It's been almost three months since Police Chief U. Renee Hall abruptly disbanded the vice unit and ordered an outside review.
In the fallout, Hall demoted two chiefs, Deputy Chief Gil Garza and his boss, Assistant Chief Gary Tittle, saying they'd failed to implement reforms recommended by an audit.
“There were no changes made,” she told WFAA in a Dec. 1 interview. “And I gave each of the individuals an opportunity to produce to me those changes.”
A Nov. 21 memo obtained by WFAA through an open records request outlines Garza’s version of events. The seven-page memo details how he tried to reform the troubled vice unit and the roadblocks he encountered from above. It directly disputes Hall's contention that no changes were made to fix the problems of the vice unit.
“Gil's job when he got transferred there was to find out what's wrong in vice, and that was his job and that's exactly what he did,” said his attorney, Jane Bishkin. “[He] made the changes that he could make…and those he wasn’t authorized to make, he took to his chain of command who failed to make those changes.”
The memo was released over the objections of the police department. The Attorney General’s Office ordered its release.
In an email this week, Hall said there is "no timeframe for conclusion" of the outside assessment. The email said the internal affairs investigation is ongoing.
“There has been no timeline set on when or if the Vice Unit will be reinstated,” she wrote.
The memo, written in chronological order, starts in September 2016 when Garza is transferred from the internal affairs division to the narcotics division, which includes the vice unit. Garza ordered a “change of command inventory” and would quickly become concerned about the vice unit.
"Oversight was limited, and the unit was rife with compliance issues,” he writes.
The concerns related to undercover gambling operations and sloppy documentation of the money used in those operations.
In early December 2016, he decided to bring in the narcotics compliance supervisor to take over reviews of the vice unit. Her initial audit, which she reported to commanders in early February 2017, found a “multitude of discrepancies,” the memo said.
Garza wrote that he then brought the “discrepancies” to the attention of then-second in command, Cynthia Villarreal, on Feb. 10. It was then that they learned that one of the vice detectives was already under public integrity investigation involving a separate matter. He said they would not disclose to him the nature of that investigation.
Meanwhile, the compliance sergeant had found a “multitude of problems with the expenditure reporting” of that same detective. An unannounced cash audit found she “mishandled her funds,” according to the memo.
In late February, Major Paul Junger, who was filling in for Garza, and Lt. Scott Hart, requested that Villarreal put the detective on restricted duty, a request Garza said Villareal denied. Garza writes that Villareal wanted a review of all vice unit personnel.
A decision was made to audit each detective and to create an audit team of sergeants, the memo said. At the behest of the compliance sergeant, the vice unit’s money was pulled and reissued after training was conducted to “address the immediate concerns of the expenditure review.”
By early March, commanders decided to move away from reviewing expense reports for individual detectives due to the “lack of documentation,” the memo said. The team then began reviewing all of the warrants for a year to determine if the reporting requirements were being followed.
That same month, the audit team made 20-plus recommendations, including that seized money be counted in the property room rather than in the field and that commanders ensure that detectives follow a policy to turn in expense reports within 24 hours.
Later that month, Garza writes that he requested to “move the sergeants for the multitude of deficiencies and replace them to begin implementing the changes recommended by the audit team.” He said Villarreal denied the request, “choosing to wait on the results of” criminal and administrative investigations.
Villarreal has previously told WFAA that no requests to move the sergeants were ever made to her.
In early April, according to the memo, Garza met with Pughes and informed him of his “frustration with not moving the sergeants to implement changes.” He said Pughes told him he would talk to Villarreal about it.
Pughes declined to comment to WFAA, citing the expectation that Garza will be suing the department.
“During this transition period that there were a lot of things that just sat stale waiting for the next chief to come on board,” said retired Assistant Chief Randy Blankenbaker. “When things of this magnitude are brought to your attention, you don’t wait around for the next chief to come on board.”
During the month of April, the compliance sergeant provided additional training to the vice unit. The internal affairs’ preliminary review had concluded that there were potential criminal violations, so the case was transferred to the public integrity unit.
Garza wrote that there were ongoing meetings with the sergeants in May and June to review “their compliance with the implementation of the recommendations and following policy.” In July, he met with Pughes and again asked that if he could make personnel changes in the vice unit, the memo said.
“Chief Pughes wanted the new chief to decide since she had just been hired,” Garza wrote.
Hall began work on Sept. 5. Before then, she had served for 18 years with the Detroit Police Department. She had risen rapidly over four years from acting inspector of a precinct to deputy chief.
In the memo, Garza said they were granted a meeting on Sept. 19 with Hall, but due to the limited amount of time they had, they decided to “inform her of the most egregious aspects of the audit.” Almost a month would go before they could get on her calendar again. Garza was not in the second meeting because she requested only to meet with the members of the audit team.
“It’s hard on one hand to imply that chiefs didn’t take appropriate action when as the leadership of an entire organization you get brought a potential issue that will rise to intense public scrutiny, and you push it off for almost a month before you get a full briefing,” Blankenbaker said.
In between the two meetings with Hall, Tittle produced a transition plan for the vice unit and showed it to Pughes, the memo said. Pughes told Tittle to “hang on to it.”
“The memo was never forwarded for Chief Hall’s approval,” Garza wrote.
On Nov. 9, Hall called the members of the vice unit into a conference and told them she was disbanding the unit. She announced it to the public a short time later.
“It looks like this was just a knee-jerk reaction based off some limitation information she received,” said Bishkin, his attorney. “For her to hold him accountable for things he did not have the authority to implement is unfair.”
Blankenbaker knows Garza and Tittle as competent and capable commanders. He bristled at Hall’s contention that Garza and Tittle were slow to act.
“For somebody to say that, my first thought is that I don’t believe what has been said,” Blankenbaker said. “Chief Garza, when he worked for me and was over crimes against persons, he implemented an audit standard to keep track of case management and follow up on cases that had never been done before.”
Bishkin also pointed out that two female commanders who were under internal affairs investigation were allowed the opportunity for their investigations to play out.
A third female commander who was under internal investigation over a retaliation complaint was promoted, Bishkin said. The attorney said she confirmed with internal affairs that the investigation was still open and ongoing at the time of the promotion.
Hall said via text that was untrue that she promoted anyone under internal affairs investigation.
She questions why Hall did not allow the internal investigation of the members of the vice unit to be completed before taking such drastic action. A public integrity had already cleared the members of the vice unit.
Garza turned in his memo on Nov. 21, along with about two inches of documentation. Bishkin said they were told that the memo and documentation never made it to Hall prior to the Nov. 30 announcement of the demotion of Garza, Tittle and others. Somehow it had gotten lost.
A second copy was then provided to Hall's office.
“Despite not being allowed to implement any changes to personnel and allowing due process to take its course as directed by the previous administration, we had no choice but to implement our audit team's recommendations to address and correct the failures, negligence and inconsistencies that were uncovered with the existing personnel," Garza wrote. “The changes and implementation was and still is a work in progress.”
Garza, demoted to the rank of lieutenant, is now working an overnight shift at one of the patrol stations.