Tales of a Dallas Poker Raid

Friday, April 20th, 2007

After the initial series of Dallas SWAT raids on the city’s poker rooms, I got an email from a guy who said he was arrested at one of them. We’ve kept in touch over the last few months, and now that his case is resolved, he has offered to share it. It’s long, but it’s a great (and maddening) read:

While my situation wasn’t nearly as dire as so many on which you report, I do feel like there are several issues my case brings up, i.e., cops lying to justify their actions, videotapes of SWAT raids not being preserved, and the necessity of some SWAT raids in the first place, which I know to be one of your major interests. This is going to be a bit lengthy, but it must be to give every aspect of this twisted story the attention it merits, in my opinion. Feel free to use any of this on your blog.

On June 24, 2006, I was present at an underground poker room that was raided by the Dallas SWAT team, Dallas Sherriff’s Dept., Dallas Police Dept., & Dallas Code Enforcement.

The raid occurred around 7:40 p.m. I was in the kitchen area which was just inside the front door when suddenly there was loud banging from the door. Within seconds, the room was full of Dallas SWAT officers yelling for everyone to put their hands in the air. Behind the Dallas SWAT team came many more law enforcement officers and several camera crews for the A&E reality show, Dallas SWAT. The camera crew’s chests were clearly marked as “A&E Film Crew.”

Bear in mind that, prior to police entering, the place was virtually quiet. There was the sound of poker chips in the air, but not much else. The players were essentially professionals and working stiffs having fun…there were doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals. There was hardly anything “dangerous” about the place at all. In fact, the cops found no weapons in the facility or on anyone there. The show of force and weaponry brought by the cops was simply outrageous and unjustified, given the circumstances, but, then again, are they enforcing the law or making a TV show?

After entering, all players at the ten or so poker tables were made to put their hands on the tables while they were individually processed and released with a Class C misdemeanor gambling ticket. After getting their tickets, the players were accosted by A&E folks trying to get everyone to sign releases allowing the footage to be shown on TV. Some signed, others didn’t. The only folks arrested were game operators, dealers, one player with an outstanding traffic warrant, and me.

I was on the premises assisting a friend of mine, a private chef, who was hired to make sandwiches for the poker players. Her wrist was injured and she asked if I could come help cut vegetables for sandwiches. Upon entering the facility around 7:25 p.m., I immediately went to the kitchen area (which one had to pass through to enter the gaming area) to help my friend. At no time did I ever pay any money to gamble, place any bets, or even enter the gaming area. I was only there about 15 minutes when the raid happened. At the time of the raid, I was chopping a head of cabbage for cole slaw.

After the raid, the cops made the three of us in the kitchen sit down while they processed the players, At no time was there any less than three SWAT officers, in full paramilitary gear, standing watch over us. I recognized one of the officers as Cpl. Steve Claggett, one of the main protagonists of the Dallas SWAT show. We talked for a few minutes and he showed me the camera on his helmet, but assured me it was off at that time.

My friend was concerned with the behavior of one of the SWAT officers. He kept his finger on the trigger of his machine gun the entire time. It was kind of twitchy, and my friend commented several times about fearing one twitch too many. The look on his face made clear the level of adrenaline pumping through him and the seriousness of the situation to him. You’d have thought the guy was clearing a bomb-making depot in Baghdad.

After they processed the players, they got to us in the kitchen area. I asked the officer who came over to search us if we shouldn’t be released, as we were certainly not named in any search warrant and hadn’t done anything to indicate we were involved in “gambling.” We were told that we would be searched before release.

The searches themselves were odd. I expected a Terry frisk, even though I felt the time for a Terry frisk had passed, as we had been sitting for over an hour showing no signs of resisting before we were searched. These searches were much more invasive than that. We were made to put our hands in the air, were quickly frisked, and then the officer plunger her hands into our pockets, pulling out all contents.

First, they searched a woman I didn’t know, and released her. Then, they searched my friend who, despite having actual poker chips in her pocket which the players gave her as “tips”, was released. Then they got to me. Out of my first pocket came my car keys and a can of Kodiak (bad habit, of course). She opened the can to confirm it was tobacco. She then emptied my other pocket, pulling out a glass pipe and a small container with about 1.5 grams of marijuana. She opened the container and asked me what it was. “It’s weed,” I said, given the ridiculousness of arguing otherwise.

The officer didn’t really know what to do. I said, “Look, you guys are here are on a gambling investigation. I wasn’t gambling. Shouldn’t you just release me under the circumstances?” She wasn’t sure what to do and went to ask someone called “Sarge.” She came back over and told me that I was definitely being arrested.

Having once been an attorney, I have lots of attorney friends, including my boss. He was mobilized to come bail me out. I got to jail about 10 p.m. that night and wasn’t arraigned until the following morning. At the arraignment at 6:00 am, I pled not guilty to possession of marijuana. I knew my friend was down there to bail me out, so I expected to get out of jail soon. By 8 am, I figured something was wrong. I called my friend and was told that I was being arraigned on a gambling charge (a city charge—the marijuana was a county charge) at a later time. I was flummoxed…I hadn’t gambled at all. I had to stay until 6pm that night for that arraignment. After that, I was released.

I retained a friend of mine for representation and we met. The arrest report for me was not available yet, so we went forward assuming the police would argue that I was gambling which laid the foundation for arresting me and, thus, searching me incident to that arrest.

I figured that beating this wouldn’t be too tough, since there were tons of cameras there filming the action. I assumed that there were undercover cops there filming, and I knew that there were A&E crews there, so there should have been plenty of videotape to prove that I wasn’t gambling. My attorney and I actually tracked down in-house counsel for Granada Entertainment, the company which produces “Dallas SWAT.” We called their counsel (I was on the call on “three-way”) and my attorney informed them that we would be subpoenaing their footage and that it should all be preserved as it was exculpatory in a criminal matter. The call ended with Granada saying they would await the subpoena.

In the meantime, we finally obtained the arrest report, here’s what it said:

“ON 062406 AT APPROX 1900 A/O 8499 WORKING IN AN UNDERCOVER CAPACITY WITH DALLAS VICE DET. TREMAIN 5052 AT IBERIA AVE IN AN ATTEMPT TO CAPTURE VIDEO SURVEILLANCE OF AN ILLEGAL GAMBLING ESTABLISHMENT. A/O 8499 OBSERVED A/P [REDACTED FOR NAME] ENTER THE LOCATION, PAY MONEY TO THE MGR OF THE ESTABLISHMENT FOR THE PURPOSE OF PLAYING CARDS. A/O 8499 OBSERVED THE A/P PLACE A BET WITH CHIPS AT A GAMBLING TABLE.”

Despite the abject mistruths in the police report, I was still confident the tapes would help me. We finally got our subpoena response. Guess what? According to Granada Entertainment, there wasn’t any videotape of the event. All of the tapes had been recorded over, and there simply wasn’t any tape available. Two camera crews and helmet cams on the SWAT guys and not one single inch of tape existed.

I was irate. Now I was stuck in the position of having false allegations against me which I could not absolutely disprove absent those tapes.

Part of the report I could actually disprove. I have a radio show in Dallas on 4-7 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. I was on the air that Saturday until 7pm. We had a post-show meeting at the station and, by my calculations, the earliest I even could have been there was at 7:25 p.m, not 7 pm as the report stated. Furthermore, where was the gambling evidence? I had no cash or chips on me when arrested. Furthermore, my friend the cook actually had poker chips on her, and was not arrested for gambling.

We showed up for my suppression hearing to disprove the cops’ timeline, and to present witnesses that I had not, in fact, gambled at the facility. I made clear to my attorney that I would push this as far as possible, as a Dallas jury would probably be pissed that the city of Dallas had outsourced filming of its crime scenes to Granada Entertainment, and that they weren’t even in the habit of maintaining those videos were they necessary for exculpatory purposes or to review Dallas SWAT members’ activity at such raids. In my opinion, it shocked the conscience, and probably would a jury as well.

Before the hearing, my attorney told me they were offering me to plea down to pipe possession. I told him that was bullshit, as the cop, then, would get away with her lies about my activities. I said this very loudly, as I knew the ADA for my case was in the hall with us. I said, “I understand that I had marijuana on me, which was illegal, but it was just as illegal for that officer to search me, and I don’t know why I should yield on the battle of illegalities.”

My attorney went back to talk with the ADAs, and comes back and says, “You won’t believe this. A tape has surfaced. The cop is here to testify against you. She watched their tapes last night and said they clearly show you gambling.” I told him there was absolutely no way those tapes showed that. We made a deal with the ADA that we would each get copies of the tapes, review them, and if I was not shown gambling then the charges would get dropped.

About a month later, my attorney calls me and tells me the charges are being dropped. I ask him about the videotape. He tells me he still hasn’t received it…the ADAs just called him and told him they had watched it and the charges were being dropped. I was never given any copy of the tape at all.

The curious thing is that my attorney represents some of the dealers/operators of the poker game. He has several more cases pending and told the ADAs, “Guys, sooner or later, you’ve got to give me that tape on one of these other cases.” They still have not produced any videotape.

I am still contemplating what to do. I am probably going to file a report on the officer for making a false arrest report. I doubt it will do much good, as I know all too well from reading your site and others how these cover-ups happen. It’s sad that so many law enforcement officers are unwilling to follow the law themselves, and I see how these railroad jobs happen. Like Reed Seligmann, the Duke lacrosse player, expressed the other day: I had the means and wherewithal to take care of this. What happens to those defendants who are not so situated? Furthermore, how are defendants not, as a matter of course, entitled to copies of any videotape filmed at a crime scene by either the police or their agents? Perhaps there should be a presumption that missing videos would have proven what the defendant claims they prove…perhaps that would make some of these videotapes survive.

Having read your site for some time, it was ironic that this happened to me. I am happy to be able to share my experience with you and hope that it, in some small way, contributes to your work.

He added the following in a subsequent email:

By the way, that night the police issued something like 87 Class C Misdemeanor gambling tickets, 2 Class B of some sort, and a Class A.

What’s baffling is that with 15 SWAT guys, Dallas police, Dallas Code Enforcement, etc., there were probably 30-40 officers at the raid on a Saturday night, probably being paid overtime.

That’s a hell of a lot of overtime to pay to nab misdemeanors with very small maximum fines, most of which were never collected as, according to my attorney, each and every person who requested a jury trial had their charges dismissed.

I’ll bet it would’ve made great TV, though.

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One Response to “Tales of a Dallas Poker Raid”

  1. #1 |  Overlawyered | 

    April 24 roundup

    Update: Jarek Molski’s appeal of his “vexatious litigant” status [On Point] Watch what you say dept.: Beaumont plaintiffs’ lawyers subpoena newspaper. [Beaumont Enterprise; Southeast Texas Record; Houston Chronicle] “New York’s Most Obnoxious Lawyer.” …