Lost in Transition
Did Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins' office cut a break for one of his friends? That's what one of his own prosecutors suggested in a secretly recorded phone call.
Last week, Gary Perkins, a captain in the DeSoto Police Department, wanted to know why the District Attorney's Office dropped misdemeanor charges against former Dallas police officer Deanna Hammond, who had lied to one of his officers in a criminal case. So Perkins cued his tape recorder and called Brandon Birmingham, the prosecutor on the case. After he hemmed and hawed, Birmingham explained why he dropped the charges.
"It was communicated to me by a member of the transition team at the DA's office that she lost her job and maybe they wanted the case dismissed," he said.
Who was it who called?
"It was a member of the transition team," Birmingham repeated.
Interestingly, Hammond's lawyer just happens to be Anthony Lyons, who served on -- wait for it -- Watkins' transition team. The District Attorney's Office says that Lyons is the one who called the prosecutor, but merely as a defense attorney just doing his job and not as a confidante to the new district attorney exploiting his pull.
"In no way shape or form was anything done that was inappropriate," says Trista Allen, the spokesperson for Watkins. She says the district attorney knew nothing about this case until it we brought it to his attention.
Allen says that Birmingham referred to Lyons as a member of the transition team merely to highlight the attorney's credibility -- and not as an admission that he was placed under any kind of pressure.
In March 2006, Hammond gave the DeSoto officer a wrong name and number for both her and her son after the officer asked if they each could serve as witnesses in an attack involving a juvenile. Perkins reported her to the Dallas Police Department, who opened up an internal affairs investigation into Hammond's behavior. The officer soon left the DPD under pressure.
Even though Hammond would later write a letter of apology to Perkins, the department filed charges against her for making a false report to a peace officer, a Class B misdemeanor.
Last week, when Perkins discovered the District Attorney's Office dismissed the charge against Hammond, he suspected that politics played a role. Not only did the officer's attorney, Lyons, serve on Watkins transition team, he also helped deliver termination notices to some of the office's top prosecutors, according to a story in The Dallas Morning News. So that's why Perkins decided to tape his call with the young prosecutor.
"I wasn't surprised," Perkins says about Birmingham's comments. "I was expecting something like that answer after learning that her attorney has a relationship with the new DA."
Allen, however, insists that Lyons' status on the Watkins transition team had nothing to do with how the case was handled. Instead, she said, the prosecutor figured it would not be a good use of the office's time to pursue a case where the defendant had already been punished, in this case by being fired by the Dallas Police Department.
"In January we had 6,600 misdemeanors," Allen says. "Last year we had 75,000. We have to move cases, and if someone no longer has a job and no longer has their livelihood, what more needs to happen?" --Matt Pulle
Bonus MP3: Gary Perkins calls Brandon Birmingham.