Zach Thomas: Same Dallas officer
mistreated my wife
NFL linebacker says line was crossed in 2008 traffic stop; Powell’s attorney sees no improper actions
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Maritza Thomas, the wife of NFL linebacker Zach Thomas, saw a familiar face as she watched the video of Officer Robert Powell detaining Houston Texans running back Ryan Moats as he and his family rushed to a hospital to see a dying loved one. That face was Powell’s.
On July 27, 2008, while her husband was at training camp with the Cowboys in Oxnard, Calif., Maritza Thomas was pulled over by Powell for an illegal U-turn near NorthPark Center.
Maritza Thomas was issued five tickets by Powell, four of which were later dismissed. Thomas was handcuffed, placed in the back of a police cruiser, spent about three hours in the Dallas County Jail and was threatened with the possibility of spending the night behind bars.
“This in no way compares to what happened to Ryan Moats and his family,” said Zach Thomas, who played for the Cowboys last season and is now a free agent. “But we wanted to tell our story, not knowing how many others have been affected by Officer Powell. We know the vast majority of the Dallas police force are good and professional people, but this guy just seems excessive.”
The charges that were dropped were failure to show proof of insurance, running a red light, having an improper address on a driver’s license and not having a registration sticker on the windshield. She accepted deferred adjudication for the illegal U-turn charge, and her record will be cleared next month.
In total, Maritza Thomas, who is Hispanic, was detained roughly five hours.
“This situation never should’ve happened,” said Maritza Thomas’ attorney, Brody Shanklin. “Unless extraordinary circumstances exist, no person should be arrested for a Class C citation. In this case, it was an example of Officer Powell being overzealous and exerting his authority in a manner that he never should have.”
Bob Gorsky, Powell’s attorney, questioned the timing of Thomas’ allegations, saying she had not complained about her arrest until the Moats incident became public.
“After her arrest, she may have mentioned that her husband was a football player, but that played no role in her arrest or the disposition of the case,” Gorsky said.
“I do understand that an arrest on multiple traffic charges happens often and is absolutely proper under these circumstances,” Gorsky said. “Often, when there are multiple charges, an arrest made and bond posted, some of the charges from a single event are later dropped.”
According to Maritza Thomas, a pharmacist with no prior criminal record, Powell would not accept the explanation of where the proper paperwork was before she was taken to jail. Her mother, Teresa Lozano, who was making her first trip to Dallas and speaks little English, was forced to ride with the tow truck driver when the car was impounded. She later posted bail for her daughter’s release.
“My mom was begging for him to let her go to the apartment that was five minutes away to get the paperwork,” Maritza Thomas said. “He unbuckled his holster, and she got scared.”
The Thomases said Powell was dismissive, but they did not allege that he used abusive language. There is no dash-cam video available of the incident, but the police report lists the five citations and confirms that Thomas was taken to jail.
Judge C. Victor Lander, the city of Dallas’ chief municipal judge, said under Texas law a person can be arrested for any Class C misdemeanor citation except speeding and having an open container.
When an officer gives someone a traffic citation, it is in lieu of arrest, Lander said. The officer does have the option of making an arrest, he said.
“It really is giving the individual a break by issuing them a ticket. But it’s a break most people get,” Lander said.
He called it “relatively rare” for an officer to arrest someone on the spot. That’s because it’s time consuming to take someone to jail and fill out the paperwork, he said. Usually, an arrest occurs if the person has a warrant for unpaid traffic tickets, Lander said.
When an officer does decide to make an arrest for a minor traffic offense, it’s usually because of how the person behaved during the traffic stop, Lander said.
“The defense bar refers to it as contempt of cop,” Lander said. “If the officer was offended by something the person said or did, they may arrest them.”
Dallas police say it is not unusual for an officer to arrest someone who is issued three or more citations during one traffic stop.
“If there are so many violations that it could be viewed that it’s an egregious situation, that person can be arrested,” said Assistant Chief Floyd Simpson, who oversees the department’s seven patrol divisions.
Simpson said he did not know the details of Powell’s encounter with Maritza Thomas.
Based on the five citations she received, Simpson said, an arrest would not be required, but it also generally would not be inappropriate.
“It’s a judgment thing on the cops at that moment,” Simpson said. “The core of what we do is just discretion, and it needs to be that way.”
According to the Dallas police Web site, complaints against an officer must be made within 60 days of an incident, except in special cases, including criminal misconduct or when good cause can be shown by the person making the complaint.
At the time of the incident, the Thomases considered filing a complaint against Powell but declined, “because we didn’t want to cause a stir,” said her husband, Zach Thomas, believing it “was maybe a guy having a bad day.” However, they plan to file one now.
Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a Dallas police spokesman, declined to comment on Thomas’ allegation.
However, he said police would investigate all complaints submitted to the department about Powell.
“If she feels Officer Powell did something wrong, we’ll investigate it,” Janse said. “We are not going to go back and track everything this officer has done,” he said. “If people come to us with concerns, we’ll look into it.”
The department is investigating Powell’s actions on the night of the Moats traffic stop, as well as any other questionable encounters involving the officer, Janse said.
Maritza Thomas said, “I hope that by telling my story that it will help prevent situations like this from happening in the future.”
Powell issued an apology Friday for his actions in which Moats and his mother-in-law’s father were unable to see Jonetta Collinsworth before she died of breast cancer this month. Powell has been put on paid leave.
With the grim news of Collinsworth’s health, Moats, his wife, Tamishia, and her grandfather rushed to Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, rolling through a red light that prompted Powell to turn on his lights.
Outside the emergency room, Powell detained Moats for 13 minutes, and Collinsworth died before everybody could say goodbye.
Staff Writer Scott Goldstein contributed to this report.