An assistant chief handed down a 15-day day suspension on Thursday to a Dallas police officer who wrongly said a man was carrying a bag containing drugs and guns. That man spent 10 months behind bars until a videotape later showed that he was not carrying the bag as the officer alleged.
At issue in the case was whether Senior Cpl. David Nevitt lied or was mistaken. Police investigators ultimately concluded that they could not prove that Nevitt had lied to make the August 2007 arrest of Thomas Hannon outside a north Dallas hotel. Instead, they found that he had failed to fully investigate the incident to the best of his ability.
"The way they went about this arrest was sloppy, and as the allegations alludes to it was not fully investigated," said Assistant Chief Floyd Simpson, who oversees the city's seven patrol stations. "Today, I held officer Nevitt accountable for his actions. His fifteen days will begin immediately."
Nevitt, who has denied any wrongdoing, could not be reached for comment. He can appeal the suspension.
"It's just unfair and certainly wasn't warranted," said Phil Burleson, an attorney representing Nevitt. "He in good faith attempted to make arrests based upon the information he had at the time."
At the time of Hannon's arrest, Nevitt was a member of a specialized unit whose cases continue to be the subject of an ongoing review by prosecutors. Hannon's arrest sparked the review after prosecutors concluded that he had been arrested on false charges. Felony charges involving arrests made by the unit have since been thrown out against two different men after two witnesses passed polygraph exams requested by prosecutors.
The official police report written by Senior Cpl. Jerry Dodd, now in the vice unit, gives the following account: Nevitt saw Hannon leave the hotel carrying a black leather bag. The officers said Hannon spotted them, dropped the bag and tried to evade them. Police found a loaded .357 Colt revolver and 2.6 grams of methamphetamine in the bag.
Hannon, who was wanted for failing to report to his parole officer, was caught and charged with possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. Dodd's report does not mention the existence of video footage, nor the arrest of other people, including the man who turned out to have been carrying the bag.
In March 2008, as the case neared trial, prosecutors say Nevitt told them that he had been sitting in an undercover vehicle when he saw Hannon leave the hotel holding the bag. They said he told them that he then went inside and watched surveillance video, but that the hotel lacked the technology to make a copy of it.
A defense attorney subsequently obtained a copy. It showed that another man had the bag. Prosecutors then dismissed the charges.
Nevitt told internal investigators that he never told prosecutors that he had actually seen Hannon with the bag. He also described the video footage that he reviewed as being small and of "poor quality," which apparently led to the misidentification. He said the maintenance worker told him that another employee could make a copy later.
That hotel employee, Jaime Maltos, told internal investigators that he showed the video footage to Nevitt and another heavy-set Dallas police officer. "I brought them back to the engineering office to go thru the videos, one by one I enlarged them so they could see it better," Maltos said.
He said he also said he gave Nevitt two copies a couple of days later. However, in a statement in Hannon's civil lawsuit, he said he was less sure, saying he couldn't recall whether it was Nevitt or another officer who retrieved the copies.
None of the officers who participated in Hannon's arrest have admitted picking up the video, internal records show.
The squad, which once numbered about seven officers, is now largely dismantled. The unit's supervisor, Sgt. Randy Sundquist was moved off the streets this spring after the DA's office released a letter stating that he shouldn't be trusted to testify in court. Two other officers, one of whom has since retired, also were involuntarily transferred out of the unit.
Scott Palmer, an attorney representing Hannon, called the Police Department's decision disappointing.
"How much false prosecution and perjury will it take before DPD fires an officer?" Palmer said. "But for the hotel engineer saving this video, this officer and all of the officers were prepared to testify falsely about the events, and Mr. Hannon would likely have ended up in prison for a long time."