DALLAS (AP) — Last month a 20-year Dallas police veteran was fired for failing to respond to an emergency call — but it is not the first time he has been fired or accused of wrongdoing, and some wonder if he will be reinstated again.
Law enforcement experts see Senior Cpl. Anthony Williams' career as a prime example of a recurring dilemma in police departments: how to rid a city of an officer whose record is riddled with serious misconduct allegations when his guilt can't be proven or he keeps getting his job back.
Experts cite lack of evidence, questionable witnesses and sloppy investigations as key hurdles to keeping problematic officers off the streets, The Dallas Morning News reported in Sunday editions. And the situation is made worse by an appeals system that has overturned many firings. Since David Kunkle became Dallas police chief nearly five years ago, 12 of his 62 firings have been reversed.
Keeping an officer on the job after he has been repeatedly investigated has its own risks.
"You are opening yourself up to huge lawsuits and one of the charges will be negligent retention, which means that you knew you shouldn't keep this person as a police officer but you did it anyway," Penny Harrington, an expert on police employee misconduct and former chief of the Portland Police Department in Oregon, told the newspaper.
Williams declined to comment. His attorney Phil Burleson Jr. said Williams is innocent of the allegation that led to his recent firing. He said the firing was "not justified."
Of the sexual misconduct complaints during Williams' career, Burleson said, "He says they've all been fully investigated and found that he didn't commit those allegations."
Among the complaints:
— A woman in 1992 said that after Williams went to her home on a harassment call, he fondled her as her 6-year-old son watched. She said he flattered her, and they began a brief sexual relationship.
— A woman said Williams began a sexual relationship with her 16-year-old granddaughter in 1994 after the teen called to report an attempted molestation.
— A woman in 1996 said Williams had sex with her in a motel after he gave her a ride from a store. She said she left the area later because she was afraid he would arrest her for prostitution.
In all cases, Williams denied doing anything inappropriate or having sex on duty. In the 1992 case, the woman eventually stopped cooperating, and the probe ended with a finding of "unfounded."
In the teen's case, Williams denied having sex until she turned 17. Authorities sought to charge him with criminal sexual assault, believing the relationship began when she was 16. But a grand jury declined to indict him, and a police internal investigation ended with an "inconclusive" finding.
The standards for criminal law, in which someone is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, are different from civil procedures involving discipline of an officer. The evidence standard is generally lower in the administrative hearings.
In the 1996 case, then-Police Chief Ben Click fired Williams in 1997. But a civil service trial board reinstated him five months later.
"How much damage does this guy get to do to the reputation of the department before you finally wind up having enough evidence to get rid of him?" said Click, now an independent police consultant.
Officers fired for serious misconduct have frequently been reinstated by administrative law judges, civil service boards or other city officials. Usually, on appeal the decision-maker found that the burden of proof had not been met or punishment was too harsh. Often, no reason was cited.
Kunkle said those cases bother him because "as a chief, I am held accountable. I'm the one who is going to have to go in front of community groups, deal with media stories and also very likely be sued if there is inappropriate police behavior."
Two recent reforms have sharply reduced the likelihood of reinstatement: The city manager now hears all first-round appeals of fired officers, rather than assistant city managers.
And 2005 changes to the city charter gave civil service trial boards and administrative law judges less discretion in reversing disciplinary decisions during appeals.
After Williams returned to work, he was transferred to different patrol divisions. But the complaints continued, including a woman's 2004 allegation that Williams went to her house uninvited while on duty, began to undress and wanted sex. He denied it.
Kunkle will not comment specifically on Williams' case, but it appears that his entire complaint history may have been taken into account before his latest firing — something not prohibited under the city's personnel rules, the newspaper reported.
In November 2007, Williams responded to a 911 call at a woman's apartment. Over the next three months, they had sex several times a month while he was on duty, she later told authorities. Williams admitted having sex with her but denied he was on duty.
On June 19, Williams was on duty when he went to her apartment complex because he believed she slashed his tires, and the loud argument witnessed by a neighbor lasted for an hour and a half.
During that exchange, Williams received a call to check on a residential burglary alarm but never answered the call, records show.
Investigators could not prove sexual misconduct allegations but found that he violated policy when he failed to answer the burglary alarm call, didn't devote full attention to his job and became involved in an on-duty disturbance.
He was fired Jan. 29. Burleson said Williams plans to appeal.
No date has been set for his hearing before the city manager.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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