By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Posing as an outlaw biker came easily to Ensley. ”He kind of looked the part,“ said David Osterquist, a police officer who attended the state training program with Ensley. Ensley likes to recall one case in particular, where he befriended a biker he found broken down on the side of the road. After Ensley invited the man into his home and helped to repair his motorcycle, the biker offered to cut Ensley in on plans to distribute a fresh batch of methamphetamines. Ensley declined, and after waving goodbye to his transient friend, called the tip in to the task force. ”He never knew who turned him in,“ Ensley gloated later.
But the job couldn’t last -- a person can operate only so long as a stranger in the small towns on the fringe of the Great Plains -- and in 1994 he parlayed his federal accreditation into the job of chief of police in North Sioux City, a community of 2,000 in the southeast corner of the state.
There Ensley pursued his newly revived career with gusto. Not content to simply ply the main drag in a patrol car, he dispatched officers to set up speed traps on the local interstate and instituted a number of drug investigations, drawing concern from the local City Council, which felt such cases should be left to county or state authorities.
Ensley even found crime within his own office. He heard talk around the police station that a popular officer who had recently left the force had committed several sexual assaults under color of authority. Ensley investigated, found a witness who would testify, and made the arrest. The former officer was convicted and sent to state prison.
Ensley‘s approach to crime fighting became the source of continuing controversy at City Hall, where some council members questioned his aggressive style and others challenged excessive overtime pay for the four officers under Ensley’s command. When the council ordered him to restrict his efforts, Ensley just scoffed.
”There was no chaining him,“ said Dick Volkman, editor of the weekly North Sioux City Times. ”He fought with the City Council a lot, and he was fairly brazen in letting them know he wasn‘t going to accommodate their desires.“
Ensley had his admirers as well, among them John Slattery, the county prosecutor. In a 1995 letter of commendation, Slattery noted the Police Department’s ”troubled history“ and said Ensley had effected ”great strides in the quality of law enforcement.“
Ensley‘s tenure became the primary issue in the 1995 race for mayor of North Sioux City, with the incumbent backing the chief and a challenger vowing to oust him. The incumbent lost, and Ensley was fired three weeks later.
On his last day in office, in May 1995, Ensley received an award from a local rape-crisis center for ”service, courage, empathy and compassion.“ It was the sort of affirmation he’d been seeking since his ouster from Oregon, but it was all for nothing. ”He was upset,“ Officer Osterquist said. ”He liked what he did and he liked where he lived, but he was fired for doing the job he was hired to do.“
Disillusioned and unemployed, Ensley leased three tractor-trailer rigs and launched a trucking firm, driving loads of corn and meal to destinations around the Midwest. Once again, Ensley found himself excommunicated from the fraternity of badges, uniforms and standard-issue side arms. And once again, it was Luis Valenzuela who provided him a way back in.
In the delicate, dangerous dance between the Mexican trafficker and his American cop brother-in-law, Skip Ensley maintained the upper hand. Valenzuela knew that Ensley was a police officer, but apparently believed Skip was at least willing to live and let live. And when Luis learned that Skip was running a trucking operation, he decided to push their relationship from one of tacit tolerance to active collaboration.
Valenzuela made his move in grand fashion. First he prevailed on Ensley to meet him in Mexicali, then flew him on a private plane to Mexico City, where he treated Ensley to a week of the high life in the Mexican capital. Finally Luis made his pitch: Skip would become his partner, using his trucks to haul as much as a ton of cocaine at a time across the United States. They would start with a test run, a 1,500-kilo shipment of marijuana to Canada.
Ensley stalled for time and returned to South Dakota without making a commitment. There he contacted a new friend at the FBI -- John Dalzeil, a former colleague from the biker-gang task force. Ensley says Dalzeil was ”ecstatic“ at the potential quantities involved, and the prospect of rounding up traffickers in every city where Skip might make deliveries.
Ensley agreed and told Valenzuela that the partnership was on, but soon found that Dalzeil had jumped the gun. His bureau chief in Chicago was skeptical of a sting involving a shipment across two international borders, and killed the project. To Ensley, the decision reeked of bureaucratic politics. Such a far-flung scheme would mean the Chicago bureau would have to share credit for the bust with FBI and DEA posts on the border and elsewhere. ”John‘s supervisor didn’t want another agency getting in on their thing,“ Ensley said. ”Stats,“ he fumed, spitting the word like an epithet. ”That‘s what it’s all about.“