By TANYA EISERER, Dallas Morning News
The Dallas Police Department’s second-in-command has acknowledged he mishandled a case in which two officers were accused of lying about the circumstances of a major drug bust.
First Assistant Chief Charlie Cato said last week that he should have more thoroughly looked into allegations that Officers Jon Llewellyn and Randolph Dillon concocted their account of what led them to a marijuana grow house in South Dallas.
The police sergeant who initially reported concerns over the officers’ story, Sgt. Michael Maness, was eventually transferred to an undesirable overnight patrol shift after his supervisors determined he had initially failed to act on Llewellyn and Dillon’s information.
Maness’ representatives contend, however, that police officials, including Cato, should have paid more attention to Maness’ allegations.
Cato is on temporary assignment to City Hall as an interim assistant city manager. He has long been viewed as a possible successor to Chief David Brown.
In a telephone interview with The Dallas Morning News, he agreed he should have delved deeper into Maness’ complaints.
“Obviously, in hindsight … I should have asked more questions,” Cato said. “On its surface, I looked at this as about the decision to transfer him, and the transfer was about him not responding. My assessment of the situation was inaccurate.”
Llewellyn and Dillon were fired this year and charged with aggravated perjury and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence. Their cases are pending. Prosecutors have dismissed at least 80 criminal cases connected to the officers.
Brown lightly punished Deputy Chiefs Andrew Acord and Ches Williams in March for not requesting an internal affairs investigation once they became aware of the allegations against Llewellyn and Dillon. They were ordered to get counseling.
But Cato — who also became aware of the allegations against Llewellyn and Dillon and did not request an internal investigation — did not face any punishment.
That bothers Chris Livingston, a Dallas Police Association attorney who represented Maness.
“It’s the old Harry Truman saying, ‘The buck stops here,’” he said. “But in DPD it always seems to stop someplace below the people who are in charge and knew about the event.”
Livingston notified Cato of complaints about the officers in an April 2012 letter written to request that Maness get his job back.
In interviews with internal affairs investigators earlier this year, Cato said that he had spoken with Acord about the letter and that Acord had told him Maness was “just espousing ‘sour grapes.’”
“I looked at the fact that Andy Acord has a reputation for vetting things out,” Cato said. “He worked in … [internal affairs] for a lot of years. I put a lot of faith in his work.”
At least one Dallas civil rights attorney questioned why Cato didn’t at least try to talk to more people with knowledge of the case. He said that probing deeper was particularly important because of the Police Department’s history with a 2001 fake-drug scandal in which paid police informants planted drugs on innocent people.
“You would think that anyone who was around for the fake-drug scandal who hears a front-line supervisor is complaining that he got transferred to deep nights because he was trying to blow the whistle on officers that were being untruthful in a drug arrest, you would just think that would set off sirens,” said the attorney, Don Tittle.
On the night of Friday, Dec. 23, 2011, Llewellyn and Dillon, who were patrol officers, contacted Maness to tell him they had seen a 2-foot marijuana plant in the rear doorway of a house on Ravinia Drive. They said they had seen the plant after a man ran from under the house and went inside. They said that man got away through the front of the house. He has never been caught.
But a few hours later, the officers arrested the man who was renting the home on outstanding traffic warrants. While they were at the home, they said, the man confessed that he had about 500 marijuana plants there.
Once the man was brought to police headquarters, Maness also interviewed him, and the man confessed again. But Maness, who had become suspicious of the officers’ account, told them they would have to wait until the following Monday to execute a search warrant on the home.
The decision to wait angered top commanders, who at the time were putting tremendous pressure on the narcotics division — long seen as a unit that danced to its own tune — to be responsive to patrol officers’ needs. They ordered Maness to immediately assemble a team to execute the warrant.
When officers searched the house Dec. 24, the layout of the home, the location of the marijuana and other factors raised doubt about the patrol officers’ account. Days later, a narcotics commander informed Deputy Chief Williams that there “appeared to be an inconsistency in the report entered by Officers Dillon and Llewellyn … and what the responding narcotics team had seen,” Williams told internal affairs investigators.
About two weeks after the search, Deputy Chief Acord notified Maness that he was being transferred because he had not been responsive to the needs of patrol officers involved in the case and because supervisors believed he had entered inaccurate information about the case in a database.
Maness wasn’t the only one raising red flags. There were so many apparent inconsistencies with Llewellyn and Dillon’s account that police officials decided not to file a criminal case against the marijuana suspect.
But instead of calling for an internal investigation of the officers, supervisors decided to counsel them and watch them more closely.
A few months after the raid, on April 26, 2012, Livingston sent Cato the letter requesting that Maness be returned to the narcotics division.
In the letter, Livingston indicated that a suspect in another case — in exchange for leniency — had told Llewellyn and Dillon about the marijuana in the Ravinia Drive house.
“This information contradicts the report that the marijuana had been publicly viewed” by the officers, Livingston wrote.
A criminal investigation into the officers’ actions was finally opened in late 2012 after a judge ruled that they had repeatedly lied about the Ravinia drug case, among other things, during a court hearing.
In March, the department announced that Llewellyn and Dillon had been fired. A week later, Brown announced that Acord and Williams had been disciplined. During their disciplinary hearings, the chief told both men that he had not lost respect for them and that no one could have known how manipulative the patrol officers were.
“I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have made some of the same decisions given the initial response of Maness,” Brown said during the hearing. “I would have thought he was just making excuses for not wanting to work. In hindsight, that wasn’t how we should have looked at it.”
Acord now heads the city’s northeast patrol station. Williams has retired. Maness, meanwhile, still works an overnight patrol shift.
Cato is expected to return to the No. 2 job in the 3,500-officer Police Department next year. Although he said he didn’t think he should act to overturn Maness’ transfer, he said he learned from the case.
“I have nothing to hide. If I made a mistake in judgment, I made a mistake in judgment,” Cato said. “I recognize that I need to ask deeper questions and vet things more thoroughly myself when it comes to something of this magnitude.”
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