Fort Worth

DWI trial starts for former top Fort Worth police officer

Former Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead, left, fired Chief of Staff, Maj. Paul Henderson, right, in May 2013. Henderson’s DWI trial started Monday in Parker County.
Former Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead, left, fired Chief of Staff, Maj. Paul Henderson, right, in May 2013. Henderson’s DWI trial started Monday in Parker County. Star-Telegram archives

Four witnesses testified Monday that former Fort Worth police Maj. Paul Henderson was drinking the night of Nov. 30, 2012, but did not appear to be drunk when they last saw him.

At 1:46 a.m. Dec. 1, Henderson, 48, was pulled over in Parker County just east of Aledo by a state trooper who reported seeing Henderson’s car swerve near the Interstate 30/20 split in Parker County. Henderson “performed poorly” on a field sobriety test and was arrested.

Within a week, Henderson, chief of staff to then-police Chief Jeff Halstead, had been demoted to the rank of captain. Halstead fired him in May 2013.

Three years after his arrest, the guilt-innocence phase of his oft-delayed trial on a charge of driving while intoxicated began Monday with the selection of a six-person jury. If he is convicted, Henderson has elected to have County Court at Law No. 1 Judge Jerry Buckner assess his sentence.

The sentence range is three to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

Fort Worth police officer Jamie Johnson testifed that he played golf with Henderson during the day on Nov. 30, a Friday. Johnson said he brought a bottle of whisky to Woodhaven Country Club and invited everyone in the golf party to partake.

After the game, he and Henderson had dinner at a restaurant and later had drinks with co-workers at restaurants in the West Seventh Street entertainment district. Alcoholic beverages were consumed throughout the evening, Johnson testified.

“I did not believe he was intoxicated, sir,” Johnson told Parker County prosecutor Steve Bosser.

Johnson testified that he thought Henderson was going to spend the night at Johnson’s apartment not far from the West Seventh restaurants. But, Johnson said, he woke up about 1:30 a.m. and Henderson was no longer in the apartment.

Christy Rodriguez and Shallah Graham, who had administrative positions with the Fort Worth police department, testified that they were having dinner and drinks at Fred’s Texas Cafe when Johnson and Henderson walked in. The men joined the women and they all had at least one drink, according to testimony.

The party later moved to the Rodeo Goat restaurant a short distance away where officer Eric Stahura, a Fort Worth training officer, was working off-duty security.

One of the benches on the outdoor patio tipped over and a woman whose drink was knocked over started yelling at Henderson, Stahura testified. But the incident quieted down without any escalation, Stahura said.

Stahura testified that he believes the patio benches are unstable and said that one tips over almost every night he has worked at the restaurant.

“I never felt like [Henderson] was intoxicated,” Stahura told Henderson’s attorney, Jim Lane. “If you feel like someone’s intoxicated, you put them in a cab yourself and if they refuse you put them in jail for public intoxication.”

Henderson supervised several divisions in the Fort Worth Police Department, including internal affairs, the division assigned to investigate officers accused of unlawful behavior.

While Henderson was Halstead’s top aide, the department had a rash of alcohol-related incidents, prompting Halstead to take a hard line against DWIs.

Henderson, who maintains his Texas peace officer’s license, according to his attorney, was often quoted in the media after arrests of officers on alcohol-related offenses.

In April 2010, Henderson said: “We are absolutely fed up with dealing with this off-duty behavior.”

In June 2010, after the arrest of an officer for public intoxication, Henderson said: “We’ve gone above and beyond in an attempt to educate our employees and to send the message that the residents of Fort Worth, the police department and specifically Chief Halstead are not going to tolerate this destructive behavior.”

According to a probable cause affidavit released in 2013, Department of Public Safety Trooper Daniel Walker observed Henderson’s 2004 black BMW swerving from the right into the center lane on Interstate 30. Walker said he pulled over the vehicle and could smell alcohol inside the car, the Star-Telegram reported at the time.

“Henderson had red glassy bloodshot eyes and slurred speech,” Walker said in the affidavit. “Henderson stated he was texting while driving. I asked Henderson if he had anything to drink and he stated no.”

The trooper then had Henderson get out of the car to perform a standardized field sobriety test and said he “performed poorly,” according to the affidavit.

“While talking with Henderson, I could smell an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath as he spoke,” Walker said. “Henderson admitted he did have a couple of drinks.”

Henderson told the trooper “he was also on medication mixed with alcohol” he had drunk.

Walker is expected to testify Tuesday.

This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3