Although the Dallas Police Department "sheetrock" scandal has been festering for months, it is time to give Dallas police officers Senior Cpl. Mark Delapaz and Officer Eddie Herrera their due. After all, a federal grand jury is hearing testimony about their behavior and they are likely to end up as indicted ex-cops within a matter of days or weeks. Delapaz and Herrara made a name for themselves as avid dope-busters, enlisting informants to nail suspect after suspect with pounds of powder. Only one problem: Although the pounds of powder were supposed to be cocaine, they have turned out to be sheetrock.
The discovery came too late for dozens of men, mainly Hispanic, who, faced with zealous narcs and prosecutors and prison sentences in the decades, pled guilty and went to prison for crimes they knew they did not commit. Others -- those arrested by Delapaz and Herrara, but yet to be tried -- have been more fortunate. Dallas County prosecutors have been forced to drop more than 80 cases. They are also preparing to defend numerous civil lawsuits claiming false imprisonment.
The vast majority of the suspect cases were made by Delapaz and Herrera with the help of paid informant Enrique Martinez Alonso. He started working with police after being arrested with a pound of cocaine in July 1999. Alonso is reported to have told police he could deliver some of Dallas's biggest dealers -- if his charges were dropped and if he got a cut of the value of the seized drugs. Top police officials agreed to the set-up.
According to police and court records, Alonso was the department's top snitch within a year. He took in $200,000 in payments from police as he led them to more than 70 arrests and huge amounts of what was supposed to be cocaine and methamphetamine. Instead, either Alonso or Alonso, Delapaz and Herrara framed dozens of innocent men.
The question is whether the cops were in on it. "It's all going to boil down to whether the narcs knew the informants were setting innocent people up or whether they were snookered themselves," said a former Dallas federal prosecutor told the Washington Times. Former DEA El Paso Intelligence Center chief Phil Jordan had little doubt, however. Any experienced narcotics officer would have known at a glance, he told the Times. "The feel and texture is different," he said.
But whether it was a hustler who fooled the cops or crooked cops in cahoots with him, the sheetrock scandal has exposed dirty dealings in Dallas. It was not just a bad cop or a bad informer, but a police, prosecutorial and judicial culture that mindlessly marched those innocent men through the legal meat grinder.