Much Ado About Cussin'

The long, strange journey to a police chief's perjury indictment

The dawn of November 3, 2000, ushered in a bad day in the decade-long tenure of Houston Police Chief Clarence O. Bradford. He hadn't even settled into his morning routine when he received the urgent phone call from his boss, Mayor Lee Brown.

Where, the furious mayor demanded to know, was the Criminal Intelligence Division officer assigned to guard his wife, Frances? Even worse for Bradford, it was the second straight day in which CID had failed to have a cop meet Mrs. Brown to follow her from Brown's west Houston home to her job at an HISD school.

It was a bad time for HPD watchdogs to oversleep. The security shield on the mayor and his family had been increased in previous weeks. An unidentified caller had phoned in a death threat that specifically mentioned the mayor's wife and cited her work location. And a prowler had been chased from the mayor's driveway and escaped.

Bradford (left) berated his staff following Brown's ire over security lapses.
Tim Fleck
Bradford (left) berated his staff following Brown's ire over security lapses.

Other developments ratcheted up the tension. A rental van had followed the mayor's daughter in her SUV -- an incident that turned out to be a false alarm. And there was the contentious campaigning on the proposed basketball arena vote, prompting the mayor's security team to draw on CID for extra officers.

Bradford, an emotional chief known for using salty language during confrontations with subordinates, followed up on the mayor's call by summoning a handful of command staff to his office. They included Executive Assistant Chief Joe Breshears, Assistant Chief Jerry Jones, Lieutenant John Silva, department attorney Craig Ferrell and CID Captain Murvel Yates.

Breshears would later refer to the stormy session while testifying in an unrelated arbitration hearing: Bradford berated the group for the security miscues and at one point called Breshears a "motherfucker."

"I didn't consider it terribly profane when he called me that," Breshears recalled, "not to say I wasn't hurt by the words. I wouldn't tell you that. But I didn't jump up and file a complaint against the chief because he said that."

The meeting ended with Bradford deciding to pull CID off the mayor's security team and use officers from other divisions. His reaction to the security lapses didn't end there. Captain Yates got a letter of reprimand. CID Lieutenant Mark Eisenman received a two-day suspension, and CID Sergeant John Olszewski was suspended for five days. Even worse, the department transferred the three out of their prestigious CID positions and left them with black marks on their career records.

It might have been nothing more than an obscure footnote for HPD, except that Yates had been represented in his arbitration hearing by attorney Bob Thomas, general counsel of the Houston Police Officers Union. He quietly stored away Breshears's unrecorded testimony about Bradford's cursing.

As bad as the morning of November 3 was for Bradford, it triggered a chain of events that would be far worse for the chief. The information that Thomas saved would explode into a perjury indictment against Bradford, who is now relieved of duty pending trial.

Parallel worlds of police profanity came together for Thomas nine months later, when controversial HPD Captain Mark Aguirre became his client. An officer who knows Aguirre and Bradford says that both employ expletives regularly, but for vastly different effect.

Aguirre, who ran the South Central Command until his recent suspension for the botched Kmart trespassing arrests, swears in a calculated way to draw reactions from subordinates. The officer who knows the two men says Bradford uses profanity more emotionally, often simply to vent his frequent frustrations. It's not unusual for department visitors to hear Bradford's shouts coming through the walls of his office.

In August 2001, Aguirre angrily called a meeting to tongue-lash his supervisory staff for what he believed were lax work habits of his patrol officers (see "HPD Blue" and "Curses, Foiled Again!" by George Flynn, May 30 and July 18; and "The War Within," by Richard Connelly, June 27).

Terms like "lazy bastard," "son of a bitch" and "goddammit" were spliced with general threats that he would "chop their heads off at the ankles" (some say he said "anuses") if things didn't improve. Several members of his command staff, including an officer who secretly taped most of the meeting, eventually filed formal complaints accusing their captain of unprofessional behavior, including intimidation, threats and profanity.

Aguirre's proposed punishment of up to five days' suspension was reduced to a written reprimand by Bradford. Thomas, representing Aguirre prior to a March hearing to appeal the discipline, made it clear that one defense would be that his actions were no more extreme or threatening than those of his bosses. By calling Bradford as a witness, Thomas sent a clear message that the chief's use of profanity would be an issue.

After the initial hearing, attorney Terry Yates took over from Thomas because of conflicts -- as the union's counsel, he would have been in a position of representing officers who filed complaints against Aguirre, as well as Aguirre himself against the department.

Thomas then resigned his post under pressure, a departure some union members believe was orchestrated by Bradford. With attorney Yates in charge at the second hearing, Bradford gave his now-celebrated response to the question of whether he'd ever called a subordinate a "motherfucker." The chief said initially he didn't recall it, then graduated to "I categorically deny having done that."

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