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FORT WORTH -- Fort Worth Police Chief Ralph Mendoza has fired two officers accused of separate crimes -- one of spanking a detained woman and the other of inappropriately touching a fellow officer's daughter -- before their cases have gone to trial.
Typically, the chief only suspends officers charged with criminal offenses after the cases are resolved. But Lt. Dean Sullivan, a police spokesman, said Mendoza made the decision to fire officers Craig Murrah and David Babb based on the merits of both cases.
"It is something that's entirely within the chief of police's discretion," Sullivan said. "In these two particular cases ... there is sufficient information to substantiate the allegations, and there's evident misconduct."
Both officers have appealed their terminations.
Richard Carter and Craig Driskell, attorneys with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas who are representing the fired officers' appeals, were troubled by the chief's decision.
"The perception of the officer is 'there's just one more thing I have to explain in the criminal trial,'" said Carter, who is representing Murrah. "'Gee, the department head not only thinks I did it, he doesn't care what the jurors think. He wants them to think I'm guilty.' It makes the job a little more difficult for the criminal defense attorney."
Driskell, who is representing Babb, agreed that the termination could have an impact on his client getting a fair trial.
"So much for the notion of 'innocent until proven guilty,'" Driskell said. "What worries me is that jurors might confuse the administrative act of firing an officer as some proof of guilt. I worry that a juror might be thinking, 'Well, if Chief Mendoza fired the officer, then the officers must be good for the crime.'"
Accusations against Babb
Investigators have said that Babb, who joined the department in August 2006, was at a gathering at the home of a fellow officer on June 12 and had stayed the night because he was too intoxicated to drive.
The 9-year-old daughter of the homeowners told her parents the next morning that Babb, 22, had come into her room in the night and touched her arm and genital area outside her clothing.
The girl's 12-year-old sister also told authorities that Babb had come into her room that night and touched her back, hair and arm.
According to the letter filed with the Civil Service Commission, Babb told investigators that he was heavily intoxicated and did not recall going into either girls’ bedrooms or touching the girls.
"It's possible," the letter quotes him as telling a sergeant. "... I was the only one up there."
Babb also told the sergeant that he did not believe the victims were being untruthful, stating "They have no reason to be," the letter states.
In a meeting with Mendoza prior to his termination, Babb denied any inappropriate conduct with the girls, the letter states.
"That's not something I would do sober, so I don't think I would do it drunk. I did not do it," Babb states in the letter, adding "I know my character."
Mendoza wrote that the denial was based on Babb's perception of his character not because he recalls the incident. He said he believes the preponderance of the evidence showed Babb committed indecency with a child.
Babb was indicted by a Tarrant County grand jury in September on a charge of indecency with a child/fondling.
Accusations against Murrah
Murrah's alleged misconduct occurred early June 22 after he discovered a woman and her male partner having sex in a car parked in a public park at 900 Oakhurst Scenic Drive.
According to the letter filed with the Civil Service Commission, the woman had jumped into the front seat, still nude, after her partner saw the approaching police car. Before she could put her clothes on, Murrah approached and ordered the woman from the car, placing her into the back seat of his patrol car.
The woman, who put a shirt around her waist, said she was told by Murrah that she could be arrested for having sex in the park and that her partner had warrants.
"Officer Murrah asked the complainant, 'Do you want to learn your lesson now or do you want to go to jail?'"
The woman said Murrah then removed her from his car and asked if she had learned her lesson. When she replied yes and that she would not do it again, he told her that he did not believe her. He then placed one of her hands behind her back. When she placed her other hand behind her back to comply, the shirt around her waist fell to the ground, the letter states.
Murrah then ordered her to bend over and spanked her buttocks four to five times, the letter stated.
When the woman began yelling and crying, she said Murrah called her a "drama queen" and released her. The woman ran back to the car and alerted her male partner, who called 911 to report what had happened.
According to the letter, Murrah initially told a sergeant that he had encountered the couple during a traffic stop on Northside Drive. He denied any contact with them in the park or that the couple was nude.
However, in a written statement on Aug. 15, Murrah added to his account, saying that the woman, eager to prevent her and her partner from going to jail, had offered Murrah sex.
"I was even angrier and said I should slap her for saying that," Murrah wrote, according to the letter. He concluded, "I slapped her on the backside several times. I then told her that she needed to stay out of trouble and told her to go home."
In a subsequent interview, Murrah stated he wasn't initially truthful about encountering the couple in the park because he "wasn't emotionally or mentally stable at the time, and wasn't thinking rationally."
"Officer Murrah went on to state [that] he has been on the edge and wants to be physical with people while at work," Mendoza wrote. "Such remarks lead me to believe Officer Murrah's frame of mind may preclude him from satisfactorily performing his duties as a peace officer."
Regarding the allegations made against his client in the letter, Carter said, "I learned long ago that there's a lot more to every case than is necessary in the suspension letter. And so, obviously, this is going to be a case that's going to take a little time and going to be involved, but we trust the system."
Wes Ball, Murrah's defense attorney, said that if a grand jury chooses to indict Murrah, "we'll plead not guilty and have our day in trial."
Fort Worth police reports obtained by the Star-Telegram show that before becoming a police officer in February 2002, Murrah had worked as a teacher and coach at Wedgwood Middle School, where he was accused in 1995 of inappropriately touching two students.
According to the reports, one of the girls told police that Murrah had grabbed her buttocks and, on another occasion, her breast. A second student told investigators that Murrah had patted her on the rear three or four times and made inappropriate comments to her about her appearance.
Murrah denied the alleged conduct. The reports say he acknowledged that he may have called one of the girls "sweetheart," but said that was the way he was raised and he didn't mean anything by it.
Police issued Murrah two citations for assault by contact, a Class C misdemeanor, but the tickets were later dismissed.
The school district suspended Murrah without pay in November 1995 and he resigned in July 1996. Sullivan said police were aware of the citations and their dismissal when Murrah applied at the police department in 2001.
"He was truthful. He did disclose this interaction with the criminal justice process," Sullivan said. "It was investigated. It was found those citations were dismissed some time later and so, with the truthfulness of the disclosure weighed with the fact [that] they were dismissed, you have to recognize a person is innocent until proven guilty.
"In retrospect ... it's evident that there is some character flaw there and the citations and conduct were not consistent with the caliber and character of people we employee as Fort Worth police officers."
Monday, December 24, 2007
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A judge has sentenced a former MPD officer, convicted of raping a 15 year-old girl, to 20 years in prison.
Roy Shotwell was found guilty of two counts of rape and one count of sexual battery on Monday, for the rape of a minor. The rapes happened over a period of two and a half years.
Shotwell was fired from the Memphis Police Department last April after an administrative hearing.