09:11 AM CDT on Saturday, October 24, 2009
By SCOTT GOLDSTEIN / The Dallas Morning News
Editor's note: Comments have been disabled on this story.
Dallas police wrongly ticketed at least 39 drivers for not speaking English over the last three years, Police Chief David Kunkle announced Friday while promising to investigate all officers involved in the cases for dereliction of duty.
Pending cases will be dismissed, and those who paid the $204 fine for the charge, which does not exist in the city, will be reimbursed, Kunkle said.
"I was surprised and stunned that that would happen, particularly in the city of Dallas," Kunkle said. "In my world, you would never tell someone not to speak Spanish."
The citations were issued in several different patrol divisions by at least six different officers. One of those officers was responsible for five of the citations, Kunkle said.
The case that led to the discovery of all the others occurred Oct. 2, when Ernestina Mondragon was stopped for making an illegal U-turn in the White Rock area. Rookie Officer Gary Bromley cited Mondragon for three violations: disregarding a traffic control device, failure to present a driver's license and "non-English speaking driver."
In that case and perhaps the others, officials said, the officer was confused by a pull-down menu on his in-car computer that listed the charge as an option. But the law the computer referred to is a federal statute regarding commercial drivers that Kunkle said his department does not enforce.
Bromley, 33, is a trainee officer in the northeast patrol division, meaning he still works with a training officer during every shift. His training officer on that day was Senior Cpl. Daniel Larkin, 53.
According to department policy, a sergeant must also sign off on all citations. The supervisor who signed off on the Mondragon ticket was Sgt. David Burroughs, 50.
"In this case, the field training officer was aware of ultimately what the recruit officer had done," Kunkle said. "The field training officer is going to bear more responsibility than the recruit officer."
Mondragon, a native Spanish speaker, challenged the charge in court and it was dropped, her daughter said. Dallas police said they will drop all charges against Mondragon, who speaks limited English and does have a Texas driver's license.
Police officials did not release the names of the officers and supervisors involved in the other cases. Kunkle said he expected the investigation to last at least a few weeks and could reach back several years.
"An officer has to know the elements of an offense or what's necessary to constitute a crime," Kunkle said. "In this case it appears that officers did not understand."
It is unclear whether the erroneous tickets were reported by the courts. Administrative Judge C. Victor Lander said Friday afternoon that he would be surprised if such charges got past a judge. He said he would conduct a review.
"If there are any outstanding warrants as a result of these kinds of cases that have been inadvertently written, I'm going to direct that they be immediately held," Lander said. "If there are any cases in the prosecutorial pipeline, I'm going to request the city attorney to hold the case."
The citations amount to a small percentage of the roughly 400,000 tickets issued by Dallas police each year. But the total is large enough to have possible legal ramifications, said George A. Martinez, a professor at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.
"It sounds like a policy," Martinez said. "Discrimination on the basis of language ability, and that's targeting Latinos, and so that sounds pretty serious to me."
Attorney Domingo Garcia said he has been hired to represent the Mondragon family.
"The issue has nothing to do with whether people should learn English or not. I believe they should," Garcia said. "It's about not following the law and issuing citations against a law that doesn't exist, against a fairly voiceless and helpless population."
Beyond potential legal problems, some said the tickets send a troubling message to Hispanics.
"It's the principle of the matter that there are police officers out there representing our city who actually think that it's a crime not to speak English," said Brenda Reyes, a political consultant and member of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Kunkle, who apologized repeatedly, said he recognized the incidents probably would damage the department's relationship with the Hispanic community.
"When we deal with crime victims ... our interest is not their immigration status," Kunkle said. "It's not something that we concern ourselves about. We want to serve all people."
MY WORDS: SCREW THE HISPANICS, LOL