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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Accusations Fly in Lawmen Feud

Accusations fly in feud involving Texas lawmen, porn charges
The Dallas Morning News by JON NIELSEN - January 1, 2010

The lengthy arrest warrant for former small-town police chief Michael Meissner included a string of graphic text messages he was accused of sending to teenage boys, trying to lure them to sex parties. Television news crews flocked to the jailhouse to catch a glimpse of Meissner in handcuffs. Yet a week after his September arrest, Meissner, 39, then the police chief of Little River-Academy, a small community south of Waco, walked out of the Dallas County Jail a free man. The seven charges against him were erased, and his $1.5 million bail was dismissed. Prosecutors in Dallas and Tarrant counties won't say why Meissner won't be tried on charges of promotion of prostitution, possession and promotion of child pornography and sexual performance of a child. The dismissals baffled the investigating officer, John Hoskins, who said he uncovered the seedy texts during another investigation while working as an unpaid reserve officer for the city of Combine in Kaufman County, near the Dallas County line.

Meissner, who lives in Dallas, denies the charges and denies sending the text messages. He said the allegations are trumped up by Hoskins, an officer Meissner says has been out to get him for years. "I think ... [authorities] knew the charges were bogus; they knew about this guy and this vendetta," Meissner said. While it remains unclear why prosecutors won't pursue a case against Meissner, documents reveal a bitterness between the two officers that began four years ago. The rivalry is a convoluted tale of salacious allegations mixed with small-town politics. It pits Meissner, a peace officer who has worked for 18 agencies in 20 years, against Hoskins, an equally nomadic officer. The two worked side by side in 2006 when Meissner was police chief and Hoskins was his officer in the East Texas town of Caney City. While there, Hoskins investigated a charge that his boss viewed pornography with a minor at the police station on a city-owned computer, according to a police report. The charge, like others against Meissner, was dropped. Hoskins said his latest investigation isn't about settling a feud. "I do not have an ax to grind. People like Meissner don't need to have badges," said Hoskins, who has left the Combine Police Department but will not say where he now works, out of privacy concerns. Like Meissner, Hoskins has had peace officer jobs with several agencies. Since 1999, he has had 14 appointments with police departments, none lasting more than five months. The investigation has sent ripples through Combine. In the wake of Hoskins' investigation and subsequent resignation, Police Chief Steve Allen, who authorized the investigation, left the department in November. "The frustrating part of it is there's a criminal that's still out walking on the streets," Allen alleged. Of the charges, which have been dropped, he said, "It's not hearsay – 'he said, she said' – it's straight off his text messages." The day Allen announced his resignation, the Combine City Council was scheduled to review his employment. In that same meeting, city leaders were scheduled to discuss the fallout from the Meissner investigation, his incarceration and the raid on his Arlington home. James Heironimus, a former director of the state agency that regulates peace officers, is familiar with the history between Hoskins and Meissner. Knowing that, he said he's sure that Hoskins' investigation is motivated by his desire to settle a score. "It's personal for Hoskins for sure," he said. Heironimus once investigated Meissner on allegations that he destroyed evidence and documents from a police property room. No criminal charges came of the allegations. "Certainly someone needs to go in and really look at this thing with less than a jaundiced eye," Heironimus said. "Either ... [Meissner is] doing something wrong or not." Hoskins has devoted years to trying to alert legislators and the public to Meissner's work history and criminal background through a Web site he established. Meissner, whose law enforcement career began in 1989, also has faced charges including impersonating a public servant and operating a security company without a license. The charges have all been dropped.

'Barely legal age'

On Sept. 15, authorities arrested Meissner on seven felony counts in Tarrant and Dallas counties. The affidavit says that while Meissner was police chief at Little River-Academy – and the small community's only police officer – he found a 17-year-old through the MySpace social networking site and began texting and e-mailing him lewd messages. According to the affidavit, the messages promised sexual encounters with others at Meissner's Arlington home. Throughout almost 5,000 text messages that Hoskins said he obtained from Meissner's cellphone using a search warrant, Meissner allegedly attempted to lure the high school student and others to his home in the 1000 block of Glynn Oaks Drive to participate in sex parties with alcohol, drugs and video cameras, according to the affidavit. The affidavit says Meissner also received nude photographs from people of "barely legal age." Combine police seized the e-mails and texts through a search warrant Hoskins obtained in a related case. He had been investigating whether Meissner illegally e-mailed a Combine officer's mug shot to a blogger. The Dallas County district attorney's office rejected three charges against Meissner, including engaging in organized crime. "But we don't comment on how we make such decisions," spokeswoman Jamille Bradfield said. None of the other charges, including promotion of prostitution, possession and promotion of child pornography and sexual performance by a child, have been brought to the Tarrant County district attorney's office, a spokeswoman said, because the judge who signed Meissner's arrest warrant later withdrew the charges. The judge, Tarrant County District Judge Louis Sturns, said he didn't feel comfortable commenting on his decision.

Previous arrests

Although he has worked as police chief in four small cities, Meissner has been arrested at least four times, including on charges that he tampered with a witness and used a fictitious degree on a job application for the Dallas County Community College District. Meissner was not prosecuted on any of those charges, which have all been dropped. "I'm not perfect by any means, but there has to be something good about me because I keep getting these chief jobs," he said. Officials with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, the agency that oversees peace officers, said it will not suspend or revoke an officer's license without a conviction. In Meissner's case, he has never been tried. "You're innocent until proven guilty," said Laura Le Blanc, the agency's public information officer. "We have nothing in our rules and statutes that we can take action until he's been found guilty of criminal misconduct." Hoskins said the state agency needs to have more accountability for who gets a badge. "We should not have to police our own, but the state needs to do something about it," he said. "I know there are other cops just like him." The Hoskins-Meissner rivalry began in Caney City in fall 2006 when Hoskins and Meissner applied for the chief position in the Henderson County town of about 225 people. Meissner got the job and later hired Hoskins as an officer. Just weeks into his employment, Hoskins began investigating allegations that his boss viewed pornography with a 15-year-old boy on a city-owned computer, according to Caney City police records. The investigation hardly began. According to Hoskins, 31, when Meissner learned about it, he fired him. Meissner says Hoskins never worked for him, but city records show Hoskins led an investigation of allegations against his boss involving the 15-year-old boy. Since then, both men have tried to tarnish each other's credibility. According to Hoskins, Meissner has called his supervisors to try to get him fired or to keep them from hiring him when he applied for jobs. Hoskins won't say where he's working now.

Hoskins established the Web site – which he has since taken down – to gather tips and warn the public about Meissner's record as a nomadic cop and his arrests. Among the content on the site were copies of a federal tax lien against Meissner and documents accusing him of burning police records and evidence from police property rooms. Hoskins also appealed to legislators and the media to look into Meissner. Meanwhile, Meissner floated around, getting jobs with small-town agencies until his conflict with Hoskins heated up again in August, when Hoskins said he discovered the alleged text messages that led to Meissner's latest arrest. "All I wanted to be was a small-town chief and be left alone," Meissner said. "But this guy does not want me to do it, for some reason. This guy keeps bringing up charges in the past, but they've never went far enough to go into court." Meissner said that since he left Little River-Academy he has begun coordinating security for a family-owned business in Dallas that he declined to identify. He filed a complaint of official oppression by Hoskins and others in Combine to Kaufman County District Attorney Rick Harrison in November. Among his allegations, Meissner said that following his arrest, "Investigator Hoskins notified several media outlets and made several press releases in the city of Combine's name to publicly embarrass me and cause harm." Hoskins is frustrated that Meissner is free. He said there's no telling how many victims he has preyed upon. "When the justice system has failed, I've tried to get it to the right hands," Hoskins said. George Spurgeon, an officer of 18 years who once worked with Meissner and is familiar with Hoskins, said many agree – but he said they also feel the same way about Hoskins. "Most of the officers I know ... would say we'd probably be better off in the law enforcement community if both of them were not police officers," Spurgeon said.

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