June 12th, 2009
07:01 PM ET

Good cop bad cop

Gary Tuchman | BIO
AC360 Correspondent

Over the last few weeks, I've interviewed a number of people who were not so happy to see me. I've also TRIED to interview some people who weren't so happy to see me. These are folks the public relies on - police officers and district attorneys - but they've been accused of ethical and maybe criminal violations.

We've been reporting on the misuse of laws that allow police to take money and valuables from drivers in certain circumstances when they are suspected of committing serious crimes.

The "asset forfeiture" law is sound. The idea is to take "ill gotten gains" away from crooks, and to give the money to police departments and DA's offices for the public good.

But we've gotten emails and calls from viewers all over the country telling us stories of overzealous police who've shaken down innocent drivers.

We've also heard about district attorneys who spend the money on things like conferences in Hawaii, donations to their favorite churches, parties, and mysterious checks to judges and cops.

We've been focusing our stories in Texas because we've heard some of the most horrific stories there, and Texas introduced legislation to greatly toughen oversight on DA's and police so forfeitures are done more ethically.

In Shelby County, in eastern Texas, a district attorney refused to come to work while we were in town. She was accused of offering deals to drivers to drop charges in exchange for keeping their valuables. She also wrote a check for 10 thousand bucks to a cop who does most of the forfeitures. We know that because we found the records of it. We ultimately found her singing country music at a firehouse fundraiser over the weekend. She refused to say a word to me.

In Jim Wells County Texas, a former DA was accused of using the public money to pay his secretaries bonuses of tens of thousands of dollars annually for many years. At first, he didn't want to talk on camera either. But ultimately, he did, saying his secretaries were "loyal, great employees, and watched his back," and he felt it was proper to use the forfeiture money for that reason.

And this week, we were in Kimble County west of Austin where the former DA used forfeiture money to take some of his staff on week-long conferences to Hawaii on four separate occasions. He also had a check written for thousands of dollars of per diem expenses in the Aloha State.

Oh, and on at least one of those trips, a local judge who hears the forfeiture cases came along. The judge did not want to talk to us. When I met up with him outside the courthouse, he said he could not comment. Interestingly, he said part of the reason he couldn't is that he hears forfeiture cases.

The former DA did go on camera, and told us that his "conscience is clear," and that he had no problem spending that money because they took legal classes and got credits. But the classes only lasted for three days and were less than four hours a day. And the trip was a week. Nevertheless, the former DA says he doesn't believe he violated the statute in the law that requires the money to be used for "official purposes."

And it can be argued he's correct. The Texas law is ambiguous, so that's why a bill was introduced to give the state Attorney General oversight over all the DA's who can now do basically what they want.

That bill was passed unanimously in the state Senate. It was passed unanimously by a House committee. The governor was expected to sign it as soon as the full House approved it.

But then a strange thing happened. The House got stuck on other measures, and didn't vote on the bill. And on June 1, the Texas legislative session ended. In Texas, the legislature only meets once every two years, so now, this law, which is overwhelmingly supported, can't be passed until 2011.

So, it's fair to say you can expect some more stories from us about these questionable practices.

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Ken

    Correction; Why are the police and other agencies NOT using Blood Hounds to track this cop killer??

    February 8, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  2. Ken

    This cop killer who is on the loose and possibly now in a State Park, why are the police and other agencies using Blood Hounds to track this guy?? A Blood Hound can hold a scent for three days, so I have read. Not sure if the K9 German Shepards are as good at tracking as Blood Hounds. Hope he is caught before there is more loss of life.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
  3. Kat59

    Anderson, you are the only CNN reporter that gets it right, so why are you so silent on the ACORN story?? It is all over Fox, and it is obvious that something is very corrupt and wrong with that whole picture. Is the President's association with ACORN keeping you from being totally honest about what is going on, and how they are being given tons of stimulous dollars to do the Obama'a bidding. I am really disappointed that CNN has ignored this story.

    July 2, 2009 at 6:31 pm |
  4. pinky

    My husband and I are taking a car trip to Colorado this summer. We are resdents of Fl. Now we are afraid of running into crooked dishonest law enforcement. on our journey across the states.

    Can you please do a follow up on this story.

    Many thanks for trying to keep them honest.

    July 1, 2009 at 5:57 pm |
  5. Wynette

    Things I have learned in all my years.
    1. Two sides to every coin
    2. Those that speak first normally have something to hide.
    3. Never speak unless you can back up what you're saying
    4. BS doesn't go very far when the truth comes out.
    5. And everyone knows if you set ten people in a room and whisper something to the first person and they wisper it to the seond person and so on until you get to number ten. Tenth person will not say what the first person was told.

    June 30, 2009 at 11:36 pm |
  6. Whit

    Anybody know if the sheriffs office is hiring in Kimble county, they look like a hard working bunch to me. If you do not like the job they are doing then go to school and then you do the job.

    June 29, 2009 at 1:17 pm |
  7. will never return

    Kimble county is a horrible place. The town is filled with dirty dirty crooked people in all corners. I know there is so much FBI would find if they would just go looking...

    June 24, 2009 at 6:10 pm |
  8. Life in Juction

    ……..am I surprised? NO! Sutton should of said voldka is expensive, not a hamburger and drink! Six thousand dollar bar tab is where the money was spent. I have found that these “cops” are the people who speed and break the law at every chance. The salaries are so low they have to be doing this thankless job for some reason. POWER! They have the means to be rude, rough and use the power to treat others poorly. I want to respect these individuals but some days it is real difficult. They feel they are superior of all others. However, these guys should be model citizens. I could site enough examples to fill a large space. I wonder what happened to a past sheriff and wife who both died under strange circumstanced and within days. The wife was found naked in her yard and the sheriff “killed himself”. However, they were buried as man and wife and with a joint funeral service. Isn’t that fishy? I think the drug business has provided many public servants with many nice things- trips, cars, homes………..I am sorry for this mess but hope it gets taken care of and not just buried with a “joint funeral”.

    June 22, 2009 at 3:36 pm |
  9. Hazel G,

    I have lived in Junction my entire life and everyone knows everything that goes on in town.. This is all crap and if anyone thinks that our small town is the only one with supposed crooked cops then maybe you should go visit some bigger cities... i personally know just about every single one of the officers, deputies and dps officers and not a damn one of them would do this kind of crap...also, I have worked for the D.A. office in Junction and I never saw anything like what ya'll are trying to put over on them... These are really good people and I refuse to believe that Ron Sutton, a man who has done more than his share to help our community, would steal from the county... If you wanna dig up some dirt on people try doing it on people that are actually doing something wrong... I stand behind our DA, police and sheriff offices 100 percent...

    June 22, 2009 at 9:04 am |
  10. Brian

    I dont see any coverage of Mr Walpin, the IG who was fired! Is this supposed to be a secret??

    June 18, 2009 at 12:49 pm |
  11. carlos teran

    Those are just the fools who made it so blatant they got caught, but there are much worse crooks. If Trial by jury had never been tampered with there wouldn't be a story cause they would have been in jail a long time ago.

    June 17, 2009 at 11:05 am |
  12. Junction Guy

    Joanna... The feds aren't on this because the local feds out of San Antonio are very close with the former DA and Sherriff. Upon announcing their retirements, the local paper published letters from many of them praising their works, etc.

    The newly "appointed" sheriff is the son-in-law of a family who has been running things around there for a very long time. In fact, it was one of their family members who several years ago planted a bomb in a local restaurant the family was constructing and blew up. While the kid did not serve prison time, he was found dead of an apparent suicide. I knew the kid, he was into drugs and wanted to come forward and announce corruption. The newly “appointed” county judge is the grandson or great grandson of former governor Coke Stevenson. His position is clearly a stepping stone to a future in politics but doubtful he will have any ability to control.

    There is a former deputy who was forced to resign once the newly appointed sheriff took over. He even placed a small blurb in the local paper about the incident. One would bet he has many stories.

    So many stories for such a small town. It's a shame none of these people will ever be held accountable, such a shame.

    June 16, 2009 at 1:23 pm |
  13. Junction Guy

    Too bad they didn't dig deeper. The former sherrif ended up leaving office a virtual millionare. He had started a construction business and purchased his own equipment well into the hundreds of thousands all on a sherrif's salary? He claims he has private investors. His entry into office several years ago was a result of the sherrif at the time supposedly commiting suicide. Guess who was the deputy at the time. There have been several "suicides" around town in the past that just didn't make sense but each one of them had drug connections.

    Sutton is an arrogant sob as you saw in the video. He has been untouchable all these years and his successor to the DA's office is his hand picked boy so rest assured, nothing at all will change.

    It's well known that for every drug and cash siezure made public, 10 go unannounced. Don't depend on the Rangers to investigate, tried it and they are in the pockets as well.

    CNN, don't allow this to rest. Keep digging but becareful as those who dig end up having something bad happen. Don't venture down there alone.

    NAACP? You out there?

    June 16, 2009 at 10:06 am |
  14. Diane

    Soooo sad .. Cash $6,000(?) God help us all

    June 12, 2009 at 9:07 pm |
  15. Philoan Tran - Houston

    Great work Mr. Tuchman! But it is not very surprising to hear about this type of corruption in small Texas towns – I just hope that the justice dept will now investigate these towns and indict all of these corrupted officials.

    June 12, 2009 at 7:59 pm |
  16. Jim

    Why Does not the Texas Governor Call A Special session & Force them to pass the Law? or is the Governor on the take too?Every last one of those Cops/Crooks should be arrested, tryed & when convicted sent to jail like every other crook.

    June 12, 2009 at 7:57 pm |
  17. Joanna

    I want to know why our federal attorneys aren't on this stuff like a hot potato. I want to know why the attorney general isn't investigating this stuff. These are obviously crooked cops and dist attorneys. They need to be put in federal pen.

    June 12, 2009 at 7:55 pm |
  18. Annie Kate

    I know on the Interstate 75 between Knoxville and Chattanooga people with out of state tags are more often stopped for speeding than locals are – I think the theory is that you won't fight the speeding ticket fine because you would have to come back in person and its cheaper to pay the fine. So for a lot of years the police have been overzealous in stopping speeding out of state cars and letting locals drive fast. I think if you are speeding – local or out of state – you should be stopped. At least these cops are just going for the speeding ticket fines and aren"t as far as I know confiscating property.

    June 12, 2009 at 7:53 pm |
  19. Rose from Muscoy, Calif

    Why are so many good cops turn into bad cops? Not enough pay or good benefits? Or some of them thinks they are above the law.

    June 12, 2009 at 7:51 pm |
  20. Prabhat

    Cannot belive that this kind of corruption is happenning right in the United States and that too in this 21st century!!!!
    Didn't the Texan governor talk about seceding from the union, then go ahead and join Mexico.. US image would be lot better, than having to live with you corrupt law enforcement officers, DAs and judges.

    June 12, 2009 at 6:58 pm |
  21. MN

    If should come to Minnesota our police are the worst. The Metro Gang Force is already in trouble for stealing cars and money along with shredding papers.

    June 12, 2009 at 6:13 pm |
  22. Earl Allen Boek

    This money tree, police grab bag, is going on all over the nation. Locally they at least post the forfeitures in the legal section of our papers. I guess what they do with it afterwords is party party party...Hey why not?
    They're the law right?

    Thanks for the report on this.

    June 12, 2009 at 6:04 pm |
  23. Paul Hodge

    I've been driving for 48 years and I've never had an issue with any type of law enforcement. I've lived in California all of that time so I wonder if it's just small town, country type officials or is it profiling at its worst?

    June 12, 2009 at 6:01 pm |
  24. Jean Walsh

    Mr. Cooper, please check out Junction City, Kansas. This town will stop you if you have an out-of-state plate, and steal everything they can from you. Crooked cops, crooked prosecutors, and the judges must be too since they allow it. Don't drive thru Kansas on I-70, which is unfortunately the main highway to cross the state. Robbery with a badge.

    June 12, 2009 at 5:46 pm |
  25. rick de luna

    The State of Texas is pretty messy, its the men in Blue and a Badge that are a disgrace to the rest of law enforcement, they will continue to get away with it, its a 100 year tradition in Texas.

    June 12, 2009 at 5:39 pm |
  26. jenn

    I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the news lastnight, I didn't know whether to jump up and down or feel really sorry for the da and the law enforcement because it was just a matter of time before someone else besides the residents found out what was going on here in Kimble County... I hope that justice is served and that we can go on living our lives not having to worry about being harrassed and threatened. I hipe that whom ever is investigating this brings justice to all..

    June 12, 2009 at 5:37 pm |
  27. Tonda Perez

    I was born in Kimble County and have witnessed first hand the illegal and crookedness that the law emforcement has bestowed upon my children and I think that it is wrong and they shouldn't get away with it..They target certain families and people and it shouldn't keep going on, and justice should prevail.

    June 12, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  28. a citzien

    I live in Kimble county,Junction Texas for 25 years the cops in this town are the worst i can remember several accusations where the cops in this town bust people from the interstate and get drugs,money and among several other things and when it come's out in the paper saying they arrested them for 20 pounds of drugs when the person they busted said they had 40 pounds not 20. I think this has been going on for as long as i can remember.

    June 12, 2009 at 5:21 pm |
  29. cd

    i think you are a little one sided.

    June 12, 2009 at 4:30 pm |
  30. Zamarie Triana

    Dear Mr. Cooper,

    I am a native Texan, and I have been stopped by many a cop, many a time. But I have never encountered such money-grubbing cops as those found in Pullman, WA, where I am currently working toward my doctorate.
    If you are looking for a county to report on, take a look at Whitman County.

    Z. Triana

    June 12, 2009 at 3:36 pm |
  31. abuseofpower

    This sounds to me like or organize crime with a badge. Those cops, d.a.s, and judges should have their valuables taken away and locked up.

    June 12, 2009 at 3:08 pm |
  32. Knows Junction well....

    See if any relevant open records request have been submitted to that office...and if they were refused.

    June 12, 2009 at 3:03 pm |
  33. Michael

    You would find an interesting law enforcement and punishment system in Lansing Michigan, the capital of a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. A statistic I heard was that the number of law enforcement representation per capita is also one of the highest in the nation.

    The capture, judgment, and incarceration for the various alleged violations of the law has a hair-trigger.

    The interesting issue is that in reviewing the jail review committee's notes, there is documentation that attempts should be made to reduce the incarceration rates for non-violent offenders. Circa 2001 the jail was laying off guards, currently there are so many jail admissions for such crimes as "Failure To Pay Child Support" has overpopulated the jail so much that the facility is constantly overcrowded, inmates don't receive basic self-care items, inmates routinely have no beds such that they have to sleep on the floor in overcrowded dorms, with soap, toilet paper, and chronic doctor-prescribed medications rationed.

    There is also a prevailing "oops-factor" where the prosecutors fudge their "facts", while the judges complement the prosecution by accepting the "facts" without proofs, and the jails end up benefiting by housing inmates for no legitimate reason. The dirty little secret is that no one corrects the problem because the issue involves individuals labeled as "Deadbeat Parents" and the beneficiaries are the poor moms and children from which the support is being withheld. This is with a state-wide background where prisons are being closed because of lack of state funding. Someone please fix the continuity disconnect button.

    June 12, 2009 at 2:32 pm |

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