Dallas DA won’t release list of “unreliable” officers

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After years of allowing taxpayers to see a list of law enforcement officers deemed to be compromised in their credibility as witnesses in criminal cases, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office has refused to make that list public.

In response to a public records request from The Texas Monitor, the DA’s office referred the matter to the state attorney general’s office. The AG’s office, in prior cases, has held that such lists, kept by many prosecutors’ offices, are not public records and are not required to be released. Their most recent opinion regarding Dallas County’s list came in January.

The Dallas Police Department has not responded to a similar July 22 Texas Monitor request for its version of what is called a “Brady list.”

Such lists keep track of officers who are considered unreliable witnesses due to past bad conduct. Based on a 1963 Supreme Court ruling, the Brady case law requires prosecutors to reveal to the defense any exculpatory information, including information about the personal integrity of arresting officers.

Most larger Texas cities have agreed to civil service rules that protect details of sanctions against police officers. Dallas is one of the few that has not.

The AG’s office has previously held that, while Brady lists are required to be handed over by prosecutors, they are not subject to public records law.

“If the public doesn’t have access, when do the mishandlings of evidence or information get discovered?” said Tim Braatan, who served as executive director of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement from 2006 to 2011.  “It’s almost like you’d like to have an ombudsman or inspector general to handle this.”

Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot’s office makes it clear in the letter to the AG that Creuzot does not believe the list should be released to the general public.

The letter notes that other attempts by the public to access such lists in Denton, Williamson, El Paso, Harris and Bexar counties were turned back by the AG.

In some of those cases, the prosecutors invoked a law that allows them to withhold documents that include attorney work product. In a Williamson County case, the DA’s office argued that the list includes the “legal reasoning” of prosecutors, as a justification for withholding it.

In the Dallas DA’s office letter regarding the Texas Monitor request, officials speculated that releasing the names could interfere with the “detection” or prosecution of a case.

Frederick Frazier, First Vice President of the Dallas Police Association, said last month that he supports the release of the list.

“We’ve always been at the forefront of transparency,” he said. “Other places are more old guard. There are several different mindsets on it.”

Reached by phone this week, Frazier said he would investigate why the county is withholding the list. He did not respond to follow-up calls and texts.

In 2016, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office under Craig Watkins, released an eight-page list of officers who at the time were considered unreliable witnesses due to past conduct.

“We do not release the Brady list, and nobody has released the Brady list except for Craig Watkins,” said Kim Leach, spokeswoman for the Dallas County DA’s office. “I think he is the only person who did for whatever his reasons were, but we do not release the Brady list as a matter of policy.”

Watkins did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story. 

The officers on the list did not lose their jobs or state law enforcement certification for violations that ranged from filing a false report to misdemeanor theft convictions.

Advocates for public release of such lists contend that release of the information would help overcome a perception of a culture of silence when it comes to legal and ethical misdeeds among law enforcement officers.

Watkins’ successor Susan Hawk changed the policy and declined to release the list. It’s unclear whether Faith Johnson, who succeeded Hawk, was ever asked for the list under the state’s open-records law. Johnson served between 2016 and 2018 after Hawk left office due to illness.

Since he took office in January, Creuzot has been battling a crime wave that has claimed 126 lives as of Aug. 1, the highest murder rate in the state and more than the city’s total of 116 murders for all of 2014.

Community activists in Harris County are seeking that county’s list after revelations that a deadly January raid by Houston police was based in part on information allegedly fabricated by an officer. Police killed two people in the raid, in which they relied on a search warrant based on that information.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has refused to release the list.

 Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].

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