Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Another Bad Apple - In Williamson County This Time


Williamson County Deputy Richard "Monty" Cline was prepared to testify against 37-year-old Anna Berry at a felony drunken driving trial when Berry's lawyer discovered that Cline had something in common with his client: at least two misdemeanor convictions, one for drunken driving.
The news heralded the downward spiral of Cline's credibility and prosecutors' case against Berry, who could have gotten 10 years in prison.
In a deal with prosecutors, Berry pleaded no contest Thursday to obstructing a passageway, a Class B misdemeanor. She received one year deferred adjudication, a type of probation.
Cline is on paid leave from the sheriff's department pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
Revelations about his background raise questions about law enforcement hiring standards and whether other officers have pasts that can't withstand scrutiny in a courtroom.
Sheriff James Wilson, who took office in January, called Cline's 2002 hiring a "bureaucratic snafu." He said the department does its own background checks.
The case began unraveling last month, when Berry’s attorney subpoenaed Cline's personnel file from the sheriff's department.
What the attorney found was a 1991 conviction for drunken driving and a 1996 conviction for hindering a secured creditor, a Class A misdemeanor. Cline received probation in Travis County for both crimes, according to court records.
In August 1999, three years after the last conviction, Cline submitted a false document to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement that stated he had not been convicted of anything above a Class C misdemeanor within the past five years, according to commission documents.
Cline reported the error to the commission the next month and agreed to a temporary suspension of his peace officer license. He was allowed to reapply in July 2001. The Williamson County sheriff's department hired him in May 2002.
Since 1999, the commission has raised its standards, Director Cynthia Martinez said, and Cline's past would bar him from obtaining a license today.
The new rules block candidates with felony or Class A misdemeanor convictions, she said.
Martinez said applicants' statements regarding criminal history are accepted "on the honors system" unless agency workers have reason to suspect otherwise.
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley said conversations with Cline about his past caused prosecutors to lose faith in him as a witness, Bradley said.