Fort Worth

Appeals in Fort Worth traffic ticket scandal whittled to one

Terry Daffron with fired Officer Maurice Middleton, who recently lost his appeal.
Terry Daffron with fired Officer Maurice Middleton, who recently lost his appeal. Star-Telegram archives

Only the appeal of former Fort Worth police officer James Dunn remains after he and others were fired over allegations that they falsified traffic tickets to get overtime.

A hearing examiner tossed out the appeals of three other officers and ruled against a fourth.

Dunn’s appeal hearing is set for October.

Six officers — Dunn, Robert Peoples, Maurice Middleton, Marcus Mosqueda, Ronald Wigginton and Patrick Aguilar — were fired in December 2010 by then-police Chief Jeff Halstead over allegations they wrote false times on tickets to justify earning overtime through a federal grant.

A seventh officer, Tahwana Zavala, was fired in February 2014 after investigators alleged that she, too, had falsified times on issued tickets to obtain overtime but using a different method.

All the officers appealed, though Aguilar and Peoples later withdrew their appeals.

History of Overtime Scandal

The appeals of Wigginton, Mosqueda and Zavala were tossed out May 27 by hearing examiner Norman Bennett.

Bennett agreed with the city that the three former officers’ appeals should be dismissed because they had already surrendered their peace officer licenses, according to his ruling. He said the three officers could not be restored to their former positions because they are not licensed and are permanently barred from seeking a new license.

Attorneys for the officers had argued that their clients only surrendered their licenses under the threat that if they didn’t, they would be prosecuted federally.

Five of the six officers fired in 2010 — along with three officers who resigned during the investigation — had been indicted on state charges of tampering with a governmental record and theft by a public servant.

But the state charges were dismissed in January 2014 — a move the prosecutor would later tell the Star-Telegram was because evidence showed that the city was using an illegal ticket quota system.

“They felt tremendous pressure, and they felt bullied by the feds,” attorney Terry Daffron previously told the Star-Telegram regarding the officers surrendering their licenses. “These guys have gone through five years of hell. They went through state charges and the public humiliation, then everything gets dismissed and then the feds decide to pick it up.”

Daffron, who represented Wigginton and Mosqueda, declined to comment Friday on the hearing examiner’s recent decisions.

Zavala’s attorney, Randy Moore with the Texas Municipal Patrolman's Association, said Monday that he disagreed with the hearing examiner’s decision.

Moore said the city suspected Zavala had altered traffic tickets early on —even questioning her twice — but pursued no action against her. He said only after several other officers were accused in the overtime scandal, did the city feel pressured to go after Zavala as well.

He argued that the city violated procedure by not seeking to discipline Zavala earlier.

Moore said Zavala had wanted to admit her wrong-doing during her appeal hearing and go out with class, even if she didn’t win her job back.

“She wanted people to know she did it. It’s not right. She apologizes and she pays for it every single day. She’ll probably pay for it the rest of her life,” Moore said.

Middleton was the first, and so far only, officer to have an appeal hearing.

In his ruling issued May 2 denying Middleton’s appeal, Bennett acknowledged that the former officer had been a good employee, well-liked by his fellow officers and supervisors, and a top producer in the traffic division.

But he pointed out that the ex-officer had admitted to falsifying tickets and time sheets.

Bennett said that if Middleton were reinstated to the traffic division, he would likely face questions under cross-examination in traffic cases like, “Isn’t it true that you admitted to falsifying tickets in your termination case with the department?” or “Isn’t it true that you were found guilty of falsifying tickets in your termination case?”

The hearing examiner also took into consideration that Middleton had previously been disciplined. In 2006, while serving at the department’s off-duty employment coordinator, Middleton submitted a false time card to an off-duty employer and failed to record a fellow officer’s time, then tried to cover up his mistake the next week, the ruling states.

“The decision of the Chief can only be overturned here if a finding can be made that the decision of the Chief was unreasonable,” Bennett wrote. “The prior element for submitting a false time sheet makes such a finding even harder to make. In this opinion, a finding that the Chief’s decision was unreasonable cannot be made in this case.”

Deanna Boyd: 817-390-7655, @deannaboyd