- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2004

DALLAS — There is a troubling story of law enforcement in this city, where residents have become disillusioned by a seemingly endless stream of investigations and grand juries.

Alex Burton, a longtime local radio talk-show host, referring to last year’s firing of the police chief, investigations into misconduct by the sheriff and scandals at the District Attorney’s Office, said everything “seems to be falling apart.”

Mr. Burton, 71, blames the situation on the fact that Dallas has only one daily newspaper.

“Had there been the kind of competition here there once was,” Mr. Burton said, “they would have been digging out these problems before they reached the present stage.”

At the “present stage,” the city still is interviewing to fill its police chief spot, vacant since August when Terrell Bolton, 45, was fired.

Dallas County Sheriff Jim Bowles, 74, running for re-election in November, is the subject of a multifaceted grand jury probe, which is looking into whether he took bribes to award a lucrative jail commissary contract to a friend.

District Attorney Bill Hill is under heavy criticism for stalling on a major drug scandal and allowing testimony that his office knew to be perjured to send a suspect to prison.

William F. Alexander, who has worked in the District Attorney’s Office, said it was the first time in his more than 50-year law career in Dallas that all three law-enforcement agencies were being scrutinized and ridiculed.

The noticeable decline in public trust — caused by factors far beyond the usual trials and tribulations inherent within a major city police department — began within the Dallas Police Department in 1999 when Mr. Bolton was named chief.

He immediately demoted or reassigned several career officers and replaced them with cronies.

All but one of the sidelined officers were white, fostering accusations of racial favoritism. Mr. Bolton was the city’s first black chief.

In fall 2001, narcotics officers were accused of arresting dozens of suspects — many of them illegal Mexican aliens — for possession and distribution of cocaine. Many received lengthy prison sentences; others were deported.

The problem was that in 90 percent of the cases, the “cocaine” seized, was ground-up gypsum, or wallboard.

Mr. Bolton said little publicly, insisting that the investigation was in the hands of the FBI.

In August, Mayor Laura Miller, concerned about the city’s high murder rate, insisted that Mr. Bolton meet regularly with federal officials to address the problem.

Mr. Bolton refused and was fired.

At the county courthouse, it had been rumored for years that Sheriff Bowles had been close to several people who had contracts with the county, particularly an owner of a vending corporation that specialized in feeding inmates.

In June 2002, Sheriff Bowles authorized a five-year contract with the vending company, which promised to reimburse the county about $600,000 a year. Other bidders offered more than $1 million annually. That contract has landed Sheriff Bowles in the middle of a grand jury probe.

Mr. Hill, the district attorney, has taken heat in the past two years for not scrutinizing more than 80 fake drug cases. Most of those charged pleaded guilty, some even after the prosecutors had been informed the police operation was suspect.

Last week, the Dallas Morning News reported that in another drug case — in 2000 — some of Mr. Hill’s top assistants covered up a deputy sheriff’s perjury to help send a suspect to prison for 10 years on a plea bargain.

One radio talk-show caller summed up his feelings about the local government officials on air last week: “They are interested in Michael Jackson’s forays, his sister’s anatomy and [Mavericks basketball team owner] Mark Cuban’s grandstanding, but nobody [cares] about how this city and county are being run.”

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