Investigative Summary:

Across Texas, hundreds of law enforcement officers have permanently surrendered their peace officer license in the past four years. A KXAN investigation of 297 of those surrenders has discovered nearly all the officers were accused or charged with a crime – most often felonies. And, in almost every case the officers used their license as a bargaining tool by agreeing to surrender it as part of a deal to avoid jail or prison.

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Texas police officers avoid prison in plea deals.

Alexis Alpha’s front teeth shattered when San Marcos Police Officer James Palermo slammed her during a 2013 arrest. (Alexis Alpha)

Bargaining the Badge

Her face bloodied and front teeth cracked in half, Alexis Alpha was placed in the back of a San Marcos police cruiser and left without receiving any medical attention for 45 minutes.

Alexis Alpha’s front teeth shattered when San Marcos Police Officer James Palermo slammed her during a 2013 arrest. (Alexis Alpha)

Alpha’s encounter with law enforcement started as a lecture from 13-year law enforcement veteran James Palermo, a San Marcos police officer twice her size. Palermo had already pulled over a sedan in a downtown bar parking lot. Dashcam video shows Alpha, a Texas State University student, walk between his police cruiser and the car.

That’s when Palermo stopped her, and the situation quickly escalated.

Alpha began arguing with Palermo. She said she was walking to her car and had done nothing wrong. Video shows Palermo reach for Alpha’s left arm. She pulls away slightly. Palermo grabs her by the shoulders and neck and shoves her into the sedan, which rocks back and forth from the force.

Palermo then yanks Alpha to the ground, face-first. “You broke my tooth!” Alpha yells.

Palermo later explained, under interrogation by his own department, that he was only trying to “educate” Alpha on the “dangerousness” of walking through the scene. But, video shows Palermo said nothing to 13 other people walking safely along Alpha’s same path. As the department dug further into the incident and Palermo’s history of arrests, they found a pattern of him filing resisting arrest charges and the suspects being hurt during those arrests.

Alpha was charged with public intoxication, resisting arrest and obstruction of justice—a felony. Court records show prosecutors dropped all charges against Alpha within a week of her arrest.

Hays County indicted Palermo on a charge of aggravated assault by a public servant, accusing him of slamming Alpha’s face into the pavement. The first-degree felony could carry up to 99 years in prison, but Palermo was never taken to trial, nor was he sentenced to a day in jail.

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San Marcos Officer James Palermo was investigated and charged with a felony after slamming Alexis Alpha during an arrest. (Hays County District Attorney’s Office)

San Marcos Officer James Palermo was investigated and charged with a felony after slamming Alexis Alpha during an arrest. (Hays County District Attorney’s Office)

Brian Erskine, a Hays County prosecutor at the time, offered Palermo a plea bargain: no jail, deferred adjudication, 10 years’ probation and the permanent surrender of his peace officer license — meaning he would be barred from working in Texas law enforcement forever.

Permanently revoking the officer’s badge was a critical part of the deal.

“That bargaining chip is a huge piece,” Erskine said about the peace officer license. “It says you can no longer be that person. You will no longer be an authoritative person in a position to ever cause somebody harm like that again.”

In Texas, except in limited circumstances, an officer must be convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors to be eligible for license revocation.

Considering the difficulty in taking a police officer to trial and winning, Erskine said the deal struck a fair balance.

“That’s a high, high burden. As prosecutors, they have to think about the consequences of taking something to trial and losing and having no culpability,” Erskine said. “Does that trial, and the loss at trial, mean that police officer is back on the streets doing the same thing?”

While critics of the plea deals said it seems like an unfair bargaining option favoring law enforcement that is unavailable to civilians, law enforcement officials told KXAN these types of plea deals are common and law enforcement officers are not getting an unfair break.

“By and large police officers are just good, decent, honest people trying to do what is increasingly an impossible job. Sometimes they are going to fail because they are human,” said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, which represents more than 28,000 officers throughout the state. “We’ve gotten to a point where we expect perfection from these officers and when they come up short we want to criminalize their failures. I’m sorry, but failing, in and of itself, is not a crime.”

KXAN reviewed 297 permanent surrender cases in Texas from 2015 through mid-2018. In nearly every case, the peace officers were accused of or charged with a crime. At least half of the cases were felonies.

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Peace officer licenses are issued and maintained by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. All law enforcement officers at the municipal, county and state level, except for state corrections officers, must be licensed.

In at least 245 instances, peace officers used their licenses to leverage a lesser sentence in a plea bargain. More than 30 officers surrendered their licenses in lieu of prosecution or to halt an investigation.

KXAN uncovered the system of deals by analyzing records obtained from more than 100 public information act requests filed at all levels of state and local governments, including TCOLE, county and district courts, as well as local, county and state law enforcement agencies.

Officers who agreed to surrender their licenses received little or no jail time for offenses including sexual assault of children and women in custody, taking bribes and dealing narcotics to prisoners, lying about the circumstances of a police shooting and destroying evidence in criminal cases.

In some instances, the accused police officers already had histories of misconduct yet were able to trade their badges in a plea bargain and walk away with deferred adjudication and probation.

“What it appears is that police officers are being treated differently than a person who would be charged with the same crime that is not an officer,” said Kali Cohn, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Cohn said the deals give the appearance of a two-tiered system in which law enforcement officers are treated more leniently than normal citizens.

“When we see they are treated better than the average citizen, when we see they are treated differently, when we see that they are given preference, that makes the law enforcement office less legitimate in the public eye and starts chipping away at the credibility of the rule of law in our society,” she said.

Lawrence, with TMPA, challenged the notion that peace officers are treated favorably by being allowed to use the license in plea agreements. Most of the crimes the officers are charged with are crimes that can only be levied against officers. Furthermore, he said, peace officers can face special enhancements, elevating the severity of a charge, because of their license.

“Arguing that cops are somehow treated differently under the criminal justice system is a nonstarter, because cops are in fact treated differently in the statutes,” Lawrence said. “We are held to a higher standard.”

Avoiding prosecution

KXAN found more than two dozen cases in the last four years in which police officers or jailers permanently surrendered their licenses to avoid prosecution or to end investigations into possible misconduct.

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The only indication KXAN could find of possible misconduct in many of these cases was noted in a portion of the file TCOLE maintains for each delicensed officer titled “summary of the reason for permanent surrender.” It’s a sheet each officer is supposed to provide, but that does not always happen.

It is unclear what level of punishments those officers may have faced. It is also more difficult, if not impossible, to obtain records of police misconduct when charges are not filed against the officer.

In 2016, Round Rock Police Officer Shane Myers made a deal with prosecutors to end his felony domestic violence case with no indictment, a complete dismissal and no punishment except the permanent surrender of his peace officer license.

Myers and his former wife, Courtney Vaughn-Peterson, were married less than a year when the two got into an argument that turned physical.

Vaughn-Peterson said she bit through her lip and went unconscious while her husband had her in an arm-lock. Myers said he was trying to control her and stop her from attacking and grabbing a gun in the nightstand. In an interview with KXAN, Myers denied he ever committed domestic violence.

Days after the incident, Vaughn-Peterson said she made a statement that the assault didn’t happen, in an attempt “to get back to normal.” She said she later regretted making that statement, after seeking domestic violence counseling and learning Myers had been involved in a previous domestic violence incident.

Williamson County court records show RRPD investigated and disciplined Myers in a 2010 case involving his first wife. RRPD internal records provided to KXAN show the department reprimanded Myers for “unbecoming conduct” that included punching holes in walls, tearing apart furniture and damaging doors while in an argument with that wife.

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Former Round Rock Police officer Shane Myers admits he used his police license to get a felony domestic violence charge dismissed.

Former Round Rock Police officer Shane Myers admits he used his police license to get a felony domestic violence charge dismissed.

Vaughn-Peterson said she felt cheated when Myers’ case was dismissed.

“I wanted to see this thing through. I wanted an opportunity to face him in person and give a victim’s impact statement,” Vaughn-Peterson said. “I never got the opportunity.

Myers told KXAN he decided to give up his police license the night he got arrested. But, TCOLE records show Myers did not surrender his police license until six months later.

“My attorney told me not to. I guess he felt that could be used as leverage later on. I was ready to resign the next day, and I was just told to hold onto it,” Myers said in an interview.

Six months for a sex crime

In March 2014, Texas Rangers investigated a San Antonio-area school resource officer accused of having sex with a 15-year-old high school student.

The girl said she sought help and career advice from Edgewood ISD School Resource Officer Manuel Hernandez. Within three months, the victim said Hernandez gave her his private email address and asked her to send him “an erotic picture,” according to an investigation report.

Hernandez, 56 years old at the time, gave the victim hall passes to keep her out of trouble for being tardy. He later said she owed him and requested they have sex, investigation records show.

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Luis Vera, attorney for the minor victim sexually assaulted by Edgewood ISD campus officer, said Hernandez should have been taken to trial.

Luis Vera, attorney for the minor victim sexually assaulted by Edgewood ISD campus officer, said Hernandez should have been taken to trial.

In late 2013, a criminal indictment shows Hernandez fondled the girl in his office. He made the victim perform oral sex on him and had sex with her, according to a criminal complaint. The victim said Hernandez watched surveillance camera monitors on his desk during the sex assault, according to police records.

Prosecutors charged Hernandez with sex assault of a child, a felony-level offense. In a plea agreement with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, Hernandez received a reduced charge of “improper relationship between a student and educator.” He was sentenced to six months in county jail, 10 years deferred adjudication and ordered to permanently surrender his peace officer license.

Bexar County Assistant District Attorney Daryl Harris took the case over in 2017 and helped negotiate the plea deal with Hernandez.

“As I learned the case, learned the facts, I learned that we had no objective evidence of sex, just the allegation,” he said.

Harris said he believed the victim presented credibility problems because in six different interviews, she had changed and added details about her allegations of sex with Hernandez. Getting a jury to believe her was a concern, Harris claimed.

The victim’s attorney, Luis Vera, strongly disagreed. The victim was prepared to testify in court, and the state should have let a jury decide the case, Vera said.

“A first-year law student could have got a conviction,” Vera said. “I gave them every single piece of evidence he needed to walk in the courtroom and get a conviction.”

If Hernandez had not been a police officer, Vera said, he would probably be in prison for 15 to 20 years and be on the sex offender registry.

“The whole state of Texas should be ashamed. This is something the state in its law has allowed to happen,” Vera said. “Something special needs to be created when you’re handling police officers.”

While Hernandez spent six months in the county jail, several other officers facing sexual misconduct charges received no jail time at all.

A City of Wharton police officer was charged with three counts of sexual assault of a child in 2016. In a negotiated deal that included the permanent surrender of his peace officer license, he pleaded guilty to one count and received 10 years’ probation. His punishment also included fines, sex offender registration and community service, according to court records.

A law enforcement officer in the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office was charged with four counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, all first-degree felonies, in 2012. He pleaded guilty to one count of injury to a child and received 10 years of probation, no prison time, and was required to permanently surrender his peace officer license.

Texas’ conviction hurdle

A 2015 nationwide study of state-by-state police license decertifications performed by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training found Texas had the fourth-highest number of license decertifications that year.

Georgia reported 562 decertifications, and Florida reported 399, according to the study. Oregon had 109 decertifications and Texas reported 93 that year.

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In Texas, state law limits TCOLE’s authority to permanently revoke an officer’s license, unless he or she has been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors. If district attorneys want to get a bad police officer out of law enforcement, in most cases they either have to go to trial or make a deal, said Roger Goldman, professor emeritus at Saint Louis University School of Law.

Texas’ license decertification laws are pushing district attorneys to make these plea bargains, according to Goldman.

Texas has the most licensed peace officers of any state, yet Florida and Georgia decertify far more officers per year than Texas does. Those states have broader authority to revoke the license, Goldman said.

Goldman has researched police license decertifications for the past 40 years. He said Texas lawmakers could give TCOLE more power in deciding to revoke a license.

“If you’re a prosecutor and you have a choice, ‘We can get this fellow to voluntary surrender, which is permanent and forever — he’ll never be back on the force.’ Or, ‘Do we roll the dice, go before a jury?’ And, again, juries don’t like to convict police, he’ll be back on the force,” Goldman said.

Goldman said it makes sense to regulate police licenses in a similar manner to other licensed professions.

“You don’t require a lawyer to be convicted of a crime. If he’s negligent, if he doesn’t show up, there’s default judgements. You don’t have to convict him. You have this professional board take away the license,” Goldman said. “If a doctor continually operates in a bad way, or does other acts, you don’t have to convict him” before pulling his medical license.

If TCOLE could revoke a license based on evidence of misconduct or the commission of a crime, rather than a conviction, the number of license revocations would go up, Goldman said.

Other states allow their police licensing boards broader discretion to punish officers not only for the conviction of a criminal offense but also for the commission of a crime.

As the law currently stands, the high bar of obtaining a conviction puts district attorneys in a tough position if they know they want to get the officer out of law enforcement, said Cohn, with the ACLU.

“Because our statute for doing that [delicensing] is tied to criminal convictions, that then puts some pressure on the DA. Because the DA then is in a situation where that person is not going to be de-licensed unless they have secured a conviction,” Cohn said. “Police officers should not be walking away from very serious crimes with preferential treatment. That’s not how our criminal justice system should work.”

Lawrence said allowing TCOLE to revoke licenses without a conviction would undermine the officers’ fundamental rights and officers shouldn’t lose their licenses over accusations without a conviction.

“I’m not saying that we don’t have a fairly high bar. Don’t we want to have a fairly high bar?” Lawrence said.

Michael Avery, president of the National Police Accountability Project, reviewed KXAN’s analysis. He called this type of bargaining “questionable” and said district attorneys can be reluctant to prosecute police officers.

“Prosecutors don’t want to pursue police officers criminally. They don’t want to have other police officers mad at them. They don’t want to be perceived as not team players,” Avery said. “That is a systemic problem. That is built into the system.”

Every case and crime has its own circumstances that have to be considered, such as the suspect’s background, mitigating factors and the stress the police officer may have been under at the time. However, for violent crimes and crimes in which someone suffered significant harm, it may not be appropriate to use these types of deals, Avery said.

To the extent that police officers have something they can use as leverage in criminal cases that others can’t use, then the officers are getting a break that they don’t deserve,” said Avery, a Suffolk University School of Law professor emeritus and coauthor of “Police Misconduct Law and Litigation.” “If anything, we should be holding officers to a higher standard, not a lower standard.

Looking toward a fix?

At least one Texas lawmaker’s office is conducting its own investigation into what KXAN uncovered. Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, D-Dallas, and her staff began requesting information from TCOLE in May. Gonzalez sits on the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, a panel with oversight of TCOLE licensing rules.

“We’ve already started to ask some of these questions. Once we get some information back from some of these entities that could provide us more information, we’re going to look to see if there’s a way that we can address it on our end and how we can bring this to the table and have some real discussions about it,” Gonzalez told KXAN.

Rep. Jessica Gonzalez has directed her staff to investigate the system of plea deals we uncovered. Gonzalez said changing state law could end these plea deals. (KXAN Photo)

Gonzalez acknowledged there is a disconnect when state law allows licensing boards to hold other occupations, such as doctors, lawyers, plumbers and cosmetologists, accountable for conduct that doesn’t amount to a criminal conviction.

“If you or myself commit these same crimes, we would have to face the consequences of that. We don’t have a license to surrender to avoid the prosecution of certain crimes,” Gonzalez said. “I’m an attorney and I commit malpractice, I have to pay the consequences of that. I just can’t turn in my law license and get away scot free,” Gonzalez said.

The lawmaker raised the possibility of introducing legislation to give TCOLE more authority to punish peace officer license holders for the mere commission of a crime.

“Essentially these officers have a ‘get out of jail free’ card and the law needs to be applied evenly to everyone. You and I, if we commit these same crimes, we aren’t able to get away with them just like these officers are,” Gonzalez said.

‘I’m on fire’

Criminal cases reviewed by KXAN ran the gamut from sex offenses to assaults to drug violations to evading arrest and dozens of cases of corruption.

In one case, a Travis County corrections officer lost his license after lighting a cell and an inmate inside on fire.

Dacious Parker’s jail cell extraction did not go as planned.

On July 25, 2015, Parker refused to let jail staff into his cell to search it. Prison officials said they feared Parker may have a homemade shank, although Parker said his cell was searched for contraband the day before. To remove him, a special extraction team assembled. One officer fired what was supposed to be tear gas into the small cell, according to an investigation report.

It wasn’t tear gas.

The Travis County Sheriff’s Correctional Tactical Unit, known as C-TAC, had fired a pyrotechnic round into the cell, according to interrogation records obtained by KXAN. Officer Dustin D’Amalfi said he mistakenly grabbed the wrong round. The unauthorized weapon instantly ignited the cell and mattress and burned Parker’s arm and leg. Flames shot out from beneath the cell door, according to investigation records and jail video.

Parker, speaking with KXAN from the James V. Allred Unit state penitentiary outside Wichita Falls, displayed his swollen burn scars while recounting what happened.

“I’m yelling, I’m screaming and telling the officers, ‘I’m on fire, I’m on fire!’ And the officers are saying, ‘Oh, I thought you could take the gas.’ They laughing. They thinking it’s just the gas I’m talking about, but I’m actually on fire,” Parker said. “They were mocking me. They were laughing, and it’s all on video.”

A Travis County corrections officer lit inmate Dacious Parker’s cell on fire during a botched 2015 cell extraction. (KXAN Photo)

The entire botched prisoner removal was captured on a surveillance camera and a video camera held by a member of the extraction team. KXAN requested both videos. The Texas Attorney General ruled the surveillance footage could remain hidden. The county said the handheld camera was not properly set to record, so no footage existed to release.

Prosecutors charged D’Amalfi in the incident, but not for the cell fire. Investigators later realized pieces of evidence, including the shell casing from the round that ignited the cell, were missing. A review of jail complex video showed D’Amalfi had briefly entered the building housing the evidence around the same time it disappeared, according to the investigation report.

D’Amalfi told investigators he inadvertently loaded the wrong munition and did not realize he was using an unauthorized weapon. He also denied taking the evidence, according to interrogation video.

A Travis County grand jury indicted D’Amalfi in 2016 on charges of tampering with physical evidence, a third-degree felony, and false report to a peace officer, a Class B misdemeanor.

In July 2017, D’Amalfi pleaded guilty to the tampering with evidence charge. The plea bargain included the permanent surrender of his peace officer license. He received deferred adjudication and three years community supervision. The court allowed D’Amalfi to end his deferred adjudication and the case was dismissed in January 2018, according to Travis County records.

D’Amalfi declined to comment. TCSO Major Wes Priddy provided a statement on the incident, saying TCSO “initiated an immediate criminal investigation regarding the actions of Dustin D’Amalfi, as well as an administrative investigation for policy violations,” and “corrective measures were taken with corrections tactical operations to prevent similar occurrences in the future.”

It was not a fair trade to allow D’Amalfi to offer his license and receive deferred adjudication and ultimate dismissal of the felony case, Parker said.

“It’s totally unacceptable for him to bring a unsanctioned weapon into a facility, discharge it and physically injure a citizen and then be able to use that same peace officer license to get out of the situation,” Parker said. “To me, it just reconfirms and solidifies my distrust in law enforcement. It’s something that I’ve experienced my whole life and it’s a shock to some, but it’s kind of normal to me. People in certain positions getting certain privileges, and it’s another miscarriage of justice.”

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KXAN ran into roadblocks at the state, county and city levels while trying to access police misconduct records and video.

KXAN ran into roadblocks at the state, county and city levels while trying to access police misconduct records and video.

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, who took over the D’Amalfi case in November 2016 after winning office, said she was satisfied with the outcome and plea agreement.

Most of these cases are resolved before trial, Moore said. At a trial, the juries will be thinking about how difficult police officers’ job and decisions are, she added.

“Juries still are very sympathetic to police officers,” Moore said in an interview. “There is a feeling that these people do work for the public, that these people have very hard jobs and so we do expect a certain bias in favor of a police officer.”

Taking a case in front of jury is a “huge gamble,” she said, and her office wanted to make sure D’Amalfi never worked in law enforcement in Texas again.

“That peace officer license is a very, very important consideration. And there are instances where the objective to do justice will give heavy weight to the surrender of that license,” she said.

Lawrence, with TMPA, said there has been an increase in permanent surrenders because of an increase in the number of officers charged with criminal offenses. He said prosecutors are bringing charges against officers with the intention of pulling their licenses.

“The prosecutors never really believe that they are going to try and convict the officer, but it is used as leverage to go ahead and get the officer out of the business of being an officer all together,” Lawrence said. “Now, whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, you would have to judge on a case by case basis. You would have to look at the facts of each and every case.”

Lawrence acknowledged there are “bad cops,” and he said there is no other profession more aggressive at policing their own than law enforcement.

“What we have a right to expect is that they behave reasonably,” Lawrence said. “Reasonably is determined by the facts known to that officer at that moment, not what we think we saw in the video afterwards, not what we were able to glean after three years of investigating it, but what that officer knew at that moment.”

Gambling and losing

Moore’s office gambled and lost in 2018, when it took two Austin Police Department officers — Donald Petraitis and Robert Pfaff — to trial. The officers were accused of excessive force after they reported using a Taser on a man who was attempting to leave the scene of a crime. Police video showed the suspect was on his knees with his hands raised at the time, according to the district attorney’s office.

Pfaff was charged with official oppression, tampering with a government record, aggravated perjury and abuse of official capacity. Petraitis was charged with assault, two counts of official oppression, abuse of official capacity and tampering with a government record, according to court records.

A jury acquitted the officers of all charges last December. The officers were ultimately fired from APD, but they were not required to permanently surrender their peace officer licenses.

Dexter Gilford, director of the Civil Rights Division of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, prosecuted Pfaff and Petraitis. He, too, said taking police officers to trial is difficult.

Gilford also oversaw an August 2017 plea deal struck with a former APD officer after he repeatedly hit a suspect with a baton inside a north Austin YMCA.

‘Please help me’

Jacob Fulcher ran inside a north Austin YMCA, called 911 and begged for help from the dispatcher. The man chasing him: Austin Police Department officer Christopher Megliorino.

On April 25, 2017, Megliorino responded to a trespassing call about Fulcher sleeping on the side of the YMCA. He made contact with Fulcher outside the building. Dashcam video shows Megliorino questioning Fulcher and asking him to comply with his commands. Fulcher then runs into the building.

Interior surveillance video obtained by KXAN shows Fulcher run by the YMCA front desk. About a minute later, Fulcher runs back to the front desk, picks up a phone and calls 911. As he’s on the phone with the 911 operator, Megliorino begins beating him with his baton.

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Jacob Fulcher was beaten during an arrest inside an Austin YMCA, after running from an officer and calling 911. (Travis County District Attorney’s Office)

Jacob Fulcher was beaten during an arrest inside an Austin YMCA, after running from an officer and calling 911. (Travis County District Attorney’s Office)

“This police officer is trying to beat me up. This police officer is killing me, man … ouch, please help me,” Fulcher says to the 911 operator. “I can’t breathe right now.”

Within 30 seconds, Megliorino landed 12 blows to Fulcher’s body and legs. At least one of the strikes broke the skin on his leg, according to incident video.

Gilford’s office struck a plea deal with Megliorino, and he was never indicted.

“You can avoid grand jury process if you plead guilty to another offense and permanent surrender of your license,” Gilford said, describing Megliorino’s deal.

Megliorino pleaded guilty to a Class C misdemeanor assault and agreed to surrender his license. He also had to resign from APD and pay $574 in fines and court costs. Megliorino did not spend any time behind bars.

“We thought it was the responsible thing to do,” Gilford told KXAN. “We thought that if we didn’t move in that direction, it would be tough if he returned in the streets and got involved in something like this again. It would be tough to defend not doing what we did.”

Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, provided a comment for Megliorino:

“After hearing the evidence, Officer Megliarino and his CLEAT Attorney worked with the District Attorney’s Office on a resolution. In the end, Officer Megliarino was punished by being forced to retire and give up his Peace Officers License. Officer Megliarino will never be able to work in Texas Law Enforcement during his lifetime,” the statement said.

Casaday said Megliorino had over 20 years of “fantastic” service for the department.

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Shot in the stomach

KXAN reviewed several cases of police assaults that resulted in license surrenders, including a near fatal shooting by Dallas Police Officer Cardan Spencer in 2013.

Video captured Spencer shooting Bobby Bennett on a residential street. Spencer and another officer can be seen getting out of their car and walking toward Bennett as he sat in an office chair in a cul-de-sac.

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Dallas Police Officer Cardan Spencer shot Bobby Bennett as he stood in a residential cul-de-sac.

Dallas Police Officer Cardan Spencer shot Bobby Bennett as he stood in a residential cul-de-sac.

When Spencer got within a dozen yards of the mentally ill man, he opened fire and hit Bennett in the stomach, permanently disabling him.

Bennett was holding a knife at the time. Spencer told authorities Bennett had raised the knife and moved toward him, but surveillance video showed Bennett only stood and never raised the knife or moved forward before being shot.

Prosecutors charged Spencer with aggravated assault by a public servant, which carried a possible sentence of five years to life in prison.

In a plea agreement with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, Spencer pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of attempted deadly conduct, a state jail felony that carries a sentence of six months to two years. The prosecutor and judge involved in the plea deal declined to comment on the case.

Goldman, who has seen police licensing laws evolve over the past 40 years, said it often takes concrete cases of officers involved in multiple cases of misconduct to show the system needs improvement.

“You have to have real cases of officers seriously misbehaving at one department, going to another, and then it will become obvious to the public: this person should not be able to continue in law enforcement even though he hasn’t been convicted of a crime,” Goldman said.

Repeat offenders

Through internal police department and court records, KXAN found several cases of officers accused repeatedly of misconduct.

Fort Worth police officer Douglas Campbell had a history of criminal allegations that led to the department firing him. He was later arrested on a charge of impersonating a police officer.

In June 2012, Campbell was suspended for 16 days for allegations of assault of a family member. In February 2013, he was suspended for three days for alleged inappropriate conduct, including sending pictures of himself shirtless to a woman filing a harassment complaint against her ex-husband.

In the summer of 2013, two different women made allegations of sexual misconduct against Campbell. One said Campbell propositioned her for sex while in full uniform in a marked police cruiser. The second woman said Campbell sexually assaulted her with his fingers.

Campbell was dismissed and dishonorably discharged from the FWPD in 2013; however, he retained his police license until he was caught in 2016 impersonating an officer after being pulled over for speeding in Arlington, according to his personnel file. During that stop, Campbell told an officer that open warrants for his arrest were a mistake and he was still an active duty police officer.

Manuel Hernandez, the Edgewood ISD police officer who pleaded guilty in the sex assault of the 15-year-old girl, also had a history that included suspensions and allegations of misconduct.

KXAN obtained San Antonio Police Department records from 1983, which was 30 years before he was accused of sexually assaulting the Edgewood ISD student.

On June 11, 1983, Hernandez arrested a minor female on a charge of possession of beer. He failed to notify the dispatcher of the arrest and transported the girl in his cruiser to the back of a bank, his personnel file shows. He got into the back seat with her, fondled her and attempted to touch her crotch, according to SAPD suspension records.

After being suspended, Hernandez went on to work at five different jurisdictions, including two college police departments, before ending at Edgewood ISD.

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Investigators found a troubling trend of improper charges and injured suspects in Officer James Palermo’s SMPD history.

Investigators found a troubling trend of improper charges and injured suspects in Officer James Palermo’s SMPD history.

James Palermo — the former San Marcos police officer who slammed Alexis Alpha to the ground and knocked out her tooth — also had a concerning history of policing, according to investigators who reviewed his arrest history.

After the Alpha incident, investigators found Palermo had a pattern: he filed a high number of resisting arrest charges and many of those suspects were injured during the arrests, according to records discussed during Palermo’s interrogation.

Palermo arrested Tyler Fyrst just weeks before the incident with Alpha.

Palermo’s daschcam video shows Fyrst in handcuffs and face down on the hood of a San Marcos police cruiser. Palermo pulls up to the scene and runs to assist the arresting officer. He grabs Fyrst by his head and neck and slams him to the ground. Out of view of the camera, Palermo used a stun gun on Fyrst.

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Tyler Fyrst was already handcuffed when San Marcos officer James Palermo threw him to the ground and tased him.

Tyler Fyrst was already handcuffed when San Marcos officer James Palermo threw him to the ground and tased him.

San Marcos Police Chief Chase Stapp told KXAN the department didn’t find out about the Fyrst case until internal affairs investigators were digging into the Alexis Alpha case.

“The use of force report submitted by Officer Palermo regarding Mr. Fyrst failed to mention the fact that Mr. Fyrst was handcuffed when the Taser was used on him,” Stapp said. “As a result, the supervisor did not review all of the videos associated with that incident and therefore did not discover the violation at the time.”

SMPD charged Palermo with “an internal use of force violation” after finding the dash camera video from the Fyrst arrest.

Prosecutors dropped all charges against Fyrst shortly after the incident, without explanation, Fyrst said. Palermo didn’t face discipline until after Alpha’s case.

“That woman didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything. He simply pulled us off the hood and found a way to plant us into the ground,” Fyrst said. “Had this been caught on my case, it would have saved her, literally, being injured.”


Ben Friberg,
Josh Hinkle,
Eric Lefenfeld,
Ricardo Ruano,
Robert Sims & Kate Winkle


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