By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
Sheriff's Detective J.J. Bushong: "Did you hear him shouting at the other subject after you had taken the driver to the ground?"
Officer French: "I could hear something on that side, but I knew he was saying something, but I couldn't understand exactly what he was saying . . . "
Throughout the investigation by the Sheriff's Office, the candor of Officer Jim French is remarkable. In repeated interviews, he is brutally honest about what happened during the shooting. Though he could have done so without fear of contradiction, he never suggested that Jeffrey Dawes resisted arrest.
If the truth is that Officer French's mistake led to a wrongful death, Officer French still prefers the truth to dishonesty.
Less admirable is the public-relations spin put upon the shooting by DPS.
In the beginning, we were told that nothing from the investigation would be released until the Sheriff's Office completed its probe.
It was only hours, however, before the character assassination of Jeffrey Dawes began.
Selected items from the investigation were leaked to the media.
DPS immediately released the radio transcript of the officers involved in the chase as well as the fact that Dawes, with a 0.11 blood-alcohol level, was legally intoxicated (though just barely--police sources estimate that fewer than four beers would have produced this reading in a person the size of Dawes).
This information is both relevant and damning.
In fact, if the chase came down the way we've been told, there is no excusing it. You can understand that a seventeen-year-old is capable of something as stupid as fleeing from the cops and endangering the lives of everyone who was on Interstate 10 that evening. But understanding just how thrilling teenagers find a chase is not the same as excusing it.
Still, the chase was over and the boy had surrendered with his hands in the air when he was shot.
The media campaign did not end with the selective release of the chase transcript and the blood-alcohol reading.
On Monday, January 29, Sheriff's Detective P.J. Riley was asked by Sergeant J.M. Mulhavey to run criminal background checks on the teenagers.
This information was then leaked to the press.
We learned that Dawes had blown a stop sign, had a single speeding ticket, was observed upon a moped without a permit, and had been caught drinking beer under age. A regular Pretty Boy Floyd.
Despite the fact that Detective Riley unearthed little except for the pettiest offenses, by Thursday, newspaper headlines were touting Jeffrey Dawes' criminal background.
At the same time, DPS' Schmidt was releasing reports, which got prominent play, on what a fine officer French was.
On February 2, the Sheriff's Office was notified by Southwestern Laboratories that after extensive screening, the body of Jeffrey Dawes was found to contain absolutely no drugs.
On February 5, Detective J.J. Bushong was still interviewing people on whether or not it was possible that Jeffrey Dawes was somehow involved in drugs.
Despite the fact that Dawes had absolutely no drugs in his body, despite the fact that the Sheriff's Office was told repeatedly by Dawes' classmates that he did not take drugs, unsubstantiated gossip was leaked to the press linking the slain teenager to drugs.
Shortly after the shooting, under a headline that read, "Report Says Teen Shot After Chase Was Drunk," Sergeant Schmidt from DPS was quoted at his cynical best telling a reporter that the slain teenager's parents would have all of their questions answered by the sheriff's investigation.
"I don't know if they'll be happy with the answers," said Sergeant Schmidt. "I'm not happy with everything my kids do."
Of course, the sheriff's investigation does not provide answers to all of the parents' questions.
Nowhere in the 600-page report is Colonel Milstead's warning about training to prevent "sympathetic muscle response" shooting mentioned.
Nowhere in the 600-page report is Officer French asked if he violated DPS training procedures.
Following Colonel Milstead's December '83 interview where he described the dangers of sympathetic muscle reaction, DPS in October '84 produced a training videotape specifically to deal with this problem. Although the training film, Involuntary Reflex, is a part of the Sheriff's Office catalogue of evidence, the issue is never raised with French.
In fact, DPS officers realized from the very beginning that the shooting of Jeffrey Dawes was a nightmare.
Attorney Richard Treon, representing Jeffrey Dawes' parents, has asked the DPS to turn over all the relevant tape-recorded conversations, not just the chase sequence, in this shooting.
So far, the state police have not complied.
The parents, however, do have one interesting tape.
The cassette arrived in the mail. It is a conversation monitored moments after the shooting between two DPS officers, one of whom is on the scene.
Officer on the scene: " . . . I'm not even sure it was a pursuit 'cause the guy did pull over . . . nothing more, now, uh, at the most, reckless driving."
Second Officer: "Not armed?"
Officer on the scene: "No, no weapons at this time . . . "
Second Officer: "Shit!"
Officer on the scene: "Yeah, that's about it . . . I have recommended to the deputy that the Sheriff's Office take the criminal part of it. That's what I would like to happen."