3 dozen Dallas County deputy constables hired despite troubling job histories
Rene Lozano Jr. once lost control of his patrol car while chasing a traffic violator. The vehicle slammed into a utility pole, fatally injuring a rookie officer riding with him.
A bullet narrowly missed another officer's head when Lozano's pistol accidentally discharged.
He was the passenger in a stolen Mercedes-Benz driven by a friend. The bolt cutters used to steal the car were stashed under the seat.
And he once was fired for making false statements about his arrest on charges of driving while intoxicated, a case that ultimately was dismissed because the arresting officer was unable to testify.
That was all before Lozano began his career as a Dallas County deputy constable in 2007. He could not be reached for comment.
A Dallas Morning News investigation discovered that some constables attract peace officers with troubled histories like magnets. At least three dozen deputy constables in Dallas County were terminated from previous law enforcement jobs, resigned while under investigation or were disciplined for serious infractions. Others fit the profile of "gypsy cops" who repeatedly bounced from one job to the next in a downward career spiral.
The two precincts that are the focus of a criminal investigation by a special prosecutor into allegations of wrongdoing – the Precinct 5 constable's office under Jaime Cortes and Precinct 1 Constable Derek Evans' office – had the most by far, each more than the remaining three precincts combined. At least 13 of the 38 deputy constables employed by Precinct 5 in early 2010 had experienced serious problems in previous law enforcement jobs, as did 14 of the 55 licensed peace officers in Precinct 1.
Commissioner Mike Cantrell said no one in law enforcement should be hiring officers with those sorts of problems.
"It's kind of shocking. You wonder what kind of oversight those guys are given," he said.
County Judge Jim Foster said he believes Evans and Cortes, who resigned as Precinct 5 constable in July, deliberately overlooked problems.
"They had to ignore the system in order to get their buddies to carry out their mission – which is to promote their personal agenda," Foster said. That agenda, he said, includes doing whatever they felt was necessary to remain in office.
Eighty deputy constables who primarily worked in traffic positions are slated to lose their jobs on Tuesday because of budget cuts when commissioners approve the 2011 budget. Those include some of the deputies identified by The News as having troubled work histories. It was agreed that layoffs will be based on seniority, not the deputies' performance. Some commissioners still are pushing to save the positions in advance of Tuesday's vote.
The troubled backgrounds of some deputy constables run the gamut.
Several former employers questioned whether the men and women later hired by Dallas County constables could be trusted to tell the truth. In one instance, a deputy's former superiors worried that if a defense attorney found out he'd been suspended for lying, it could be "devastating" to any high-profile criminal cases that relied on the credibility of his testimony.
A former Dallas police officer who was terminated after his back-up pistol accidentally discharged, in what a fellow officer described as "a careless disregard for even the most basic safety practices in handling his weapon," found a new career as a deputy constable. So did a former Dallas County sheriff's sergeant who was busted to jailer for sexual harassment. As did another one-time jailer who resigned while under investigation for insubordination – after he'd already been disciplined for using excessive force and sleeping while on duty.
At least four deputy constables had criminal records.
Some of those deputies have found themselves in trouble again.
The deputy suspended for lying was accused recently of assaulting a teenager with a baton at an off-duty job. A deputy who arrested a 15-year-old girl instead of the teenage boy actually named on a truancy warrant once was fired for "willful disregard of supervisors' directive and gross safety violations." And a deputy with a criminal record was accused of falsely claiming he had the appropriate court documents during an unauthorized foreclosure attempt.
"The best predictor of an officer's future conduct is their past conduct. Some of it is startlingly telltale," said Eugene O'Donnell, professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Hiring someone with a troubled past, he said, "raises questions about the leadership."
It also could end up costing the county. Discovering that a deputy accused of sexual harassment or excessive force was hired despite a history of similar behavior, for example, is not likely to play well with a judge or jury, law enforcement experts say.
The News first raised questions about the quality of background checks for deputies in an investigation earlier this year that focused on Howard Watson, a Cortes senior deputy accused of, but never prosecuted on charges of, sexually abusing a former foster child while she was still a minor and fathering her children, as well as criminal charges, in California.
The News subsequently began investigating the work histories of more than 200 deputy constables who were employed by Dallas County at the beginning of the year, relying on sources of information that could have been available to constables: interviews with previous employers, state records and open records requests filed with law enforcement agencies in Texas and other states.
Deputies with troubling work histories were identified in each of Dallas County's five constable precincts. And with the exception of Ben Adamcik in Precinct 3, the constables who were in office when the investigation began were responsible for hiring most – or all – of those deputies.
Dr. Mattye Mauldin-Taylor, Dallas County's human resources director, said that constables ultimately are responsible for checking references and for whom they hire.
And, she said, "I guarantee you, if you see people with problems in their backgrounds who are being hired, it's not because of a shortage of applicants."http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent ... 7ffc6.html