the trial. “If did not know answer, then made one up,” the prosecutor wrote. “I would be very reluctant to sponsor this witness.… He’s very nice but he testified to things that he knew were not true, then got caught in a lie on the stand,” the prosecutor wrote.

▪ A Euless lieutenant testified in a DWI trial, date unknown. The prosecutor checks that the lieutenant, who has since retired, had “Super Cop” syndrome and notes that he was “cocky and arrogant” before trial. The prosecutor alleged that later testimony by the arresting officer in the case revealed that the lieutenant had lied during his testimony. “Don’t trust anything he says,” the prosecutor wrote. Euless Police Chief Michael Brown said the department will not investigate the allegations since neither officer is still employed there. “It would have been nice if they thought somebody has perjured themselves, that they would have told us then,” Brown said.

Fort Worth

▪ A Fort Worth police Breathalyzer operator testified in a DWI trial, date not known. The prosecutor alleges that the civilian employee made up a fact about the Police Department’s policy with blood tests “that simply was not true.” The operator, who was hired by the department in 1991, voluntarily resigned in 2000, police officials say.

▪ A Fort Worth officer who remains with the department testified during a July 2009 DWI trial. The prosecutor wrote that the officer was “not credible!” and lied on the stand. “Told us that he didn’t smell any alcohol or couldn’t remember but testified that there was a very strong odor of alcohol; said that even though [defendant] looked very good on video in intox room, said she was extremely drunk and stumbling before getting inside room.” Court records show that the defendant was found not guilty.

▪ A Fort Worth officer who remains with the department testified in a DWI trial, date unknown. The prosecutor stated that the officer “knows nothing” about field sobriety exercises and wrote, “I think he lied about many things on the stand.” The last part of the statement was circled and a line drawn to the phrase “specifically that [defendant] was intoxicated.”

Grapevine

▪ A Grapevine Breathalyzer operator who remains with the department testified in a November 2011 DWI trial. The prosecutor alleges that the officer testified he heard slurred speech on an in-car video of the defendant but that there was no audio on the video. “Once he was caught in a lie, Abe [the defense attorney] ripped him,” the prosecutor noted, adding at the end of the form that “we lost the case” because of the operator’s testimony.

▪ A Grapevine officer who is no longer with the department testified during a September 1998 DWI/resisting arrest trial. Checked by the prosecutor as having Super Cop syndrome, the officer “will slant the truth to compensate for any weakness in his report,” the prosecutor wrote. The prosecutor also noted that the officer had received a reprimand in connection with the case.

North Richland Hills

▪ A North Richland Hills officer testified in a July 1993 DWI trial. The prosecutor wrote the officer had “already locked into terrible statements on video such as that he was rushing to scene to get one more DWI before the end of the month and joked about sound of D’s [defendant’s] head hitting concrete.” Prosecutor also noted that the officer had prior internal affairs adjudication for excessive use of force. Department spokesman Keith Bauman said the officer is still with the department.

▪ A North Richland Hills Breathalyzer operator testified during a July 2011 DWI trial. The prosecutor alleged tthat he operator “stated she had not viewed video prior to trial when she had stated she did not remember night of offense.” Overall, the prosecutor noted, the operator did a “good job” in testimony. Bauman said the civilian employee later left the department voluntarily.

Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department

▪ A deputy who remains with the department testified in a DWI trial, date unknown. The prosecutor wrote the officer “lied, fibbed, fudges.” “He is a lose cannon on cross exam [and] it is tricky because he seems good on direct,” the prosecutor wrote, adding, “Jeckyl [and] Hide.” Sheriff Dee Anderson said the allegations are “vague and generic.” “There are not really hard, fast details in most of them and these kind of accusations are very hard to evaluate when they are so vague and so general in nature,” Anderson said.

▪ A deputy who remains with the department testified in November 2008. Specifics of the trial are redacted on the form because the case was later expunged. The prosecutor alleges tthat he deputy, who served as a backup officer in the case, told prosecutors in a pretrial meeting that he would not have arrested the defendant and thought the defendant had not lost the normal use of his mental and/or physical faculties. The prosecutors told the defense attorney about the deputy’s admission, noting it was “Brady” information. On cross-examination, the defense attorney asked the deputy about it. “Deputy lied [and] testified that he never told us that,” the prosecutor wrote. Anderson said in recently recounting the inciden that, the deputy “claims there were two different questions asked and that he was not dishonest.”

Watauga

▪ A Watauga lieutenant who remains with the department testified in an October 1988 indecent exposure trial. The prosecutor alleged that the lieutenant “botched this case” when he originally filed it as a Class C misdemeanor ticket and was later “called to the carpet for his actions” after the injured party’s husband, a Haltom City detective, raised Cain about it. The prosecutor stated that the lieutenant then began to insist that the injured party could not identify the defendant — despite other evidence to the contrary. The prosecutor also said that during a pretrial hearing, the lieutenant initially denied making some statements that he later admitted making. “I would be reluctant to sponsor him as a witness,” the prosecutor wrote.

▪ A Watauga officer, who remains with the department, testified in a DWI trial, date unknown. The prosecutor alleges that the officer wouldn’t respond to messages, then finally returned a call, yelling and chewing her out for calling him on a holiday weekend while he was out of town. “I cannot do justice on paper to how rude and inappropriate he was over the phone (yelling, cussing, belittling me, “admonishing” me, etc.,” the prosecutor wrote. She said the jury had no confidence in the officer, who lacked any credibility. “I thought he was making stuff up or ‘just winging it’ … ,” the prosecutor wrote.

Willow Park

▪ A Willow Park officer testified as a defense witness in an August 1996 interference with public duties trial. The prosecutor alleged that the officer “lied on the stand” and added, “This guy is a chump” without further elaboration. Police Chief Brad Johnson said the officer was fired by the department in 2002 for other reasons.

Johnson said he forwarded information sent to him by DA Sharen Wilson to the officer’s current agency, past employer, and the Parker County district attorney and county attorney’s offices. “It’s their determination as far as what are the actions that needed to be taken.”

Source: Tarrant County district attorney’s office

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