Get a Room
The Fort Worth Police Department is caught on tape with its captain down.
By PABLO LASTRA and JEFF PRINCE
At first glance, nothing seemed unusual on April 13 at Vandergriff Park in Arlington, just a typical weekday afternoon. Parents played with children, people walked dogs, squirrels looked for nuts, and a breeze blew through the trees. Oh, and some people were thinking about hot sex.
In a parking lot, a couple inside a black Crown Victoria kissed, unaware that their movements were being captured on video. The silent spectator was a Dallas private detective, who jotted notes about what the male and female “suspects” appeared to be doing and in what positions.
About 45 minutes later, a Hispanic woman stepped from the car wearing a white top and black miniskirt, and drove away in a Toyota Tercel. Her rendezvous partner, a tall black man, left in the Crown Victoria. The license plate number was easily tracked: It was a Fort Worth city vehicle driven by Fort Worth Police Capt. Duane Paul.
Private detective Danny Gomez, a former Dallas police officer, was videotaping the romantic encounter at the request of the woman’s husband, Rafael Gutierrez, who suspected she was having an affair. Gomez works for the tv show Cheaters, where philandering spouses are captured on camera and later confronted. It’s a tawdry show — and a popular one. Entering its fifth season this fall, the show regularly draws several million viewers in 200 U.S. markets and around the world. The episode with Paul is expected to air locally on Nov. 5.
Gomez had witnessed similar encounters between the couple in previous weeks. As his investigation unfolded, it became clear that Maria Gutierrez was having an affair, and the man she was seeing wasn’t an ordinary citizen — he was one of the few high-ranking African-American officials in Fort Worth Police Department history, an 18-year veteran who repeatedly has found himself in the middle of messy sexual troubles, from which he always seems to emerge unscathed. His horndog ways are much discussed among police troops, who question how he keeps climbing the career ladder despite rocky female relationships that spill over into the workplace.
Fort Worth Police Officer Malinda Spence accused Paul and another police officer of sexually harassing her in the late 1990s, resulting in a lawsuit against the city. The city — meaning taxpayers — paid dearly for that one: $200,000, according to court records.
The city, however, said paying the money wasn’t an admission of wrong-doing. The lawsuit appears to be Paul’s only alleged sexual indiscretion that has been documented in the public record, but other situations are much gossiped about among the ranks. Several police officers spoke off the record about other incidents, involving work-hour trysts, women who complained that Paul was harassing them, and a girlfriend who stormed into a police station and accused him of trying to seduce her daughter. The officers spoke sarcastically about Paul’s custom of speaking to new police academy recruits about ethics — including one such speech given just a few days prior to his being caught on tape by Cheaters.
The only result thus far of Paul’s actions, the officers complain, is that he has been transferred to a different unit or promoted. Some say Paul’s close relationships with former Police Chief Thomas Windham and current Chief Ralph Mendoza have meant that his transgressions have gone away quietly and his penalties have been minimal. Others say his indiscretions have hurt him and that he might have been a deputy chief by now.
Bottom line: “If Paul wasn’t protected,” one officer said, “he’d be fired already.”
An internal police investigation is under way into Gutierrez’ complaint that Paul used a city car, on what appears to have been city time, to carry out his romances, said police spokesman Lt. Dean Sullivan. However, a lack of documentation regarding Paul’s prior activities, combined with strict civil service rules governing treatment of police officers, could limit the severity of the punishment. On the other hand, a “lack of moral character” clause in those rules could give Mendoza the authority to take stronger action. And Paul’s fellow officers are beginning to wonder whether the Cheaters episode might be his much-watched Waterloo.
Paul joined the Fort Worth police in 1987 after a lackluster scholastic and professional career. He attended Louisiana State University from 1984 to 1986 but earned miserable marks — including, perhaps prophetically, an F in a Marriage and Family Relations class. He dropped out after a half-dozen semesters, with a cumulative grade point average of 1.4, according to college transcripts in his police personnel file.
He went to work as a security guard but was fired for leaving his post without a supervisor’s permission. But then he joined the police department and seemed to have found his niche.
His commendation-packed personnel file shows a record of stellar accomplishments. His work evaluations are practically spotless, and Paul ascended through the ranks from officer to detective to sergeant to lieutenant and finally to captain with glowing praise. There’s only one note of admonishment in Paul’s public file from 1995, but details were unavailable.
After becoming a lieutenant in 2000, Paul served as department spokesman. His name was seen many times in the credits for the tv show Cops, which thanked him for his assistance during segments produced in Fort Worth.
Paul’s personnel file — or at least the portion released to Fort Worth Weekly — does not reveal his rumored sexual liaisons while on duty or the squabbles with girlfriends that flowed over into the workplace, but co-workers remember them well. They recall that a dentist who had been seeing Paul came in to complain to Internal Affairs that he was harassing her while on duty and in his city-issued car. Several police officers described “domestics” that occurred inside police substations, such as when a girlfriend arrived yelling and cursing, accusing Paul of making a pass at her 19-year-old daughter. “The mom raked his ass over the coals,” said an officer who worked with Paul at the time.
Paul was married in 1987, the same year he joined the department, but divorced five years later.
In 2000, Officer Malinda Spence, a nine-year police veteran, sued the city for sexual harassment. Spence stated in an affidavit that, having worked in the vice unit for three years, she was “far from hypersensitive to sexual commentary and actions.” She alleged that in 1997, her supervisor, then-Sgt. Duane Paul, repeatedly asked her if she wanted to “go for drinks in Dallas” after work. Paul even contacted her on the police radio while she was on patrol and asked to meet her when “most of the time there was no work-related reason for the meetings,” she said. The affidavit also mentioned that Paul spent an unusual amount of time on location at her calls. Spence testified she was uncomfortable with the situation and told Paul that there couldn’t be a romantic relationship between the two because she was married.
After that, Spence said Paul “began to hyper-scrutinize her work,” writing her up for “milking a call” when she responded to a traffic accident and waited for investigators to arrive. Another time, Paul disciplined Spence for leaving work five minutes early after finishing her lunch break, which coincided with the end of her shift. Spence told a supervisor that she had “no doubt that she was being treated this way because she shunned his affections.” After filing a sexual harassment complaint against Paul, Spence was transferred to a different unit. Still, Paul continued to retaliate, she said. On one occasion when Paul’s unit was under a heavy call load, she responded to a call in his district. Paul stated over the police radio that Spence was “not allowed in his district under any circumstances.” She testified that she was “humiliated” by that response.
Another officer was also named in the lawsuit. Spence accused Officer R.R. Nichols of kissing her without her consent after an arrest. Spence had borrowed Nichols’ handcuffs. Once they had booked the suspect, Spence said, Nichols approached her from behind and kissed her, saying that he was “charging her for the handcuffs.”
Spence, whose husband also worked in the department, complained to supervisors about Nichols and Paul. The complaints were dismissed. Instead, she came under investigation by Internal Affairs for allegedly filing false complaints of sexual harassment on Paul and Nichols, and the Internal Affairs officials recommended that she be indefinitely suspended — fired, for all practical purposes. A deputy chief reviewed the report but decided to suspend Spence for five days without pay. “The preponderance of the evidence ... indicates that Spence was wrong in at least part of her allegation,” Spence’s captain wrote in his recommendation to the deputy chief. “Being wrong is not always the same as being untruthful.”
Still, Spence said in her affidavit that it became obvious to her that her reputation in the department now preceded her: She said a male officer called her a bitch, and other officers failed to come to her assistance on potentially dangerous calls, including a gang fight, because they thought she was a troublemaker.
The department and the city contended that Spence had been disciplined for good cause and that her allegations were unfounded. Yet the city settled the case in October 2002 without taking it to trial. The city declined to release performance evaluations of Paul from 2001, when the lawsuit was in court, but no reason for this was given. There is no record of any disciplinary action against Paul in the time frame of Spence’s accusations. Spence left the department three months after settling her lawsuit and has been an officer in Colleyville since April 2004.
Since then, other officers said, various other complaints against Paul regarding his involvement with women while on duty have been investigated by IA, but none led to any punishment that showed up in his record.
After he came under investigation in connection with the Cheaters controversy, Paul was transferred from his East Side command and into Criminal Investigations — a desk job. “Paul wasn’t happy about it because it took away his freedom,” one officer said. “The chief had to do something that looked like he was getting to the bottom of things. It’s not uncommon for him to hand down discipline that’s not really discipline.”
Paul later took an extended medical leave but has since returned to duty. He had previously declined to talk to the news media about the Cheaters footage when articles first appeared. When contacted by the Weekly on Tuesday, Paul asked what the story would cover. Told that it would include his career, the internal investigation, Spence’s lawsuit, and allegations by other officers about his domestic troubles spilling over into police stations, Paul declined comment.
Chief Mendoza did not return calls from the Weekly seeking comment. Police Lt. Dean Sullivan said an internal administrative investigation into Paul is continuing. “After the pertinent facts, details, and witnesses are interviewed, the case will be assembled and presented for a chain of command review,” he said. “The chief of police will receive the case and make a decision based on those facts. Any other elaboration or release of information on this matter would be inappropriate until the case disposition and chief’s recommendation are presented to the city of Fort Worth Civil Service Commission.”
Paul’s co-workers are unwilling to discuss the situation on the record. As a division captain, Paul is among a handful of top administrators, and few subordinates want to cross him, especially since he has long been viewed as the Teflon man — nothing ever sticks to him. But many were willing to speak off the record.
“He probably would have been the next deputy chief,” a police officer said. “But with this one, there is no way. The city council is yelling for his head. That puts Mendoza in a bad light.”
A parade of unfaithful spouses caught in the act and then confronted while cameras roll makes Cheaters, locally produced and shot, similar to The Jerry Springer Show but without the “and so we learned” moment at the end — unless the lesson is that cheating is bad. It’s the kind of show where the host gets stabbed in the stomach by an angry cheater and the cameras follow the bloody confrontation all the way to the ambulance as the credits roll. Creator and executive producer Bobby Goldstein has a habit of talking about his show in grand terms, going so far as to compare it to art. And who would know art better than a guy who hangs a portrait of himself in the lobby of the Cheaters office, appearing as the image of a Vegas-era Elvis, complete with pompadour and muttonchops?
But Danny Gomez takes his job seriously. As detective for the show, it’s his duty to trail suspected cheaters and videotape their trysts. As jobs go, it can be tedious. Much of the time it involves following people doing everyday stuff. But the job intensifies tenfold when a couple is caught in flagrante.
Gutierrez approached Gomez in March, after he and his wife had argued and she left the house, taking their son with her and later filing an assault charge against her husband. The argument had started when Gutierrez accused her of having a lover — and now he wanted Gomez to find out if he was right. Gomez, who works independently in addition to working for Cheaters, reassured the jealous husband that he would find out if something was going on behind his back. Gutierrez paid Gomez $2,000 on March 29.
It didn’t take the detective long to gather evidence. The day after being hired, Gomez followed Maria Gutierrez to a central Arlington park. The detective videotaped her getting into the parked black Crown Victoria with an “unknown black male.” Gomez’ report began, “Detective can observe some physical movement and contact in the vehicle.” Thirty minutes later, the report says, “Detective Gomez can only see one head at this time.”
The video shows Paul lying back on the seat. For most of the video, Maria Gutierrez is not visible. After an hour and a half, Maria emerged from the vehicle.
“There was kissing and hugging,” Gomez said. Beyond that, it was hard to tell exactly what went on.
Gomez showed the tape to Gutierrez the next day. The black Crown Victoria was briefly a source of mystery — Gomez thought the driver might be an off-duty security guard. But Rafael Gutierrez said the man in the video looked like a police officer he’d seen at the Bally’s Fitness Club where his wife worked.
A week later, Gomez followed as Paul drove the black Crown Victoria to the East Division police headquarters. Later that day, he saw the same car at the park, where Paul and Maria Gutierrez engaged in “aggressive physical contact.”
At that point, Gutierrez ran out of money to pay for the investigation. Gomez said that he could handle the case for free as a detective for the show Cheaters. That meant the footage of Maria Gutierrez and Duane Paul would appear on television, as well as video showing Rafael confronting Maria with the evidence of her affair. Gutierrez, whose legal bills were fast draining his bank account, agreed.
For the next two weeks, Gomez videotaped Maria Gutierrez and Duane Paul at Vandergriff Park on Wednesdays. After that, Cheaters producers decided the moment of confrontation had come.
During the first week of May, Rafael Gutierrez and the Cheaters crew confronted Maria in the parking lot of the Bally’s Fitness. Rafael accused her of being deceitful, as Cheaters’ cameras captured Maria’s reaction. She denied the accusations and tried to walk away. Rafael followed her, insisting several times that he had video proof. Apparently unbeknown to the Cheaters crew, Rafael’s actions in touching and talking to his wife were violations of a protective order she had obtained against him. She went inside and called 911. Cheaters videotape doesn’t show evidence of assault, but Maria’s exasperation at being besieged in front of the camera is obvious, and she yells “Don’t hit me!” at one point when Rafael tries to grab her arm. Paul was not at the scene.
Arlington police arrested Gutierrez for violating Maria’s restraining order (again) — and the connection between Paul and Maria Gutierrez became public record and then the subject of news media coverage. First came the Fort Worth Star-Telegram story in which Paul’s name and the launching of an internal investigation weren’t mentioned until the end. Other area newspapers and tv newscasts weighed in. After that, Spanish-language news shows ran the Cheaters footage of Maria Gutierrez and the police captain over and over.
Gomez doesn’t understand the media attention. It’s the first time a public figure like Paul has been involved in an episode of the show — and Paul wasn’t even the target. “The media has made more out of it than we would have,” Gomez said.
Rafael Gutierrez looked forlornly at what has become of his home: An overgrown yard. Bills stacked on the breakfast table. His son’s room has been cleared out, the closets empty and the walls bare. On a cabinet rests a framed picture of Rafael and Maria Gutierrez — but the picture has been torn and then pieced back together, though the rips are obvious. He said Maria tore up the photo, and he put it back together.
Gutierrez, 41, was born in New York and raised in the Bronx. He moved to North Texas in 1983, eventually settling in Grand Prairie. He said his problems began on a Sunday in February, when Maria had put on shorts to go biking and he noticed “hickeys” — passion marks — on her legs. When he asked her about them, he said, his wife verbally attacked him for not trusting her. The argument turned into a struggle, and Maria ran from the house and called Grand Prairie police. Gutierrez was charged with assault but not booked into jail. He was surprised when he read the police report. “It read like a movie where I looked like a murderer or something,” he said.
Grand Prairie police, in their report, quoted Maria as saying that Rafael “pinned her down on the floor by stretching her arms out” and started trying to undress her. Maria stated that Rafael told her he would kill her and then himself if she left him. Afterward, in filing for a protective order, she said that, “While he held me down, he kept telling me to fight off the devil because the devil had a hold of me.”
A few days later, when Rafael met his wife at their son’s school, he racked up his first charge of violating the protective order. He was arrested a few days later, and bail was set at $20,000.
Since then, Gutierrez has accumulated two charges of misdemeanor family violence assault, misdemeanor violation of a protective order, and a felony violation of a protective order. He says he has spent close to $50,000 in legal bills and bonds to get out of jail. His legal troubles keep him away from his business as a general contractor, and his wife has not let him see his son. He claims Paul has been coaching Maria, advising her to file complaints, stalling his day in court.
“He’s using his connections with the police to ruin me,” Rafael said. “He wants to teach me a lesson that no one messes with the police.”
Attorney Jay W. Lucas, who represented Rafael but withdrew from the case, said his former client’s treatment in court has been unusual.
“I’ve never seen bonds set that high on the charges affecting Mr. Gutierrez,” he said. “Normally, they’re set in the $1,500 range, not $20,000. An average Joe would not be treated like this. The guidelines are strained. He’s not a risk of flight. He’s not a danger to the community. The only thing that is different in his case is the involvement of a police officer.”
Lucas said that he believes Gutierrez is innocent of the charges against him and that Maria’s story does not hold up to scrutiny. “My strategy would have been to get the case in front of the judge where it belongs, and the judge could see there’s no evidence. But right now it’s just an endless series of charges filed by her.”
Maria Gutierrez’ attorney, Natalie Gregg, said that her client did not want to speak to reporters and that the facts in Maria’s pleadings before the court speak for themselves.
As for Cheaters, Lucas advised Gutierrez not to stage the confrontation for the cameras. “In my opinion, the involvement of Cheaters has prejudiced Mr. Gutierrez’ cases against him and made things worse,” he said, but he believes Rafael’s other media appearances were appropriate. “I felt like people needed to know what was going on with Duane Paul and, more importantly, what was being done to my client. He was railroaded. People should know this is happening. It’s not right.”
Heidi Starratt would probably concur. The mother of two believes that her husband Mark Starratt, a Fort Worth police officer, cheated on her after he requested a divorce in October and that he was taking his lover around in his squad car.
She complained to her husband’s supervising sergeant that her husband was having an affair on the department’s time. “He said it wasn’t a problem and asked my husband if I was medicated,” she said.
Heidi Starratt took her complaints up the chain of command. A lieutenant asked why she was trying to bring her husband’s personal life into his work and hung up on her. She then called the commanding captain — Duane Paul. He said he’d look into things.
“I called Captain Paul later, and he said he didn’t find anything,” she said. “Then a friend told me how he had been on Cheaters, and I knew that he never looked into it. He was doing it too.”
Incensed, Starratt called Mendoza demanding an explanation. She said Mendoza hasn’t called her back. “For this to be tolerated is just wrong,” she said. “I can imagine what Paul’s family is going through. But for him to be promoted when this was going on, you have to wonder what they were thinking. It’s almost like they’re saying ‘That a boy, Paul, good job!’”
Starratt has since moved to Rhode Island to live with relatives, to save money after her husband moved out of the house.
“I hold the city just as responsible as my husband, since they allowed this to happen,” she said. “I have to provide for my children any way I can. Cops are supposed to serve and protect, and instead they’re getting served.”
State civil service rules allow the police department 180 days to investigate the accusations against Paul. The deadline is Sept. 25, and Mendoza will have until then to determine whether Paul violated policy and what actions, if any, will be taken against him.
Many Fort Worth police officers understand — and share — the public’s interest in Paul’s case. They see Paul as a personable guy but also as a public servant who fumbled many golden chances to be a top cop. For years, starting under former police Chief Windham, Paul seemed destined to become a deputy chief. After all, he had been granted coveted positions as a SWAT team member and a homicide detective, and he had been sent to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. He served as the public information officer, a job that garners much face time on television. All this in the nation’s 19th largest police department, and one with a solid national reputation.
“Other cops would die for those positions,” one officer said.
Some of Paul’s colleagues are also upset at the discredit they believe his actions have thrown on their department. “Everyone is mad because someone’s continual actions brought bad publicity and a bad image to a police department they have devoted their lives to,” a second officer said. “They don’t understand why so much effort has been put into this individual when his behavior is repetitive and habitual.”
The outcome of the investigation into Paul’s behavior seems likely to affect department morale. The unwritten rule in the department is, the higher the rank, the higher the expectations and the harsher the punishment when things go wrong. Civil service rules allow a police chief to demote or fire an employee for “acts showing a lack of good moral character.” A wait-and-see attitude lingers. If Mendoza keeps Paul in a command position, morale will plummet, some officers said.
“How can you go out and be a leader and command troops after this occurred?” one asked.
Goldstein, creator of Cheaters, doesn’t see things in such dramatic terms. “We’ve been doing this for years, and we’ve never had the belief that cops or politicians don’t fuck around,” he said. “It goes way back. I have nothing negative to say about Paul — look at Bill Clinton. He’s in good company.
“But he might have had better judgment in picking a place,” the tv producer added. It wasn’t so much the city car as the city park that bothered him. Paul, he said, “must be really cheap” to carry on his backseat romance in a park “where kids play, instead of getting a hotel room.”
You can reach Jeff Prince at email@example.com.
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