THEY CAME TO BURY THEIR DEAD HERO, to mourn the loss of a fallen brother. Two thousand police officers from across Texas assembled outside a southwest Dallas police station to pay their last respects to Corporal Gary Reeves Blair, an officer killed on the streets of Oak Cliff, March 20,1986. Each officer displayed a symbol of his grief, a single stripe of black tape worn across his badge.
By eleven o’clock, the funeral procession of 500 squad cars and 150 police motorcycles lined the Oak Cliff landscape, winding its way to a serene Grand Prairie gravesite. They buried Gary Blair with full military honors. The pomp and circumstance generated powerful emotions: those officers who knew Gary Blair mourned the man; those who didn’t, mourned the uniform.
They came to make their presence felt, as an act of police solidarity for a brother-in-blue who they believed died in the line of duty, ambushed by two assailants during a routine traffic stop and stripped of his weapon, which was used against him. For many Dallas police, Blair’s death took on mythic proportions. They saw him as a martyr, a fatality of the war on crime, which, according to recent statistics, was being lost by the Dallas police. The police blamed an unsympathetic city council that not only denied them money and manpower, but endorsed a congressional investigation into a recent rash of police shootings. To many in the rank and file, Gary Blair’s death seemed inevitable, the tragic result of the city’s failure to support its police.
One officer at the funeral held a different belief. Although swept away by the emotional pageantry. Officer Rodney Clark held lingering doubts about the details of Blair’s death. Out of respect to Blair and his family, he kept those doubts to himself. But out of respect to himself, he would one day come forward. His convictions would lead him to testify in the controversial trial of Blair’s killer, and his testimony would help a jury clear the accused man and, in effect, indict the Dallas Police Department. In Clark’s own words, he would be “the hammer that hit the final nail in Blair’s coffin.” In many ways, Rodney Clark was different from the average rookie cop, At thirty, he was older than most rookies. Canadian-born and college educated. He had grown bored with his job as an insurance salesman. One day at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire, he saw a recruiting poster for the Dallas Police Department. It was a challenge. Only one out of ten applicants would be selected, so only the best were encouraged to apply.
But Rodney Clark was typical in other ways. Although he had always wanted to be a police officer, his image of law enforcement was shaped by TV crime shows and the storied exploits of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. When asked by Dallas Police Department recruiters why he wanted to become an officer, his response echoed that of most applicants. “I just want to help people,” he said. After submitting to a battery of psychological tests, Clark was accepted to the Dallas Police Academy in June of 1985.
CADET RODNEY CLARK’S FANTASIES of police work hadn’t prepared him for his training, and now he tried to remain calm. His supervisor. Art Lozano of the Dallas Police Academy, burst into the class with all the sound and fury of a Marine drill sergeant. Six cadets out of forty-five had failed their penal code exam, and Lozano held the entire class responsible. “Unless I see some dramatic improvement,” he said, “nobody’s going to graduate.” Then, in a moment of flamboyant theatricality, he grabbed a police diploma and ripped it to shreds.
Lozano’s outburst was designed to hammer home a vital theme: police are responsible for each other. If one makes a mistake, it reflects badly on the entire department. The academy was forging the bonds of brotherhood, and Clark’s class quickly responded, agreeing among themselves to form study groups. They would help each other by pulling together.
The need to instill esprit de corps among its new recruits is only one reason most police academies take a strict, military approach to police training. Some like the way it builds a tolerance to stress, with a constant emphasis on survival. Others feel it teaches individuals to function as a unit, to follow orders without question. Instructors at the Dallas Police Academy push their cadets mentally and physically, constantly reminding them of their inferior status and warning that slackers will never wear a badge. Teased and belittled, the recruits hunger for a taste of what it’s like to be a real cop.
Yet at the same time. Dallas police pride themselves on their “human-oriented approach to training.” Police psychologist Dr. S.A. Somodevilla says officers receive a good deal of sensitivity training through courses in cultural awareness, conflict resolution, and police ethics. Cadets receive instruction in the service as well as enforcement aspects of the profession.
Still, despite these nods toward nonviolent problem-solving, Rodney Clark felt as if he were being trained for combat, readied for a war zone where danger lurked in every encounter. During his seventeen weeks at the academy, he sensed a certain el itism developing, an attitude that only cops can understand cops. At its most basic, the academy split the world into two kinds of people: the police and everybody else. Clark desperately wanted to become part of the cop world. “I was ready to see some action-to get in there and prove myself,” he says.
On October 17, 1985, Cadet Rodney Clark became Officer Rodney Clark. During graduation, he received the trappings of his authority, complete with badge and bullets. Clark had earned the legal right to carry a gun, and with it came a stern admonition: “Your gun must remain at your side twenty-four hours a day,” his supervisor told him. Like all cops, Clark would be always on duty. NO MATTER HOW INTENSE THE TRAINING, HOW REFINED THE psychological screening, bad cops slip through, unable to handle their new-found authority. The academy “book-teaches” a cop, but the real education happens in the streets. “You don’t know what kind of officer somebody will make until they put on a uniform,” says Somodevilla.
In Dallas, each rookie policeman must complete a twenty-four-week field training program designed to teach him about the real world while helping him survive it. Perhaps no one influences the rookie more than his field training officer. Playing nursemaid, teacher, and father-confessor, the FTO initiates the rookie into the life of the streets. In this role of men-tor. each FTO is held to a higher standard of behavior by the department.
Officer Clark was assigned to Southwest Patrol Division, where his first FTO was Corporal Joe Emmett, a salty but creative cop who prided himself on his high police activity. His enthusiasm was infectious. For several weeks during day watch, Clark experienced both the danger and. paradoxically, (he thrill that makes police work exciting: the adrenalin-rush thrill of a high-speed chase, the satisfaction of catching the bad guys. He arrested people for sexual assault, robbery, shoplifting; investigated a double murder; and ran a foot race with a couple of burglars- an ordeal that taught Clark the true meaning of police teamwork and the precious cover that officers provide for one another. After running blindly for eight to ten blocks through the back alleys of Oak Cliff, Officer Clark happened upon his suspects: ’They were winded-hiding under a carport,” says Clark. “But I was lost. I looked around for a street sign, found one, and radioed for cover.” Within minutes, two squad cars and a police helicopter appeared. Clark could feel the protection of the brotherhood being extended to him. “People I didn’t even know put their lives on the line for me.”
But he was still a rookie, the new kid on the block. A rookie has no civil service status, and his FTO reports daily on his progress. A bad report can bring quick termination. And the FTO is not the only man a rookie must please. Some veteran cops make a habit of not speaking with rookies except when necessary. They often subject them to public ridicule, making them the joke-of-the-day. As a result, some rookies learn not to make mistakes; others learn not to admit them. “There is a rite of passage as a rookie,” says Corporal Tom Moore, Dallas Police Association board member. “You’ve got to prove your courage-that you’re someone they can depend on.”
OFFICER CLARK SPENT HIS NEXT SEVEN WEEKS UNDER THE tutelage of Officer Gary Blair, a five-year veteran who seemed likable enough to Clark-and very popular with the police at Southwest. Occasionally, Blair criticized Clark for safety violations, like exposing his gun to a suspect, but generally they worked together well.
But Blair seemed different with civilians, bitter. Some of it Clark could understand. During midnight watch in Northeast Oak Cliff, police see people at their worst. It’s an area where poor whites, blacks, and browns live close to each other and often victimize each other in robberies, rapes, and murders. The beat officer quickly develops a feel for possible criminal activity. His suspicions are easily aroused-maybe by a broken vent window on an unattended car on Davis Street, or a light emanating from a closed business on Fort Worth Avenue, or an unruly crowd roaming between bars on Jefferson Avenue. The officer may develop a siege mentality. Everybody looks guilty at 2 a.m.
Young officers sometimes fall into “the John Wayne Syndrome.” With everybody a suspect, they can’t give out a traffic ticket without leaning on their gun. According to Somodevilla, “they become badge-heavy. Instead of enforcing the law, they think they are the law.” Most grow out of the syndrome, finding less intimidating ways of controlling situations. Some never do.
Around Christmas, Blair and Clark received a heavy volume of service calls; family violence, runaways, disturbance calls-the type where the line between right and wrong becomes blurred and the bad guys are harder to identify. During these calls, Clark noticed Blair antagonizing civilians, openly provoking some and turning routine situations into heated confrontations.
One night, a call took the two officers to the scene of a domestic disturbance; a husband had caught his wife with her boyfriend. The two men fought and the husband. Carlos Segovia, got the worst of it and was distraught when the police arrived. Twice, Blair told the man to sit down. The second time Blair knocked him down. Clark was shocked by what he saw: “Biair threw a roundhouse punch at the man-his face exploded in blood-his head hit the back wall, leaving a bloodprint against it.” Segovia had to be hospitalized and was later charged with assault, even though “he never touched Blair,” Clark says. Blair needed medical attention for his hand. “His knuckles had teeth marks on them,” Clark recalls. Later, back at the station, Blair would brag about his war wound.
When Clark wrote up the police report on the Segovia arrest, “Blair read it and said it made him look bad,” says Clark. “He changed the report, making it read like he was just subduing a suspect who was resisting arrest.” But Clark’s name remained on the report.
Clark worried about the incident; he thought Blair had gone too far. “He was like an addict-getting high off his own adrenalin,” Clark says. “If there weren’t enough stressful situations, he’d create them.”
Now, Clark was in a dilemma. If he reported Blair, he’d be ratting on another officer, turning in his own FTO. But Blair was dangerous, so Clark decided to set aside the code of silence and try to help his partner get straightened out.
After his training phase with Blair ended, Rodney Clark approached his sector sergeant, Mark Stallo, at roll call. Believing that he was filing a formal complaint against Blair, Clark told the sergeant about the domestic disturbance call, about Blair’s changing the police report, and about similar incidents, insisting that “Blair was going to get himself or another officer killed.” His superiors later told Clark that he was overreacting. The department took no action on the complaint.
Then, on March 20, 1986, Clark’s fears were realized. He was watching TV in his Mesquite home. His FTO training was almost over. Soon, he’d be on two-man patrol, still on probation, but inching his way into the rank and file. He believed his problems with Blair had ended. Blair and Clark had even patched things up, shaking hands in the locker room. “We agreed there was no point to a feud,” says Clark.
When the ten o’clock news came on, the lead story announced that a Southwest police officer had been killed by two black males. One of the assailants was dead; the other remained at large. Names were still being withheld.
Immediately. Clark phoned Southwest to find out who had been killed. He listened for a moment, then slowly hung up the receiver. He turned to his wife and whispered, “It’s happened.”
THE DAY AFTER THE SHOOTING. SOUTH-west Patrol Division was filled with reporters looking for information about Gary Blair. When asked, most officers said Blair was the perfect cop, a man with “a spotless record; ten commendations, a life-saving award.” Sergeant R.M. Spigler went so far as to tell the Dallas Times Herald that “nobody would have anything bad to say about Blair. He was good as gold.”
Since Rodney Clark had been the last officer to work the streets with Blair, reporters looked to him for insight into the dead officer. When Bud Gillett of Channel 4 asked Clark what kind of police officer he thought Gary Blair made, Clark hesitated. He knew what he wanted to say, but instead stammered out something about Blair’s penchant tor police safety. “Some of the things you thought were nit-picky. . .all of a sudden- now you realize-it’s the difference between surviving and not surviving.” Clark felt as if he were dodging a bullet.
Within days of Blair’s funeral on March 24, controversy flared. Charles Tillis Jr. surrendered to the police and was charged with the murder of Gary Blair. Neither Tillis nor Andrew Pigg, the man Blair killed during the struggle, had any criminal record. Black city council members Al Lipscomb and Diane Ragsdale, long-time critics of alleged police brutality, took up Tillis’s cause, lending their names to a petition for Tillis’s defense fund. At Pigg’s funeral, Lipscomb accused the police of a cover-up and called on all witnesses to “come forward and clear up erroneous information about the shooting.”
Lipscomb and Ragsdale enraged the police. J.K. Ramsey, president of the Dallas Police Association, called their charges “an insult” and organized a formal protest. On April 16, 1986, 500 police officers marched on City Hall, filling the council chambers. Among their numbers stood a troubled Rodney Clark. He was desperately trying to believe that Blair had been murdered without provocation. He was upset with city officials for not supporting the police. Still, he had his doubts. He had seen Gary Blair in action.
The original police version of the shooting strongly influenced Clark’s beliefs. Initially, the police maintained that Officer Blair stopped Andrew Pigg for a routine traffic violation. A fight broke out and Charles Tillis joined in, kicking and hitting Blair and enabling Pigg to grab Blair’s service revolver. As Tillis fled, Pigg shot Blair. Mortally wounded, the officer pulled a back-up weapon from his boot and returned fire, killing Pigg. Although Blair had radioed for cover, it came too late.
Many of Blair’s fellow officers felt he had died a hero’s death, going out in a blaze of glory and taking the bad guy with him. But amid the conflicting witness accounts and confusing autopsy results that followed, Officer Clark found it difficult to cling to this Hollywood scenario. Several witnesses said Blair shot first, implying he was the aggressor. Autopsies of both Blair and Pigg concluded that they were shot at point-blank range, with Blair shot by both of his weapons. Homicide detective Ron Waldrop openly admitted to the press that the shooting was “like a jigsaw puzzle-we have a bunch of witnesses and a bunch of holes.” Another detective concluded, “We may never know what really happened.”
Lieutenant Johnnie L. Sullivan, head of the Field Training Program, had a theory about the shootings. Sullivan regularly maintained evaluations on all FTOs, including the critiques by rookies who trained under them. He pulled Gary Blair’s file and reviewed his last four evaluations. “There were indications that he tended to be abusive with citizens on traffic stops,” said Sullivan. “I was worried I had missed a pattern.”
Immediately, Sullivan took the critiques to Assistant Chief of Police Leslie Sweet, pointing out the pattern in Blair’s behavior. Sweet perused the evaluations and, according to Sullivan, “he told me to put them back in my FTO files until they were needed.”
By late April, Clark had completed his field training. As part of the training process, his class was recalled to the academy and requested to evaluate each of their FTOs in order to help upgrade the program, Lieutenant Sullivan addressed the officers: “Confidentiality will be maintained-so be frank and specific in your comments. If your FTO wasn’t worth a damn, I want to know why.”
Clark approached Sullivan, concerned about Gary Blair. “Since he’s dead, 1 guess there’s no point in my evaluating him now,” he said.
Sullivan disagreed. He wanted to see if Blair fit the pattern he’d already discovered. “I want you to be specific,” he told Clark.
Reluctantly, Clark filled out the FTO critique, detailing several instances in which Blair provoked citizens, He concluded by writing, “I’m not blaming anyone, because around other officers and at the station, Gary was a model officer, but in the car and on calls with me, he did things that foreshadowed a death confrontation.”
SIX MONTHS PASSED AFTER RODNEY CLARK wrote his evaluation of Blair. Although Lieutenant Sullivan took Clark’s critique to Chief Sweet. Sweet again told Sullivan to put it back in Blair’s FTO file.
Clark was relieved, even surprised, when there were no repercussions. The trial of Charles Tillis was set to begin, and whether by negligence or design, his evaluation hadn’t surfaced in the pre-trial proceedings. Neither the prosecution nor the defense had questioned him.
Meanwhile, Clark had come of age as a police officer, largely as a result of a highspeed chase that ended when he wounded and captured a known narcotics dealer. Finally, he says, “I felt accepted-officers who never spoke to me before slapped me on the back,” eager to hear about his “war story.” He was nicknamed “Rockin’ Rodney” for his enthusiasm and energy.
Then, on October 15, 1986, Clark and four other Southwest officers who had trained under Gary Blair received orders to report to homicide. Although the men drove downtown together, they said little. Clark recalls that each seemed preoccupied, perhaps with thoughts of Gary Blair and their critical FTO evaluations. Most had written short, terse comments. Officer Walter T. Mobley: “Blair tended to talk down to people. . .he uses too much force. . . needs to let talk roll off his back instead of getting mad and starting situations.” Officer Richard Kresse: “Blair talked loudly to citizens on traffic stops and disturbance calls… had a quick temper.” Officer Donald McMillan: “He, at times, seemed very short with the public.” But only Rodney Clark had written a three-page narrative recalling in minute detail the abusive manner in which Gary Blair dealt with the public.
At homicide, Captain John Holt interviewed the five officers individually, telling each that his evaluation had “come to light” and been turned over to the district attorney’s office. Jury selection had begun in the Tillis trial and “in all likelihood, the critiques would fall into the hands of the defense.” Holt told Clark and the others that they could expect to be called as witnesses.
Although Clark voiced his concerns, he took some solace in knowing he was not the only officer to question Blair’s conduct. Still, rumors followed him back to the station. Suddenly he was the topic of conversation, accused of not knowing when to keep his mouth shut and of ratting on a brother officer.
Some officers confronted him outright. “Did you file a complaint against Blair? What did homicide want?” Other officers were less direct, halting all conversation when he approached, or refusing to speak with him altogether.
But the officers in his sector, his closest associates on the street, spent many hours over coffee trying to persuade Clark to change his story. “They told me to water it down,” said Clark. “To claim 1 was naive-just a rookie-that I didn’t really know what it was like on the streets.”
Clark argued that his evaluation was too specific; everyone would know he’d be lying, perjuring himself.
As the trial date crept closer, Clark’s friends were abandoning him, telling him they didn’t trust him, refusing to work with him. Clark recalls a warning from one of his partners: “If Tillis goes free, you won’t be safe on the streets of Oak Cliff again ” (Officers later questioned about their conduct toward Clark denied making any threats or refused to comment.)
In November, Clark heard a rumor about a sector meeting held in his absence where the issue of whether to cover Clark was put to a vote. If Clark wouldn’t cover for another officer, why should other officers cover him? According to Clark’s sources, the majority favored covering him-at least until the verdict in the Tillis trial. Clark could sense that the protection of the brotherhood was being withdrawn. Again, police deny that any such meeting or vote took place.
Shunned by his brother officers at work, Clark wrestled with his conscience at home. He began to keep a journal of his feelings, playing out his inner struggle on the pages. “Is it better to live a lie or suffer for the truth?” he wrote. He had already broken the code of silence. Could he speak out against a dead man regarded as a hero?
The Dallas Police reject the notion that any “code of silence” exists that would encourage cover-ups of unethical or abusive behavior. Says Deputy Chief of Police Mar-lin Price, “Rather than a code of silence- I’d say there’s a code of honor.” Price points to statistics showing that 82 percent of all complaints filed with Internal Affairs come from the police themselves.
But statistics only tell part of the story. According to one Dallas police administrator who wishes to remain anonymous, “Although officers won’t hesitate to turn in another officer for corruption, theft, drugs- that kind of illegality-when it comes to police brutality, many officers look the other way.” They know what it’s like on the streets, recall themselves in similar situations, and think “there but for the grace of God go I,” says the officer.
Rodney Clark also understood that all officers have bouts with the angry side of their nature. On November 24, 1986, he wrote in his journal: “. . .while I and other officers have mishandled a prisoner on occasion, it’s an aberration from the norm. Officer Blair had gone beyond an occasional outburst of anger. Instead, he developed a distinct bent toward violence.”
THUS ISOLATED FROM HIS PEERS, CLARK
felt a sense of relief on meeting Tillis’s defense attorney, Peter Lesser, Finally someone listened to him, agreed with him. Clark embraced Lesser’s theory of the shootings, which echoed his own experience with Blair. He gave the defense its first provable motive. “With Clark’s testimony,” says Peter Lesser, “we could argue that Blair was a good cop turned bad-that Tillis was just coming to the aid of his friend, fighting in self-defense of Andrew Pigg.”
On December 3, 1986, testimony began in the Tillis trial. As police witnesses usually do. Officer Clark sat in the prosecutor’s witness room. With him were the four Southwest police officers who had also criticized Blair. No one spoke to Clark. Then, a prosecutor approached him, telling him to leave. “Sorry-but you’re a defense witness.” Suddenly Clark realized that his testimony would go uncorroborated. He was alone; the other officers had backed down.
That same evening the department relieved Clark of his patrol duties, placing him on administrative leave pending the trial. He heard the news from his watch commander, Lieutenant Reginald Kay. “’He told me the stress of the trial might tire me out on patrol. I could make a mistake, get hurt.” But Clark knew that at least seven other police officers had been subpoenaed by the defense, and none of them had been placed on leave. It was obvious to Clark that the department no longer felt he would be safe on the streets.
On December 8, Clark took the witness stand. Police packed the courtroom, out in force to see justice done. Clark appeared husky in his uniform, sporting a new mustache and a bulletproof vest. His voice often sounded raspy, difficult to hear. Hostile glares and audible groans greeted much of his testimony, particularly when he related seven incidents in which Gary Blair escalated routine situations by berating and provoking civilians. But Clark told the truth as he believed it, emphasizing that he was under subpoena, testifying involuntarily. Under cross examination, he admitted that he had met with the defense on three occasions to discuss his testimony, now appearing to be more cooperative than he at first acknowledged. After two days of intense, often hostile questioning, Clark quietly left the courtroom and walked down the back stairs, not wishing to encounter anyone. Exhausted, he only wanted to go home.
As expected, the state’s eyewitnesses gave conflicting accounts of the shooting, ninety seconds of heart-stopping violence. Naturally, perceptions differed. Also, as expected, the other four Southwest officers recanted their written criticism of Blair, saying they were “naive”. . .”had an idealistic view of police work”. . .All said that Blair “never used too much force.”
Lesser and the other defense attorneys also called Chief Leslie Sweet to the stand, trying to establish a “cover-up” of Blair’s FTO evaluations. Although Sweet admitted he knew about the evaluations in April of 1986, he claimed he “didn’t recognize their importance to the case.”
After two weeks of testimony, Judge Ron Chapman gave each side two hours for closing arguments. Prosecutor Norm Kinne began his summation by attacking Rodney Clark’s credibility. “Maybe you even had a Rodney Clark in your high school,” he sneered. “You even reminisce about it and say, ’Wonder what happened to that little fink we had in our class-the one who always used to tell on people and make things look better for himself.’ Well, now you know. He’s on the Dallas Police Department. And his name is Rodney Clark.”
Immediately following Kinne’s stinging remarks, an all-white jury retired to deliberate the fate of a black man accused of killing a white police officer. Some jurors expressed concern about the impact their decision might have on the community-but quickly decided that was none of their affair. “The real question was who started the fight,” said jury foreman Daniel Webking. “Clark’s testimony showed Blair’s predisposition to violence, making it well within the realm of possibility that Blair was the aggressor.”
After five and a half hours of deliberation, the jury reached its verdict and returned to the courtroom. Judge Ron Chapman read the verdict aloud: “Not guilty.” There was a momentary silence, then an emotional wave swept the courtroom. Police officers and civilians alike screamed and sobbed for different reasons.
Rodney Clark learned about the verdict from a late-night news flash. He was filled with joy-and apprehension. For the first time, he contemplated resigning.
THE DAY AFTER THE VERDICT. RODNEY Clark looked at his 1980 Toyota and laughed as he read its bumper sticker: “ESCAPE TO WISCONSIN.” It was time to go home for the vacation he’d been putting off.
But two weeks in Wisconsin did nothing to clear the air in Dallas. When Officer Clark returned, he was instructed to report to Southwest on January 5,1987. Chiefs Troy McClain and Leslie Sweet wanted to discuss his future with the department. Prior to the meeting, he walked around Southwest; no one would speak to him. He picked up his mail and entered the officers’ lounge, where he saw cartoons and poems posted on the bulletin board cleverly mocking him, calling him a snitch. He tore them off the wall, realizing his war wasn’t over. “I was angry that my superiors permitted the peer pressure to continue,” he says. “It was like they were condoning it.”
Despite it all, Clark urged McClain and Sweet to put him back on patrol. He missed the excitement on the streets, which he saw as the only place he could prove himself again. Sweet agreed to see what he could do.
That afternoon, Clark had his answer. The department encouraged him to take a desk job, working in the warrant unit of legal liaison. Apparently, no patrol division wanted him. But Clark took the job anyway, hoping the controversy would pass.
He was wrong. The fallout from the verdict resulted in an administrative shake-up that left several careers damaged in its wake. Assistant Chief Leslie Sweet, formerly the head of patrol and number three in the chain of command, became the new chief of Support Services, falling to sixth in the police hierarchy. Although acting police chief Harold Warren said he was trying to “bring a fresh management perspective” to the different bureaus, one high-ranking police official claims the transfer was made “in part because of Sweet’s handling of the FTO evaluations.”
Lieutenant Johnnie Sullivan was also stripped of his job as head of the Field Training Program, accused of missing a pattern of abuse in Blair’s behavior. Each patrol division was given responsibility for the FTOs under its command. Sullivan was reassigned to the department’s traffic division.
The rank and file remained bitter and unforgiving about the verdict. “The courts should have been the emotional outlet for their grief,1’ says Dallas Police Association board member Tom Moore. “Instead, the verdict just confirmed their belief that the judicial system frustrates police work.” The nature of a self-defense claim requires that the trial shift its focus to the behavior of the victim. Yet, “police resented Blair being put on trial and felt nobody came to his defense,” says Moore.
Frustrated, an increasingly political Dallas Police Association took up Blair’s cause, using it to rally the troops around a myriad of police issues. They opposed the Dallas City Council’s recent cutbacks in police pay and personnel, which they believe jeopardized the safety of beat officers like Gary Blair. They also opposed the congressional probe into the police department’s deadly force policy, seeing it as outside interference from people who knew little about life as a cop.
To protect the memory of their much-maligned hero, the DPA ran a half-page advertisement in several local newspapers entitled “An Open Letter to Gary Blair.” The advertisement attacked “a city council that alienated the police from the community” and castigated the media for “its unfounded accusations of police brutality and racism.” But the DPA reserved much of its criticism for a certain unnamed rookie, obviously Clark, who was faulted for not going to Internal Affairs if he truly believed Gary Blair was “an officer going bad.”
Rodney Clark became the DPA’s whipping boy. “Where Rodney Clark is concerned,” says Corporal Tom Moore, “police are running on pure emotion. Some police feel he was too cooperative with the defense, too enthusiastic in his testimony.” Others saw Clark as a naive rookie who never learned that intimidation is a legitimate way to control hostile situations. All but a silent few felt he should resign.
Perhaps in an attempt to push him in that direction, Internal Affairs began investigating Rodney Clark after the trial regarding allegations that Clark falsified the arrest report in the Segovia incident. Although Clark maintains that Blair changed the report, Clark’s name appears on it. Internal Affairs refuses to comment on the pending investigation. Ironically, Clark has retained attorney Peter Lesser, who says “the allegations are malicious and vindictive-a sorry attempt to get back at Rodney Clark for telling the truth.”
Clark thought often about turning in his badge, succumbing to the pressure. For a long time he resisted. When he wavered, he found some comfort in the many letters of support he received from civilians, strangers he never knew. There’s one letter he is particularly fond of:
Dear Mr. Rodney dark,
I just wanted to tell you how-much 1 admire your honesty and courage. The world sorely needs more men like you.
E. Bailey, a Grandmother PS. Jobs can be changed, but consciences can’t.
Maybe that’s what Rodney Clark had in mind when he resigned from the Dallas Police Department on May 14, 1987. He and his family now live in Wisconsin.