Officers' threats, DA's actions raise concerns in Ellis County

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on September 22, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 23 at 4:53 PM

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ELLIS COUNTY — Police are accused of threatening a handcuffed prisoner.

The District Attorney is accused of withholding video implicating the police.

There are questions about the brand of justice being practiced in Ellis County. Is every resident accused of a crime getting a fair shake? 

This past August, what little luck Marcos Longhurst of Ennis had was about to play out.  He was on trial in Ellis County for allegedly beating his girlfriend and running from police.

But his court-appointed attorneys — Monica Bishop and Mark Griffith — felt they weren't getting the full story from prosecutors and police.

Bishop said her request for a copy of all police video and audio from the arrest was denied. "The District Attorney told me that she was not comfortable with releasing a copy of that video to me," Bishop said.

Ultimately, a judge ordered prosecutors to turn over any officer recordings of the arrest.

While Ennis police policy states "officers will activate the audio microphone during any police activity," only one of three officers responding to the scene complied with policy and recorded the arrest.

The recording — played for jurors at trial — may have turned the tables on police.

Officers testified of having to chase the suspect Longhurst across a muddy field. But what was heard on the videotape was the arresting officer complaining about his uniform getting dirty.

"I'm [EXPLETIVE] muddy," said the officer.  "You got me all [EXPLETIVE] muddy, and I don't like it."

The officer's anger then escalates to a threat of punishment.

"You see that guy right there? He's gonna Tase you," said another officer.  

"Tase me? Why would you Tase me?" Longhurst asked.

"Because I got muddy... and I'm gonna send you the [EXPLETIVE] dry cleaning bill, too," said the arresting officer.

Explaining what the arrest was for, the lead officer told another: "He hit his wife in the head with a flashlight."

The second officer can be heard responding, "Aren't you supposed to hit your wife with a flashlight?"

Then, toward the end of the recording, one officer asks,  "You wanna get hit again? Just [EXPLETIVE] with me."

Attorney Mark Griffith said the officers' actions were disturbing.

"Threatening to Tase a man; threatening to hit a man; cursing a man who is already handcuffed," Griffith said, listing the questionable performance.  "And by the officer's own testimony, [Longhurst] has been compliant since their first contact."

Griffith believes the elusive videotape played a major role in the jury first reviewing the tape and then taking five minutes to deliberate.

"They listened to the tape again, knocked on the door and came back with a verdict," Griffith said.

Longhurst was found not guilty on both counts.

So what about the officers whose behavior was called into question?

Ennis Police Chief John Erisman said he is bothered by what he heard on tape.

"There were definitely some inappropriate comments made," Erisman said.  "We come into that kind of verbal abuse quite often, but it's not something I expect from my officers."

Chief Erisman says he has counseled his officers to make sure this kind of treatment of detainees doesn't happen again.

What about allegations that prosecutors are withholding evidence?  "That would be an incorrect statement," said Ellis County District Attorney Joe Grubbs. "We always comply with any discovery ordered by the court."

But neither response sits well with the two defense attorneys.  They are still upset the Ennis officers were never disciplined, and said that they are still having to fight the Ellis County District Attorney to gain access to evidence.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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