Mimesis Law
24 May 2017

Follow Up: The Arrest of Avi Adelman in Dallas

August 26, 2016 (Fault Lines) – Back on February 9, 2016, Avi Adelman was falsely arrested by the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police because he was taking photographs of Dallas firefighters treating a K2 overdose at a bus stop in downtown Dallas. I wrote about the arrest here, and how the arrest was crap. Adelman commented on the column, and I’ve kept in contact with him, intending to follow up on the story.

You see, Adelman filed an Internal Affairs complaint, and as the original story showed, the DART PD chief, James Spiller, was throwing the officer, Stephanie Branch, under the bus, so to speak. Within a week of the arrest, Spiller ordered officer Roy Wilt to conduct the investigation.

At the conclusion of the investigation, Wilt found that Branch had:

  • Engaged in conduct that was illegal or would reflect negatively on DART, by making an arrest without probable cause when Adelman was taking photographs in public, and within DART policy.
  • Effected an arrest without probable cause that Adelman had committed a criminal offense.
  • Was derelict in her duties when she mistakenly believed that Adelman’s photography was prohibited both by DART policy and HIPPA law.
  • Made a false arrest.
  • Falsified an official police report, by placing improper and incorrect information in the report.
  • Violated the DART photography policy, by falsely arresting Adelman when he was in fact in compliance with the policy.

That’s not the coup de grace, however. Branch’s interaction with Adelman was audio recorded, and the statements that she gave to the investigator did not match with that recording. In one of the IA report documents, it repeatedly brings this up, stating:

This statement has been denied by [Dallas Fire Rescue (DFR)] personnel and by Officers Craig and Cannon. This statement is not heard or viewed on any video or audio recordings taken from the scene.

In other words, Branch lied. At numerous places on the report, all of them dealing with different issues, the following statement appeared:

This statement is not heard or viewed on any video or audio recordings taken from the scene and is not accurate.

The investigator identified twenty-three instances where Branch put inaccurate or plainly false information in her report. She put words in Adelman’s mouth that he did not say. She put words in the mouths of the firefighters and paramedics they did not say. She said that she gave Adelman warnings that the recordings show she never gave, and claimed that she made statements to him that she never made.

A local news station, WFAA, said that Branch just made it up. They are right, she did just make it up.

I contacted DART and asked for a comment on this matter for the story. DART Assistant Vice President for External Relations, Morgan Lyons, replied:

Thanks for your email. We have no comment for your column on this matter.

I had asked several questions that were relevant to the issues at hand, specifically:

  • What disciplinary action was taken, if any, against Ofc. Branch?
  • What training, memorandum, or roll-call instructions have been given to officers on how to deal with photographers in the future?
  • It appears that the IA investigation is stating that Ofc. Branch was either not truthful or not accurate in her report on the matter, which creates another issue. Was the Dallas County Criminal District Attorney advised of this fact, so that they could place Ofc. Branch on their Brady list?
  • Will that affect her ability to testify in criminal cases filed by DART police?

None of these questions have been answered, but as WFAA reported, Branch is still employed as an officer by DART. Presumably she could still be on the street, making arrests, putting people in jail, and then filing out a report of what she claims happened. Only now, her credibility is totally shot, and nothing she reports will be viewed as being credible.

It the District Attorney is notified, they will have to notify every defense attorney on every case in which Branch is a witness. And it doesn’t stop in Dallas, as the DART jurisdiction also includes Collin County, Denton County, Ellis County, Kaufman County, Rockwall County, and Tarrant County, so those DAs would have to be notified also.

This isn’t good for DART, it’s not good for the police, and it’s not good for the public. It’s not transparent enough, and the public really has a right to know that their employees uphold the public trust.

Most DART officers are good. An old co-worker of mine is a sergeant with DART, and I cannot think of a finer officer—his integrity is beyond question for me. Most DART officers would never think about making stuff like this up, or flat out lying, and based on my past experience, most will be rightfully upset with Branch. They know that you cannot tolerate a police officer whose veracity is in question.

It’s over six months since Branch falsely arrested Adelman, yet she is still employed by DART. It’s time for this to move forward.

10 Comments on this post.

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  • DaveL
    26 August 2016 at 9:44 am - Reply

    Violated the DART photography police

    Well, that was an interesting mental image.

  • angrychiatty
    26 August 2016 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    I am constantly reading stories and viewing video of police officers telling citizens to “move” and/or “stop filming” because such is “distracting” them from their duties. I had no idea the attention span of the average cop was so goddamn fragile or that they were so easily distracted.

    • RyanP
      27 August 2016 at 5:37 pm - Reply

      And that it’s somehow only distracting if someone is filming. The same guy just standing there? Not distracting at all.

  • RyanP
    27 August 2016 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    Filing the false report and lying to investigators in the course of the investigation are both crimes themselves. At the very least, the DART officer is potentially guilty of at least Class B Misdemeanor and possibly a felony (Texas Penal Code: Sec. 37:08 or Sec. 37-10).

    I know the D.A. has been in mental health treatment for most of her term, but surely somebody could take the time to present the charges to a grand jury and then recuse the entire office from the case (like with DPD Officers Amy Wilburn and Cardan Spencer).

    • Greg Prickett
      27 August 2016 at 8:55 pm - Reply

      Tex. Pen. Code 37.08, False Report to a Peace Officer does not apply, her falsified report wasn’t made to another peace officer. Any false statements that she made to the IA investigator was not in regards to a criminal investigation, plus she’s covered by the Garrity warning. Conceivably you could make a case for 37.10, Tampering with a Governmental Record, but I’ve never seen it used in this type of situation.

      Were there to be a prosecution, you are much more likely to see one for Official Oppression, 39.03, since that is the offense that is designed to handle this type of situation. You’re not going to see it in this case.

      Garrity still is an issue that is going to have a good deal of the evidence tossed, and would likely prevent successful prosecution.

    • RyanP
      29 August 2016 at 10:08 pm - Reply

      Tampering with a Governmental Record was one of the things the Court of Inquiry in the Ken Anderson/Michael Morton case went with, though that was obviously not handled like a normal prosecution/trial.

      • Greg Prickett
        29 August 2016 at 10:39 pm - Reply

        That’s incorrect. Judge Sterns found Anderson had to show cause on criminal contempt of court. The statute of limitations on all other, traditional penal code offenses had run. And, yes, I’m familiar with the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law issued in the case, which noted the statute of limitations issue as an affirmative defense, one which Anderson would have prevailed on.

        The only conviction coming out of the Court of Inquiry was for criminal contempt by Anderson.

        P.S. I interned for Judge Sterns staff attorney and we discussed the case at length during my time in that office. I don’t know what was discussed with Judge Sterns, but he is way too smart to have missed that defense.

  • DaveL
    28 August 2016 at 4:26 am - Reply

    I’m pretty sure false statements aren’t covered by Garrity since US v. Veal .

    • Greg Prickett
      28 August 2016 at 10:23 am - Reply

      A check of Veal shows negative history in the 11th Circuit, plus there is no comparable opinion in the 5th Circuit. Plus, Branch did not lie to a federal investigator, which was the crime involved in Veal.

  • DaveL
    30 August 2016 at 7:02 am - Reply

    True, there’s no binding precedent, but several other circuits (2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th) have reached similar conclusions that Garrity does not protect false statements, and to my knowledge none have disagreed. It may not be established law but it is a strong indication of how the 5th Circuit would likely rule on any motion to exclude based on Garrity.