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Dallas police Chief Eddie García overturns disciplinary decisions against former vice unit officers

The officers had appealed discipline handed out under former Chief U. Reneé Hall.
Mike Mata, Dallas Police Association President, conducts a press conference to discuss Police Chief Eddie Garcia’s decision to reduce the discipline of Dallas Police Officers by former Chief Renee Hall, on Thursday, June 03, 2021 at the Dallas Police Association offices in Dallas.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

By Lauren Girgis and Cassandra Jaramillo

More than a year after Dallas police disciplined 22 former members of the vice unit for improperly handling evidence and misusing money, Chief Eddie García has reduced the disciplinary decisions made under his predecessor.

The decision was applauded by the Dallas Police Association, the union representing over 4,000 active and retired officers. The association said Thursday that it supported García’s reversal.

President Mike Mata said at a news conference that the disciplinary actions against the officers had been harmful to them and unjustified. He said the moves also hurt sex-trafficking victims.

“I would like to personally thank Chief García for diligently reviewing the investigations prior to hearing the appeals of these detectives, a lieutenant and deputy chief, and giving them what they were denied under the previous discipline hearings and top leadership,” Mata said.

In November 2017, then Chief U. Reneé Hall temporarily dismantled the vice unit, which handles crimes related to prostitution and gambling, and reassigned its 20 officers. The vice unit was rebuilt and resumed operations in November 2018, and Assistant Chief Paul Stokes said at the time that the unit would have a “victims-centric approach,” offering services to people involved in prostitution and to human-trafficking survivors.

Following a three-year investigation, the department’s Public Integrity Unit, which investigates city employees for potential criminal misconduct,determined that there was insufficient evidence to support criminal charges against the officers, but they were suspended without pay.

Officers appealed the suspensions early last year, according to records obtained by The Dallas Morning News that had been filed in January and February 2020. But the appeals were never heard by Hall, who resigned from the department late last year.

A Dallas police spokesman said that from May 18 to May 29, García, who started in his role in February, participated in administrative appeal hearings regarding the internal affairs investigation.

García rescinded two of the original 29 allegations against the officers and reduced most of the disciplinary measures. It is unknown why he made those decisions. The officers’ discipline will be adjusted to reflect the final appealed decision and they will receive a pay adjustment, said a Dallas police spokesman.

The News sent the Police Department questions about how oversight at the unit had changed, but García declined an interview request Thursday and instead referenced a written statement.

“Following the Vice Unit investigation, 22 procedural changes were implemented, and the Vice Unit was reestablished in 2018,” the statement says. ”The Dallas Police Department strives to ensure that legitimacy and professionalism exist in every unit. This investigation and the changes implemented help to achieve this goal.”

The rank and file had long complained that top officials dragged out the investigation for years and then handed down excessive punishment in the form of suspensions — the most severe penalty before demotion and termination — for problems that were systemic in the unit.

Attempts to reach Hall by phone and text were unsuccessful Thursday.

The decision indicates that García thought the suspensions, issued by Assistant Chief Avery Moore during Hall’s tenure, were not appropriate given the investigation’s findings.

Vice unit suspensions

A nearly 700-page internal affairs report on an investigation of the vice unit found that it had lacked oversight and training on documenting evidence and case management long before Hall became chief. Many of the top commanders have since retired or left the department.

Following the internal investigation, top officials came down with suspensions ranging from three to 20 days. One officer, who retired before the final disciplinary outcome, had been given a written reprimand.

The probe into the vice unit predates the start of Hall’s three-year tenure. But she disbanded the unit months after arriving in Dallas and requested an investigation by the Internal Affairs Unit, which found that officers had violated administrative policies.

Internal Affairs finished its review in 2018. That inquiry found instances when vice unit detectives replaced department money used to conduct gambling stings with winnings and failed to properly document evidence in the property room. It’s unclear why it took so long to discipline those officers.

In January 2020, following the disciplinary outcome, Hall said that the department must always “operate with the highest level of integrity to ensure that we maintain trust and strong relationships with the residents we serve. Though not popular, these actions were necessary to create a more efficient department and bring us closer to our goals as a world-class department.”

Hall announced in 2018 that a new vice unit would hit the streets, but none of the previous officers were allowed to return. The rollout puzzled City Council members, who asked why the unit had been disbanded in the first place.

“It’s good to know we now have a police chief who cares about his officers and always doing what is right,” Mata said in a news release.

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