by John Fullinwider
I have been a street level activist and community organizer in Dallas since 1977. I have worked on the full range of issues that people in hard-pressed Dallas neighborhoods have faced over the years – and continue to face today: finding affordable housing; making ends meet in low-wage jobs; living with industrial pollution; and, increasingly, keeping the children safe from gun violence in an atmosphere fraught with over-policing, racial profiling, and unaccountable police use of force.
It is a paradox, but the most heavily policed communities in Dallas year after year – indeed, decade after decade – remain the so-called “high crime” areas of the city. This could be a result of corruption. It is well documented that, for example, the drug trade cannot exist without police corruption. It could be that police brutality erodes public trust in the police in ways that undermine officers who genuinely try to prevent and solve crimes, for example, by a lack of cooperation from witnesses. And it could be that police use of excessive and deadly force itself escalates the level of violence and insecurity in these communities.
After all these years, I can say that the conscience is always shocked, but I am no longer surprised by any kind of police misconduct. I was not, therefore, surprised to read in a recent Dallas Morning News story that officer Christopher Hess had an extensive record of using excessive force in the years before he killed Genevive Dawes in 2017, firing twelve shots into her car.1
From complaints of excessive force to homicide – a pattern of police violence.
Among officers involved in deadly police shootings, there is typically a pattern of previous violence, evidenced by multiple complaints of excessive force, particularly from Black and Latinx residents.
· In the 1970s, officer Darrel Cain shot to death an unarmed Black youth, Michael Morehead, three years prior to killing Santos Rodriguez.
· In the 1980s, Corporal Melvin Cozby shot five people, killing two, prior to killing Michael Frost in 1983.
· Officer Roger Rudloff had 14 complaints of excessive force, racial profiling, and harassment before he and two other officers in 2012 fired 30 shots into a suspected stolen car, killing the driver, Luis Escalante.
· One of the other officers who fired his weapon at Escalante that night was Jason Crow. Crow, in turn, was Hess’s partner two years later in the 2014 severe beating of Terry Morris.
· Officer Clark Staller, who killed Clinton Allen in 2013, tried to run over a suspect with his squad car in 2011, breaking the suspect’s ankle.
· Officer Amber Guyger, who killed Botham Jean in 2018, had been trained and mentored by Senior Cpl. Martin Rivera. Rivera killed an unarmed Black youth, Brandon Washington, in 2007 before DPD promoted him.
· Guyger herself had injured a suspect with her Taser the year before she killed Mr. Jean.
Between the murder conviction of Officer Cain (1973) and Officer Guyger (2019), not a single Dallas police officer was convicted in a fatal shooting despite hundreds of killings of unarmed, mentally ill, and elderly residents.2 And not one has been convicted since.
It seems clear that Genevive Dawes would be alive today, if Officer Christopher Hess had been fired after the terrible beating of Terry Morris. But the Dallas Police Internal Affairs Department (IAD) cleared Hess in the case, and suppressed the videotape of his assault on Mr. Morris until the statute of limitations had passed for a criminal prosecution.
Miles Moffeit and two colleagues at Dallas Morning News took a deep dive into IAD procedures,1 and they found that IAD does not measure up to the “best practice” standards recommended in U.S. Department of Justice reports. They found eight areas of deficiency, including when to refer an officer’s actions for criminal investigation or when to consult with prosecutors in the district attorney’s office; considering a “pattern of conduct” when an officer has multiple complaints; requiring “highly advanced investigation skills” for staff working on citizen complaints; and other areas. Perhaps the shortcomings of Dallas IAD investigations explain why the that ongoing police brutality by officers such as Roger Rudloff, Clark Staller, and former officer Christopher Hess was not checked before – and even after – they killed three people.
Mistreatment of Dynell Lane.
At the meeting of the Dallas Community Police Oversight Board (CPOB) on August 8, I saw a heartbreaking example of how bad IAD investigations can be.
Dynell Lane is a veteran Army Sergeant whose wounds make him eligible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to use a restroom when needed in any retail establishment. When on June 10, 2023, he was denied access to a restroom by staff at Serious Pizza, he received no help from two Dallas officers working off duty at the restaurant. As he tried to explain his situation, and the section of the ADA that applied, Mr. Lane lost control of his bowels. “I have used the restroom on myself,” he told the officers, embarrassed. “Sorry,” said one officer sarcastically.
Mr. Lane left the restaurant after soiling himself, and he called 911 to report the incident. The off-duty officers were not wearing body cameras, but the two on-duty officers that arrived were. Their body cameras recorded the four cops, all in uniform, as they laughed and joked about what had happened. On August 8, IAD reported on its disposition of the complaint: “No Investigation – No Violation of Departmental Policies or Procedures.” IAD hadn’t even bothered to open an investigation.
About the video of the officers mocking a wounded veteran’s humiliation, the investigator who signed the report said this was the first time he had seen the video of the laughing officers. He added that no harm was done since Mr. Lane was not on the premises “when those comments were made even though the comments were not appropriate.” With obvious disgust, the Board announced its own investigation.3
Death in custody of Dee Dee Hall.
Making fun of a person in distress is not rare at DPD. Consider the death in custody of Dee Dee Hall on May 26, 2022.
Ms. Hall was obviously distressed when police officers first stopped her walking along Garland Road in the afternoon heat. But the officers exacerbated her distress at every point in the encounter. Officers mocked, joked, and laughed at Ms. Hall, manhandled her, and took her to the ground, holding her face down in the dirt. On the videotape of the incident, officers clearly state they had no reason to arrest her. One says, “Can we get her on resistance?” Another answers, “Not really.” One of the medics says, “We can’t transport. We didn’t get her vitals.” But transport they did. An ambulance arrived. They placed Ms. Hall in a spit hood, and she died in the ambulance on the way to Baylor hospital.
No charges were recommended by IAD, none were filed, and a year later there was no indictment.4
Death in custody of Tony Timpa.
The case of Tony Timpa on August 10, 2016, illustrates another encounter where mockery led to death of a person who had himself called police for help.
In obvious psychological distress in a parking lot on Mockingbird Lane, Tony Timpa called 911 for help. The officers who responded mocked him, took him to the ground, face down in the dry grass; one officer put his full weight on Timpa, a knee in his back, until Timpa stopped responding. The officer, Dustin Dillard, said jokingly, “I hope I didn’t kill him.” He did.
The medical examiner’s report ruled the death a homicide. But the officers returned to duty, as usual, no problem. And they were on duty the day they were indicted sixteen months later in December 2017. Those charges were dropped in 2019 by the incoming DA, but the City is still defending these officers’ actions in civil court. Officer Dillard, the one who held Tony Timpa down, fatally restraining him for almost 14 minutes, was promoted to Sr. Corporal in May of 2022, “a position that involves training rookie officers.”5
The Dallas police department’s internal investigations of officers have enabled a half century of racialized official violence against the public. But who hires, trains, pays, and promotes these oppressive officers? It is time for the City Council and City Manager to overhaul the IAD, as well as how the Special Investigations Unit investigates officer involved shootings.
There has never been a police department without corruption, without misconduct, without excessive use of force, without wrongful use of deadly force, or without abuse of power. But can we have a police department that effectively investigates officer misconduct, uses the highest professional standards, and holds officers accountable when abuses occur?
[John Fullinwider is co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality.]
Notes and Sources:
1. See “Deadly trajectory: How Dallas police failed to stop officer Christopher Hess’ decadelong streak of violence,” online July 11, 2023; in print, July 16, 2023. Link: https://interactives.dallasnews.com/2023/black-and-blue/inside-dallas-police-investigation-into-officer-christopher-hess-streak-of-police-brutality.html.
2. All of these killings can be found in news reports at the time; sources for police shootings and deaths in custody include DPD online database of officer-involved shootings (https://dallaspolice.net/ois/ois) and death in custody reports of the Texas Attorney General (https://oag.my.site.com/cdr/cdrreportdeaths). Officer Hess was indicted in 2017 for aggravated assault for killing Ms. Dawes, but he was found not guilty at trial in 2020.
3. Mr. Dynell’s appearance at CPOB, and author’s testimony at the meeting: https://dallastx.new.swagit.com/videos/268691. The police video can also be seen here: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/public-safety/2023/08/16/dallas-cops-laughed-after-disabled-military-vet-denied-toilet-access-urinated-on-himself/. “No investigation” is from Special Investigator Kevin Williams’ memo to CPOB, August 8, 2023.
4. For the videotape of the incident, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbYRTN0NSGo
5. For the videotape of the incident, see: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/investigations/2019/07/31/you-re-gonna-kill-me-dallas-police-body-cam-footage-reveals-the-final-minutes-of-tony-timpa-s-life/. For Dillard’s promotion, see: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/courts/2022/05/25/dallas-police-promote-officer-who-pinned-tony-timpa-to-ground-before-he-died-in-2016/.