Case Study: Crisis Intervention

The City of Dallas was confronted with a huge crisis when the local ABC affiliate reported that dozens of people had been wrongfully convicted of drug possession, victims of a scheme concocted by a Dallas police officer and a narcotics informant. The officer and informant planted gypsum on their victims, mostly illegal immigrants, and then arrested these people for possession of illegal substances. The scheme worked because Dallas had stopped testing substances associated with drug busts and also because the victims’ lawyers failed to request testing. The City Attorney, Madeleine Johnson, asked Lee to help her create a solution to the crisis and a legal strategy to address the many cases filed in the wake of the ABC report.   

The solution Taft and Johnson designed was non-traditional and innovative. The centerpiece of the design was a 5-point resolution in which a courageous Dallas City Council (1) apologized to the victims “for breakdowns within the Dallas Police Department that contributed to the scandal”; (2) directed the City Manager and Chief of Police to take steps so that a similar event could never happen again; (3) created an implementation committee to implement the recommendations contained in the report of an independent investigation; (4) directed the Madeleine Johnson to enter into expedited settlement negotiations with those injured so that those injured were fairly compensated; and (5) affirmed the reason for the resolution was to create a permanent record so that the scandal would never be forgotten.  

The resolution was presented at a media event designed by Lee and Madeleine after meeting with the victims and their representatives. The invitees to that meeting included expected media members, but also alternative media sources requested by the victims.

With six months of the media event all of the cases had been settled. The aggregate settlement amount was a fraction of what had placed on reserve, saving the city millions of dollars. Yet, even more important than the money saved, was that a racial fracture in the city was averted and public trust in the city and its leaders was restored.