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The Police Speak Out: Who’s On Trial? What’s Off Base?

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Editor’s note: Our article, “The Private War of Rodney dark” (June), provoked an emotional response from Dallas police officers and some readers. Officer Clark provided damaging testimony against Gary Blair, his former training officer, during the trial of Blair’s accused killer. The heated debate over the actions of Clark, who has since resigned from The police department, rages on more than a year after Blair’s death and months after the trial ended with the acquittal of the accused man. What follows is a response by the Dallas Police Association to D’s article and to other criticism of the department.

For the great majority of Dallas Police Officers, treatment of tragic events in the courts and in the media as to police-involved shootings is almost unbelievable. “The trial of Charles Tillis played out like an old Abbott-Costello theme of ’Who’s on First?’ ” comments Corporal Eddie Crawford.

Corporals Crawford, Tom Moore, Julian Bernai, and Ed Herbst represent the Dallas Police Association and its reply to several articles appearing in D and particularly to “The Private War Of Rodney Clark,” published in the June 1987 issue.

These officers seek to point out that the trial of Charles Tillis was to prove his guilt or innocence as to his felonious involvement in the scuffle and subsequent mortal shooting of both Andrew Pigg and Officer Gary Blair. Tillis’s defense lawyer made the determination to attack the record of the dead Officer Blair and try to prove him a “bad cop” who provoked a fight and the subsequent involvement of an “innocent bystander.” “The media found this sensationalism irresistible,” says Cpl. Tom

Moore, “and so did the jury. and I guess the public.” Moore also points out that “there was alleged. information held by the defense counsel, known only to them, that could have altered the outcome of the trial as reported in the D Magazine ’Dossier’ article of March 1987.” The article and quotations attributed, to attorney Peter Lesser, a defense co-counsel , make it clear that Tillis’s lawyers predetermined their client’s best defense was to attack and discredit the dead officer.

The Dallas officers are unanimous in their feelings that Officer Blair’s good record was not articulated and that his family still suffers today from the disjointed facts and innuendos that came from the Tillis trial.

The officers, while agreeing they are emotional about the Blair case, point out all officers are supersensitive to twisted, facts and circumstances that allow a suspect in a crime to go free. Coupling the deep loyalty felt toward a slain officer with the acquittal of Tiilis they felt was wrong, the Dallas Police Association felt it necessary to purchase three-fourth page ads in the Dallas daily newspapers called ’An Open Letter to Gary Blair.” The very emotional letter brought more than 1,000 positive letters and many phone calls,

“Clark was a key player in the defense counsel’s strategy. It’s ironic that so much importance was placed, on Clark’s opinion of Blair’s faults as a police officer, and so little on Clark’s lack of experience as a police officer. How do we know whether Rodney Clark had the experience to judge what it takes to be a police officer?” says Moore.

The D article refers to a “Cede of Silence” supposedly exercised by fellow officers to protect one of their own. The facts are that about 80 percent of all complaints against officers come from within the police ranks. “The very nature of police work causes you to be close.” says Cpl. Herbst. “When you have 2,300 police dealing with 786,000 service calls in a year’s time in Dallas, the shared danger draws you together-but we have no use for unprofessional officers.”

Dallas Police men and women are well trained and disciplined by national standards. Training methods and departmental policies do change to recognize better ways to deal with both the law-abiding public and the criminal element. Restraint and caution are practiced every day by the dedicated, officer in the face of the danger of armed violence.

The association comes out “swinging” over such issues as their 1986 1 percent pay cut. Cpl. Bernai comments, “I find it interesting also that with a $54.5 million projected shortfall in the city budget, the city council found $57,000 in July to remodel their offices and hire an additional secretary. The DPA reacts to the two-faced stands of city leaders who supposedly are concerned for the safety of the citizens and the losing battle with criminals-then they turn right around and reveal their lack of commitment to the officers. We

sense that citizens want the runaway crime increase to stop and are willing to pay the price.”

Recent statistics show that assaults against police officers are increasing at a dramatic and alarming pace, and officers feel that the city council must take a strong public stand in favor of law enforcement, ’”It’s not an either or situation,” adds Officer Crawford. “We can modify our deadly force policy and still mount a strong crime deterrent if city leaders make the commitment.”

Dallas police officers resent the stereotype that they sense some leaders are trying to cast. “We always hope the public will see us as a total porson,” says Crawford, “a friendly counselor to kids, a good parent, a good neighbor, and someone who still finds time to sing in the choir or help some handicapped person achieve something special.”

Who’s on trial? Maybe all the law-abiding citizens are. What’s off base? Perhaps the lack of total commitment to the safety and protection of our citizens and police officers.

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