Why Should the Taxpayer Care About the Courts of Inquiry?

The Courts of Inquiry looking into the actions of the El Paso Police Department and the District Attorney has polarized the legal community into two different camps. Some in the community question why a Court of Inquiry and what underlining motive or agenda is driving these investigations. Of course the truth and the reality seem to always get buried in the rhetoric that emanates from both sides. But why should the taxpayer care? Besides the search for truth and protection against a perception of abuse, the taxpayer should be concerned about the monies spent when allegations are levied against the police force of the community. Ultimately the taxpayer of the community is burdened by allegations of impropriety by the payment of tax monies to others. So the question is how much has the taxpayer of the community paid recently in allegations of impropriety by our Police Department and what action, if any, was conducted by the City to avoid future liability for the taxpayer? This also raises the question as to whether there exists any pattern of police abuse in our community.

Putting aside the allegations brought forth by the current affiants of the Courts of Inquiry which at last count were six for a moment, we must look at past and current court actions. A look at a lawsuit filed by Jacob Telles against former police chief Carlos Leon, 10 El Paso Police Officers, District Attorney Jaime Esparza and the County of El Paso is a primer on previous allegations of wrongdoing. This lawsuit details allegations of police abuse and violations of the US Constitution’s separation of powers clause. Most interestingly is the litany of previous allegations of police and District Attorney allegations that have cost the taxpayers of the community or may cost in the near future.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that El Paso Police Department officers broke into the wrong house and in an attempt to cover up their mistake arrested two occupants and charged them with resisting arrest. The plaintiff, one of those arrested brought forth the lawsuit to clear his name as it appears that his service in the Cost Guard has been severely hampered by the actions of the local police department.

The first example shown is about an incident that is alleged to have happened on September 28, 2002. In this incident, Daryl Adams had contacted EMS concerning his friend. The filing then states that about two hours later an EPPD officer “slaps” his friend to attempt to wake him. The officer then makes “a sniffing sound” and states to Adams, “You know what, I think that you have drugs in here because you’re an African American.” The officer then searches his house without his consent and during the subsequent investigation, Adams states the he was “slugged” on the left side of the face. According to the filing, the incident was reported to Internal Affairs and no action seems to have been taken against the officers allegedly involved. The filing then goes on to describe the incident involving State Representative Norma Chavez.

According to the filing, Chavez was at an aid’s apartment on December 29, 2002 when two El Paso Police Officers searched the apartment she was in without a warrant and arrested two individuals on charges of “interfering with a public duty.” According to the filing, Chavez states that she was angered by what she describes as a “civil rights violation”. In this incident, one of those arrested suffered a dislocated shoulder and had to be taken to the hospital. According to the filing, those arrested were guilty of asking “do you have a warrant?” The filing goes on to describe a May 16, 2003 incident in which Representative Joe Pickett’s house was entered by El Paso Police officers without a warrant. The filing goes on to describe another incident in which former police officer, George De Angelis’ house was also entered into without a warrant. Some people may shrug their shoulders and say that, that is part of the price we, as a community pay for our safety. But at what cost?

According to the filing, the City of El Paso voted to allow city attorneys to pay an undisclosed amount of money to Andres Perez Ruiz, a Mexican national that alleges he was sodomized by an El Paso Police officer in November 2000. Although the city has paid out a settlement and Internal Affairs was notified, no action appears to have been taken against any police officer regarding this incident. So, either the city is paying out frivolous lawsuits or our Police Department doesn’t like to discipline its own even when it costs taxpayer funds.

The filing goes on to add the allegations levied against the Police Department by Luis Maldonado, a possible seventh Court of Inquiry affiant. According to the filing, Maldonado alleges that he suffered a stroke that affected his left side while driving on US54 on February 5, 2002. Maldonado alleges that after he had wrecked his vehicle, officers of the El Paso Police Department arrived, “put a gun to his head, sprayed him OC, dragged him from the vehicle, beat him, kicked him, broke his left collar bone, put him in handcuffs and arrested him.” The filing goes on to state that from the very beginning, Maldonado kept stating to the officers that he had suffered a medical emergency. When EMS arrived, it was finally determined that he in fact had suffered a medical emergency and was transported to the hospital.

The lawsuit filing further adds that on August 4, 2002, “a criminal investigation was begun after a Channel 26-KINT cameraman videotaped an EPPD officer apparently striking and kicking a handcuffed man”. According to a news report in the local daily, on March 11, the Grand Jury “no billed” former Police Officer Marco Antonio, who has now indicated that he wants his job back. An officer who kicks a handcuffed person has no place at the Police Department. But in spite of video evidence, kicking and striking a prisoner seems to be no serious matter for our men in blue. After all they are just “maggots” to them as our local police like to refer to individuals they have contact with everyday. In the same article, the local daily also reported that the Grand Jury did indict Officer James O’Connor on February 19 on a charge of official repression. O’Connor allegedly hit prisoner Jacob Paz while attempting to restrain him to a chair.

The filing goes on to describe the arrest of UTEP coach Billie Gillispie. According to the filing, Gillispie was arrested after he had been originally released at the urging of then Police Chief Carlos Leon. This action only shows a capricious attitude towards who to arrest, not the expected cold, calculated look at a case to determine what is best for the community. Regardless of Gillispie’s condition at the time of his arrest, the fact that the process had already released him indicates that a decision had been made. Like all decisions, that can be changed, the facts into Gillispie could have been re-investigated and if necessary a summons issued to him to appear before the court to answer for an alleged transgression. To demand immediate action on a case that does not involve immediate danger to the community smacks of a system that serves at the expediency of politics as opposed to service to the community.

These examples do not even address the case of George De Angelis. De Angelis’ case has already cost the taxpayers of the community $275,000 in damages. This does not include the money spent to investigate and prosecute a man who was ultimately exonerated by the system, but at what cost to the community and to him? Why has the loss of taxpayer money not been addressed and those culpable punished? Already there are at least two actions pending before the courts seeking multi-million dollar settlements which if found with merit will again cost the taxpayers of the community. De Angelis and Jacob Telles both have actions pending. This does not include the latest allegations of brutality that if even one is found sustained will again cost the taxpayers of the community.

When a pattern begins to materialize and the cost to the community begins to escalate, it becomes important for the government to step in and protect the cost to the taxpayer. When action by the government is not forthcoming, it then becomes incumbent upon the community to step forward and demand action. If the officers and the organizations are innocent then the city needs to defend them at all costs, if for nothing else then to discourage future demands for money. But if even one officer is found guilty, then the community’s trust lies on the action taken by government. It is now time that the city government fulfill its promise to the community and take immediate action instead of waiting for the process to play out, as the process ultimately costs the taxpayers of the community and trust can be quite expensive to rebuild.