By Alfa · Nov 11, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    Unanimous Vote Seen As Move Toward Financial Settlement With Victims

    The Dallas City Council apologized to victims of the 2001 fake-drug scandal Wednesday, unanimously passing a resolution that expressed "deep remorse"

    for the false arrests.

    The measure also offered apologies to the victims' families and the city's residents for breakdowns at the Police Department while calling on officials to continue shoring up procedures.

    "It is very, very tragic what happened to a great number of people, and I think we are on the right track now," said Mayor Pro Tem John Loza, calling the cases a "shameful episode in our city's history."

    Such a rare public admission of fault likely signals the city's willingness to acknowledge legal and financial responsibility in the numerous federal civil-rights lawsuits filed by victims.

    The measure, which passed Wednesday evening without much comment from council members, also aims to make sure future city leaders don't forget the scandal.

    It erupted in late 2001 after more than two dozen people, mostly Hispanic immigrants, went to jail that summer and fall based on bogus drug evidence planted by corrupt police informants.

    The resolution states that those false arrests - which have led to criminal charges against several former narcotics officers and the informants - should be "indelibly etched in our history," so that similar mistakes aren't repeated.

    Probably a first

    Calling it an "extraordinary step," City Attorney Madeleine Johnson said such a vote expressing remorse for city failures probably is unprecedented in the city's history.

    The two-page resolution asks officials to continue searching for reasons why the department's "system designed to fight a war on drugs was subverted so that innocent people became its casualties."

    Later, it calls on Ms. Johnson to begin "good faith" settlement talks with the victims' attorneys, who couldn't be reached for comment.

    Representatives of Ms. Johnson's office already have attended court-ordered mediation sessions with most, if not all, of the plaintiffs' attorneys. She said the city would now get serious - and specific - when talking about monetary settlements for the victims.

    "This is something the city very much would like to be resolved," Ms.

    Johnson said. "This is about people who got caught up in this innocently."

    Attorneys on both sides won't predict the potential costs of such settlements, but the number of cases and plaintiffs suggest the final figure could total hundreds of thousands of dollars - or perhaps even millions - to dispose of the suits outside courtrooms.

    Ms. Johnson said the cases could be settled in the "near future," but declined to speculate further. The amount of the monetary settlements would be made public, she said.

    Changes made

    City and police officials have said they've already taken many steps to ensure that a similar scandal doesn't happen again.

    The narcotics division, for example, has tightened its procedures, and the officers and supervisors involved in the cases also have either been fired or transferred to other areas.

    The city also recently appointed two outside lawyers, Terence Hart and Lena Levario, to investigate the matter. Last month, after a 10-month inquiry, the pair released a scathing report that cited sloppy police work by narcotics officers and lax supervision by commanders as contributors to the series of bogus arrests.

    The pair also released numerous new recommendations, including further steps to bolster money-handling procedures and to more stringently oversee informants. The lawyers also suggested more training, among other ideas.

    Police Chief David Kunkle said last month that he supported the ideas.

    Still, the resolution created a city committee that would ensure that those recommendations are implemented "as soon as practical."

    Council member Elba Garcia, who was moved to tears Oct. 20 when addressing some of the victims after the two lawyers announced their findings, said the Wednesday vote "shows that we are ready to move forward and make sure that this never happens again."

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