AUSTIN, TEX., SEPT. 13 -- Dallas Police Chief Mack Vines, hired two years ago to improve relations with the city's minority community, was indicted on a misdemeanor perjury charge Wednesday, then immediately fired by City Manager Jan Hart.
In August, the Dallas County District Attorney's office filed seven felony charges of aggravated perjury against Vines. All but one was dropped by a county grand jury, and that was reduced to a misdemeanor.
In a message to City Council members, Hart said firing Vines was necessary to restore public confidence in the 2,600-member police department. His dismissal was cheered by many police officers and denounced by minority groups.
Events leading to the indictment began last year when Dallas Police Officer Patrick LaMaire, who is white, fatally shot an unarmed Mexican national. Vines fired LaMaire for violating department policy on use of deadly force, but a grand jury later cleared LaMaire and his firing was overturned.
Hart then appointed a panel to review LaMaire's firing. Although Vines was cleared of allegations that he caused reports to be altered or signatures forged, he was indicted for allegedly discussing his testimony before the panel with two assistants, despite having taken an oath not to discuss it.
"That indictment is almost as little as a speeding ticket," said Diane Ragsdale, one of two blacks on the 11-member council who has supported Vines. "And the firing was inexcusable, ridiculous. What happened to the presumption of innocence?"
Vines, 52, formerly police chief in Cape Coral, Fla., was the first outside appointee among Dallas's 24 police chiefs. From the start, he gave priority to promoting minorities to high-profile positions, and he exceeded City Council affirmative-action goals, which resulted in a reverse-discrimination lawsuit by 29 police lieutenants in 1989.
Because of his strong relations with the minority community and because he was an outsider, he was vulnerable, Ragsdale said.
"Before Vines came, we were No. 1" in shootings by police, Ragsdale said. "Friction doesn't even begin to describe the situation between the police and minorities in this town.
"Vines believed in the philosophy that you need to rectify past discrimination. Then he actually enforced it. And he had the support of the African-American community, the Mexican-American community and progressive whites. A gross injustice has been done."
Leaders of a black police officer's group, the Texas Peace Officers Association in Dallas, anticipating that Vines would be fired, called earlier this week for appointment of a black police chief.
Vines's dismissal from the $99,000-a-year job is effective immediately. If convicted, he faces as much as one year in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.
"I am not content to be complacent about even one misdemeanor charge," he said in a prepared statement.