Dallas chief calls training controversy 'a hot mess'
Police Chief David Brown traced the still-brewing dispute to his sensitivity to litigation over racial issues
By Tristan Hallman
The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS — Dallas Police Chief David Brown has a "technical term" for the controversy surrounding the department's beleaguered training academy: "a hot mess."
"It's drama that we just don't have time for," he said.
In an interview Friday at police headquarters, Brown traced the still-brewing dispute to his sensitivity to litigation over racial issues. But what started as complaints about professional standards at the academy has become increasingly entangled in internal political feuds and personal grievances.
And the chief has stirred the pot with his responses on the department's blog, including his reaction this week to a complaint about the department's handling of a sexual harassment allegation against a recruit who is the son of one of Brown's friends.
"Every time they put out a statement, they try to spin or twist it, and it looks like it gets them in more trouble," Bob Gorsky, a Dallas Police Association attorney, said in reference to the chief.
Gorsky represents the accuser, a female recruit. Police rules state that "any allegation" of sexual harassment should be forwarded to internal affairs, but her complaints did not go beyond academy supervisors.
Brown said her supervisors found the conduct happened off duty. Although the male recruit's behavior was "inappropriate," Brown said the policy applies only to on-duty incidents.
Gorsky said the harassment took place on- and off-duty.
Brown also downplayed his personal relationship with the male recruit's father, despite a 2010 city-commissioned report that identifies the two as "close friends." The report was written in the aftermath of the death of Brown's son, who was killed in a shootout with Lancaster police.
Brown said he has worked closely with the officer before. But the chief said he doesn't get close off duty to any officer since his former partner, Walter Williams, was killed on duty in 1988.
Still, Texas Commission on Law Enforcement officials found during an audit last month that some academy instructors believed that two recruits, including the one accused of sexual harassment, were Brown's godsons. The chief denies having godsons.
The controversy at the academy intensified last month after Brown placed Senior Cpl. Manny Sanchez, who coordinated the driving program, on administrative leave. Sanchez is accused of intentionally altering the test score of one of the two recruits, causing him to fail.
Although Sanchez is the only instructor under internal affairs and public integrity investigations, it was another instructor who scored the test.
Carolyn Hentchel, a former academy instructor who recently left the department, said she and the other instructor decided to make a double deduction on the recruit's driving test for making the same mistake twice.
She said the other officer called Sanchez — who did not know which recruit they were talking about — to consult with him. He agreed with their decision, she said.
She said it wouldn't make sense for an instructor to target someone connected to Brown.
"Under the current administration, I would be afraid to purposefully fail or target anybody — which I wouldn't do anyway — for fear of retaliation," Hentchel said.
Police spokesman Max Geron posted online earlier this month that Brown said instructors targeted the recruit because of his perceived relationship with him.
But Brown said Friday that he has not drawn conclusions about Sanchez yet. He said Sanchez is under investigation because officials with the state commission said he wasn't forthcoming about the scoring incident.
Meanwhile, Brown has made some big changes at the academy, including transfers and new leadership. Some there, including instructors who believed Brown accused them of racism, have filed grievances with the city. Brown said a preliminary commission report found that record-keeping and communication about policies at the academy were not up to par.
He said the department had been looking at the academy after the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas — a group whose leadership has a strong relationship with Brown — complained that it seemed only black recruits were failing some academy tests. Some association board members had also complained about Sanchez.
He said he and state auditors have found that "we have a darn good academy," but association politics have made problems seem worse.
"My staff talks about this with me quite a bit, and I try to remind them that this is the life we chose," he said.
Copyright 2014 The Dallas Morning News