Cop vs. Cop

Police officers don't complain about other officers -- or else.

Newar maintains that Zavala, by blowing the whistle on IAD's abuses of power, became the target of even greater abuse. "Our case," says Newar, "establishes quite clearly that the city of Houston -- the Houston Police Department under Chief Sam Nuchia -- had a code of silence and a policy and practice of retaliating against officers who broke the code."

In fairness, however, there does seem to be evidence that Bradford is making good on his pledge to rid the department of the unwritten code. [See "Breaking the Blue Code of Silence," October 8, 1998.] According to attorney Fred Keys, since Bradford appointed Assistant Chief C.A. McClelland to oversee internal affairs, complaints have diminished.

"Since that changeover took place, I have not seen or heard of any case, or even a perceived case, of abuse of power," says Keys. Maybe, he says, the problem's been fixed.

So far Zavala hasn't been able to present his case to a jury. This past September, almost two years after Zavala's arrest, United States Magistrate Nancy Johnson threw his case out of court. Johnson based much of her decision on Zavala's signing the city's last chance agreement; she concurred with the city's argument that Zavala waived not only his right to appeal the suspension but also his right to contest his treatment in any other judicial forum. She also concluded that Zavala couldn't prove that the altered tape recordings definitely contained evidence proving he'd been framed.

Still, Zavala's fight isn't over. He's appealed the case to the United States Fifth Circuit Court and is optimistic, given the Fifth Circuit's recent ruling on a similar case (see "Breaking the Blue Code."

Meanwhile, Zavala works out of the Magnolia substation, an old facility in east Houston where HPD often sends cops who've fallen from grace. Besides Zavala, there's Captain Bobby Adams, the former head of the homicide division, who was reassigned after a dispute with an assistant chief. And there's Officer Howard Larson, exiled to Magnolia after he filed a lawsuit accusing HPD officers of unlawfully searching his home and detaining him after an unsubstantiated report of domestic violence.

Zavala spends his workdays patrolling the streets, wearing a uniform, thinking about his glory days in narcotics. He still hopes to win his lawsuit. But he knows he'll never get his old job back. Some things the department will never forgive.

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