Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate a Waco police drug enforcement detective whose actions may have put the prosecution of a number of drug cases in jeopardy.
In a statement Thursday, Stroman does not name the officer but says he also has ordered an internal investigation of the officer’s actions.
Courthouse sources and documents obtained by the Tribune-Herald indicate the investigation is centering on drug cases made by 26-year veteran Detective David Starr and whether he lied in probable cause affidavits about his use of confidential informants to obtain arrest and search warrants.
The McLennan County District Attorney’s Office also is conducting an internal review of hundreds of drug cases presented to its office, the sources said.
Several criminal defense attorneys said Thursday that they expect numerous cases to be dismissed by the DA’s office as a result of the investigation, including at least two cases involving 5 pounds of cocaine and 5 pounds of methamphetamine.
“While preparing a Waco Police Department narcotics case for prosecution, the McLennan County DA notified my office that they found a discrepancy in how the investigator documented this particular case,” Stroman’s statement says. “After reviewing the situation, I have asked the Texas Rangers to conduct an investigation to see if they have any concerns about the actions taken by my officers.
“In addition, I have ordered an internal investigation to determine if any policy violations have occurred. We understand that concerns and questions may arise but we need to let the processes run their course before drawing any conclusions. The facts of the situation will dictate my action and a resolution to this matter.”
The release says the “Waco Police Department will remain as transparent as possible in this matter.”
Stroman said later that Starr was placed on administrative leave with pay Thursday evening pending the investigation. McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna did not return phone messages left at his office.
The Tribune-Herald obtained a letter that Reyna sent Thursday to all criminal defense attorneys in the county. He said inconsistencies in reports and affidavits from Starr in two cases led to the investigations.
“The report and sworn affidavit reference an ‘interdiction’ operation conducted by the Waco PD Drug Enforcement Unit,” Reyna’s letter says. “After discussion with the detective, it was revealed that there was not an interdiction operation and the arrest of the defendants was made pursuant to information received from a confidential informant. Detective Starr indicated to prosecutors that he was apprehensive about wording the report and affidavit this way, but was ordered to do so.”
Reyna’s office relied on the information in making the decision to seek indictments in the cases, the letter says.
“More importantly, the grand jury relied on this information in returning the indictments,” Reyna wrote.
Reyna told defense attorneys that no action will be taken on any Waco police drug cases without his authorization or that of his first assistant, Michael Jarrett.
Courthouse sources say the situation with the drug cases likely is an unfortunate byproduct of mistrust between the DA’s office and Waco police detectives that became public three years ago. A detective at the time refused to reveal her confidential informants because she said two of Reyna’s former employees were leaking information to criminal suspects.
Jarrett dismissed felony engaging in organized criminal activity cases against seven defendants in an alleged auto theft ring after Detective Sherry Kingrey refused to reveal her informants.
The dismissals came after two court hearings in early 2013 in which Jarrett and the defense attorney in one of the cases took the unusual position of joining in a motion seeking to force Kingrey to name the informants.
Waco attorney Rick Bostwick, who represented the city at the hearings, said the city was concerned for the safety of its informants and thought information about this case was not secure because of suspected leaks in the district attorney’s office.
He said those suspicions have “led to issues” between police and prosecutors.
Jarrett said Reyna investigated the allegations of leaks by former employees and determined they were unfounded.
In dismissing the cases, Jarrett said, “the ends of justice cannot be met without a full disclosure and review of all evidence and/or witnesses in this matter.”