Paige Flink comments on discovey by Dallas police of hundreds more unworked family violence cases

by Emily Roberts | Aug 20, 2013

Dallas police find hundreds more unworked family violence cases

August 19, 2013
by Tanya Eiserer
The Dallas Morning News


Photo Credit: The Dallas Morning News - File 2011

Sheranda Hodge woke up to hear her boyfriend screaming as he kicked, choked and beat her.

After an overnight hospital stay, Hodge told Detective Shawn Wash that she wanted Alvin Simon prosecuted. Hodge heard nothing for nearly three years.

Now she knows why: Her case was one of 646 cases that Wash failed to properly investigate when they were assigned to him while he was a family violence detective, according to an internal police audit obtained by The Dallas Morning News. An audit found that another investigator, Detective Durman Johnson, didn’t properly investigate more than 100 family violence cases.

“I thought it was being taken care of,” Hodge said. “I didn’t know it was being ignored.”

The hundreds of unworked offenses, mostly from the latter part of the last decade through 2011, ranged from dozens of simple misdemeanor assaults to stalking cases and felony child abuse or sexual assault cases.

The unworked cases represent additional evidence of widespread problems with the Police Department’s family violence unit. Since an embarrassing incident in late 2009 where thousands of cases were discovered in another detective’s garage, the department has improved supervision of investigators, implemented an automated case-tracking system last year and increased the number of detectives.

Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place Shelter, said she’s confident that police now have the right leadership and reforms in place to prevent something similar from occurring again. But the discovery that hundreds more pleas for help from victims went unheeded because of the two detectives is disheartening, she said.

“I’m almost speechless that people who thought the police were going to help them didn’t get help,” Flink said.

After more than a year, internal affairs investigations into Wash and Johnson were recently completed. It is unclear what discipline, if any, they will receive. Wash is assigned to the property room and did not return a request for comment. Johnson declined to comment. He is answering phones in the crimes against persons division.

Many of Wash and Johnson’s mishandled cases are from the same era in which Detective Mickey East failed to properly pursue thousands of cases. East retired in February 2012 after a 2½-year investigation. He said he took the cases home when he was overwhelmed by the workload.

Police officials say Wash and Johnson exhibited many of the same tendencies as East, such as repeatedly failing to properly document what they did and did not do on their cases.

“There’s not a whole lot that they can do that we can’t catch them on now,” said Deputy Chief Sherryl Scott. “It’s all about making sure that our domestic violence victims are getting the service that they need from our detectives.”

As the department moved to improve the family violence unit after the East investigation, authorities began to check to make sure other detectives had been properly pursuing cases and archiving their files.

“We looked in a room that was supposed to be empty because it was an interview room, and that’s where we found some boxes that didn’t belong in there,” Scott said.

The numerous boxes found in March 2012 in a police interview room at Jack Evans Police Headquarters contained cases assigned to Johnson and Wash.

Officials audited 765 cases assigned to Johnson, according to police records. They found more than 100 cases from 2007 to 2011 had not been worked.

They reviewed 970 cases assigned to Wash. The auditors found 646 cases spanning from 2007 to 2011 that had not been worked.

In January 2012, the same month that Sgt. Rene Sigala, a family violence supervisor, met with Wash to outline a litany of problems with his cases, Wash closed 100 cases from 2009, saying the victims had refused to cooperate or he couldn’t reach them.

When counseling Wash at that time, Sigala noted that Wash wasn’t properly filing paperwork, repeatedly had errors in his reports and was behind on documenting what he’d done on cases.

Wash said he was “overworked and that he had fallen behind due to caseloads and not enough detectives in the unit.”

Both Wash and Johnson earned plenty of overtime during the years that the cases were assigned to them. The audits show Johnson earned about $15,000 in overtime for work in 2009 and 2010. Wash was paid about $15,000 for 330.9 hours of overtime in 2009. He made more than $7,500 in overtime in 2010.

All of the cases Johnson should have investigated were assigned to other detectives.

But out of Wash’s 646 unworked cases, hundreds were now too old to be prosecuted. The statute of limitations, two years for misdemeanors, had expired.

At least 148 of Wash’s cases were within the statute of limitations and were assigned to another investigator.

Police have not said how many of the cases were eventually filed with the district attorney’s office, but records indicate that detectives could not reach victims in many of the cases or that victims refused to cooperate.

It is also unclear how many of the victims were revictimized by the same attackers after their cases were mishandled. As part of the East investigation, a review found hundreds of family violence victims had been revictimized by the same attackers.

When another detective contacted her in 2012, Hodge was more than willing to prosecute Simon.

According to police records, Hodge awoke to find Simon jumping on the bed and screaming, “Allah Akbar,” on Dec. 17, 2009. Hodge fled into the bathroom. He kicked open the door. He kicked, punched, choked and bit her.

“He said, ‘I’m going to kill you. I have to kill you because I’m not going to go back to jail,’” Hodge said.

She fled, and a neighbor called 911.

A detective assigned to work Wash’s cases filed the criminal case against Simon in August 2012. He was sentenced to five years in prison in November.

The seriousness of what happened to her hit home recently for Hodge when her best friend, Demetrious Matthews, was murdered. Police say her boyfriend, Patrick Adger, ran her down and dumped her in the woods in late April.

“It just like poured salt into this wound,” Hodge said. “That could have happened to me.”