Another reversal for former Dallas officer Delapaz in fake-drug trials

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday reversed a decision that had overturned two of the three convictions of a former Dallas police officer at the center of the city's fake-drug scandal.

The 5th District Court of Appeals in Dallas ruled in December 2007 that evidence Mark Delapaz lied in other investigations should not have been introduced at the trial.

The Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed. In its ruling, the court said the value of the testimony of other wrongdoing outweighed the negative light it cast on the former officer.

Delapaz is already serving a five-year sentence from another trial. He lied to a judge to obtain a search warrant in connection with the scandal, in which more than two dozen people were falsely arrested when paid Dallas police informants planted fake drugs on them.

Many of those arrested were Hispanic immigrants. The wrongdoing came to light in 2001 and forced the city to pay millions in settlements and led to negative publicity along with personnel changes at the Police Department.

But this week's ruling does not end the Delapaz case. The Criminal Court of Appeals ordered the lower court, whose decision it just overturned, to examine the other issues Delapaz has appealed.

Those remaining issues are whether Delapaz should have been granted a change of venue and whether two concurrent five-year sentences he received for tampering with evidence and aggravated perjury should be served consecutive to his current sentence, as the judge ordered, said April Smith, who represents Delapaz.

If the convictions ultimately stand, Delapaz would begin serving another five years when he is either paroled or serves the time for the first five-year sentence.

Smith said that she was "disappointed" by the decision and that she has not yet spoken to her client about it. She may ask for a rehearing on the issue but she said it is unlikely to change the decision.

But Toby Shook, who prosecuted the case but is now a defense attorney, concurred with the Court of Criminal Appeals. "Obviously, I think it's the correct ruling," he said.

Delapaz was charged after the wrongful arrest of Jose Vega in August 2001. Prosecutors said that the day before Vega's arrest, a paid Dallas police informant, Daniel Alonso, and his friend Roberto Gonzalez planted fake cocaine in a car at a service station where Vega worked.

The following day, video surveillance was set up. Delapaz met with Alonso, but in violation of a police procedure intended to ensure that an informant is not already carrying drugs, he did not search Alonso or his car.

After the supposed buy from Vega, Alonso met Mr. Delapaz at a convenience store and gave him two kilos of what appeared to be cocaine. Police found about 20 more kilos of the substance at the service station.

After Vega's arrest, Delapaz said in a police report and at a trial that he saw Mr. Alonso meet Mr. Vega outside the garage. But video surveillance did not show any such contact.

Another officer, Eddie Herrera, who is also charged with wrongdoing, testified that he did not see Vega and Alonso meet and that Delapaz asked him to lie.

In addition to Delapaz and Herrera, other officers were charged criminally for their role in wrongly sending people to jail.

Jeffrey Haywood was sentenced to two years probation by a judge in May 2007. This month, David Larsen pleaded guilty to misdemeanor attempted tampering with evidence in exchange for two years probation.

Herrera, who testified against Delapaz and Haywood at their trials, will likely plead guilty in exchange for probation, prosecutors say. None of the four are still police officers.


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