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FBI probes shooting - civil rights inquiry to examine killing of shop owner by Dallas police
The Dallas Morning News ^ | August 9, 2003 | By JASON TRAHAN / The Dallas Morning News

Posted on 08/10/2003 2:41:37 AM PDT by MeekOneGOP


FBI probes shooting

Civil rights inquiry to examine killing of shop owner by Dallas police

08/09/2003

By JASON TRAHAN / The Dallas Morning News

The FBI has launched a civil rights investigation into the shooting death of a store owner killed by undercover Dallas narcotics officers who said the Rowlett man shot at them first during a drug sting.

The Dallas Police Department, which is investigating the shooting, would not comment on test results completed this week that could determine whether Tony Vernon, 38, fired his gun as he stepped out of his pickup outside his business, Designer's Hip Hop Clothing, in southeast Dallas last month.

The two undercover officers are on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of criminal and internal investigations.

Their attorneys said Friday that their clients were justified in the shooting.

"The FBI investigation is a safeguard that everything was done right," said Jason Atchley, an attorney representing one officer. "In this case, it will bear out that everything was justified and officers were in fear for their lives."

Rhonda Cates, who is representing the other officer, said she is not concerned about the FBI's involvement.

"Everybody says [Mr. Vernon] had the gun in his hands and pointed it at the officers," she said.

The officers are not being identified because police officials said doing so could compromise future undercover work.

Family incensed

Mr. Vernon's family denies he was involved in drugs.

"I don't like that they said he's a drug dealer because he was not," Michael Vernon said. "The police had no right to kill my brother like they did. My brother was framed."

The Dallas County medical examiner's office said Mr. Vernon was struck from behind by three bullets – one in each of his upper legs and one in the back. The shot to his back struck his aorta, killing him, an autopsy found.

But Mr. Atchley disputes that conclusion.

"It wasn't that he had his back to the officers," the attorney said. "He turned sideways in an attempt to get to cover, all the time pointing a gun at officers, and they hit him in the side."

FBI agents began looking into the shooting this week after local civil-rights leaders and some witnesses questioned whether Mr. Vernon fired at or threatened officers.

In about a month, federal authorities are expected to forward information on the case to the U.S. Department of Justice, which will determine whether further investigation is warranted.

Special Agent John Skillestad, a spokesman for the FBI's Dallas field office, said that a civil rights investigation does not necessarily mean race was a factor in the shooting.

"We will investigate whether someone violated another one's civil rights: life, liberty and property," he said. "It doesn't matter that he was African-American."

Senior Cpl. Chris Gilliam, a Dallas police spokesman, said the department is aware of the FBI inquiry and is cooperating. He declined to elaborate.

The Rev. L. Charles Stovall, chairman of the Unified Organizations for Justice, which has questioned the Police Department's version of the shooting, said he's pleased the FBI is involved.

"We want to see justice done," he said.

Police recovered nearly $98,000 from Mr. Vernon's truck after he was killed. Police said he had arranged to buy 7 kilograms of cocaine as part of an undercover deal set up the day before.

According to a search warrant affidavit, officials learned of Mr. Vernon's involvement in drugs from a 27-year-old man arrested last month in Dallas as part of a police sting out of Odessa.

Setting up a deal

Authorities had the informant call Mr. Vernon to set up a deal. Later that day, officers taped a phone call from the informant in which Mr. Vernon agreed to buy seven "pairs of jeans" for "14 dollars" each. According to the affidavit, the informant told police those were code words referring to kilograms of cocaine at $14,000 apiece.

The next day, the informant called Mr. Vernon twice more, and the two agreed to meet at Mr. Vernon's store.

The undercover narcotics officers went with the informant "with the intention of detaining [Mr. Vernon] when he arrived to see if he had the money for the transaction," the affidavit states. "Upon seeing the officers, Tony pulled a handgun from his waistband and fired at the officers. Two officers returned fire and killed Tony."

"I believe that the evidence will show that Mr. Vernon was in fact a drug dealer, without any doubt at all," Mr. Atchley said. "It has no bearing on whether they were justified in shooting him. They are justified in that he fired at them first."

Ballistics tests show that Mr. Vernon's 9mm handgun had been fired since its last cleaning, police said. Investigators would not comment on test results for gunpowder residue on Mr. Vernon's hands.

Attorneys for the undercover officers said Mr. Vernon's gun was found with nine bullets in the magazine and one in the chamber. The magazine can hold 10 bullets. No spent shell casings from Mr. Vernon's gun have been found.

Mr. Stovall said his group is only interested in the truth.

"We've never argued that Tony was or wasn't a drug dealer," he said. "We're about justice. If they had anything on him, they should have arrested him and taken him to jail and given him the opportunity to go to trial and have his guilt or innocence proven in a court of law.

"If what the witnesses are saying is true, and what the autopsy is saying is true, these officers need to be tried for murder."

E-mail jtrahan@dallasnews.com


Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/localnews/stories/080903dnmetvernon.c0c11.html


TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; News/Current Events; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: dallas; fbi; shooting; texas

1 posted on 08/10/2003 2:41:37 AM PDT by MeekOneGOP
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To: MeeknMing
Undercover narcotics cops are the same sort of trash they are supposedly protecting the public from.
2 posted on 08/10/2003 8:18:29 AM PDT by E. Pluribus Unum (Drug prohibition laws help support terrorism.)
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To: MeeknMing
Is there a racial angle to this?
3 posted on 08/10/2003 8:46:52 AM PDT by Old Professer
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To: Old Professer
Is there a racial angle to this?

No ...

Special Agent John Skillestad, a spokesman for the FBI's Dallas field office, said that a civil rights investigation does not necessarily mean race was a factor in the shooting.

"We will investigate whether someone violated another one's civil rights: life, liberty and property," he said. "It doesn't matter that he was African-American."

Or, if so, they are downplaying it. Even the witnesses apparently claim the guy pulled a gun. Officers in danger like that have a right to use their guns ...

4 posted on 08/10/2003 9:37:31 AM PDT by MeekOneGOP (Check out the Texas Chicken D 'RATS!: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/keyword/Redistricting)
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