Gov. Greg Abbott and Lupe Valdez Will Debate. He said yesterday that he’ll debate Valdez once on Friday evening, September 28. But Valdez called Abbott out for scheduling it during Friday Night Lights, a Texas ritual. She hasn’t agreed to the terms yet.
Boxing Champion from Oak Cliff Charged with DWI. 28-year-old Maurice Hooker, who’d recently won the super lightweight title, was arrested Tuesday and charged with a DWI as well as misdemeanor unlawful possession of a handgun (he posted bond for both). He was being followed by a cop car when he crashed into another cop car in front of him. Hooker admitted that he’d been drinking.
Ex-Boyfriend Who Killed Irving Couple Convicted of Capital Murder. Christopher Rubio, who shot and killed his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, was convicted yesterday of capital murder and got a life sentence without parole.
Knife-Carrying Man Shot by Garland Police Identified. The shirtless man who was shot and killed for swinging knives (or machetes) at cars was identified as 40-year-old Shaun Leo Gates. But we still don’t know who the cop was who shot him. Police are continuing an investigation.
According to recently unsealed federal charges, a Chicago couple, Kishan Modugumudi and Chandra Kala Purnima Modugumudi, had allegedly been running a high-end prostitution ring using actresses from Tollywood, the Teluga-language film scene in southern India. The women were marketed for sex at Indian conferences and cultural events throughout the United States, including Dallas.
According to the charges, at least one victim presented letters from the Teluga Association of North America and the Telegana Peoples Association of Dallas inviting her to be a guest at local events as part of her U.S. visa application. Law enforcement later confirmed that the letters were fraudulent.
According to the criminal complaint, at least two of the Tollywood actresses were offered for a “prostitution date” with a man in Frisco in October 2017. He negotiated a rate of $2,000 plus a $100 “tip” for two hours with one of the women via text message with Kishan Modugumudi, who arranged for the woman’s flight and a hotel room in Frisco.
In response to the #MeToo movement, other Tollywood actresses have spoken out about the widespread practice of advertising Indian actresses for sex at cultural events, including Sri Reddy, a Tamil actress fighting sexual harassment in Tollywood. In an interview with News18, Reddy said that she, too, was approached by the couple.
$1.8 Billion LBJ East Improvements Back on the Table. The Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation, will send 10.8 miles of I-635 out for bids on May 24. The project would entail full reconstruction and adding one general lane each way, as well as other improvements. Construction could start by late 2019 and would likely be completed in 2024.
Former Richardson Mayor Indicted on Federal Conspiracy Charges. Former mayor Laura Jordan, along with a land developer she married, have been indicted on seven counts, including conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. She had apparently voted for zoning changes that would allow her now-husband to build a development that most citizens opposed. In exchange, the developer paid her multiple sums. The FBI is investigating. They could each get up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Hoax Caller Sends Police to Home of Arlington Family. A call about a fake shooting to 911 led to 15 cop cars going to the house of a family in Arlington. When the officers ordered everyone outside, they realized no one had been shot and that the call was fake. The family said that earlier they had gotten a call from someone impersonating an IRS employee, who threatened to send the police if they didn’t give the caller money. Investigators are searching for the caller.
Dallas ISD STAAR Test Scores Improve. Both reading and math scores went up a higher percentage than the state’s growth. DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said as long as the state’s criteria stays the same, he foresees fewer than five schools getting a failing mark from the state later this year.
Irving Elementary Teacher Accused of “Unwanted” Contact with Students. The teacher at Lee Britain Elementary School has been removed from the school while the allegations are being investigated.
FBI Raids Dallas Healthcare Company. Yesterday, FBI agents raided Medoc Health Services in Northwest Dallas and filled a van with materials. The reason for the raid is unclear, but Medoc said they are cooperating with the investigation.
Cedar Hill Student Shoves Teacher, Curses at Him. A cellphone video captured the student losing his temper after his physics teacher, Bobby Soehnge, took away the kid’s phone during class. He knocked papers off Soehnge’s desk and shoved his face with his hand. Cedar Hill ISD is “following district policy on disciplinary action.”
Dallas Police Grieve Death of Officer. Officer Rogelio Santander died yesterday morning after he was shot during the ordeal at the Lake Highlands Home Depot. He is the ninth North Texas officer to be killed in the line of duty in roughly two years. The other wounded officers. Crystal Almeida and Scott Painter, are still in critical condition but are making good recoveries, according to Chief Renee Hall. A capital murder charge was added to Armando Luis Juarez’s other charges. “We have the entire department still grieving. We have to do this all over again for one of our brothers in blue for such a senseless act,” said George Aranda, president of the Dallas chapter of the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization.
City Council Delays Vote on One Confederate Statue, Votes Not to Sell Another. As Alex wrote yesterday, the Council voted to delay the decision on whether to remove the Confederate War Memorial downtown. Council members also voted not to sell the Robert E. Lee statue, but it’s unclear what they will do with it.
No Evidence Man in Grand Prairie Ikea Standoff Fired Gun. Carlos Deone High was killed earlier this week in a standoff near the Grand Prairie Ikea. An officer said that High fired at officers, so they fired back. But investigators haven’t found any evidence that High fired his rifle, although video footage confirms he did point the gun at officers and ignored verbal commands to lower it.
Fort Worth Gang Member Executed. Erick Davila had killed a rival’s mother and 5-year-old daughter in 2008 and was convicted of capital murder. His appeals to his death sentence were denied, and he was executed early yesterday evening. This is the fifth execution this year in Texas.
City Council Urges Atmos to Hurry Up. At yesterday’s briefing, City Council members told Atmos that their plan of replacing all cast-iron pipes in the city by 2023 isn’t fast enough. Atmos didn’t exactly say they would complete the fixes sooner, but said they’re looking at how to accelerate the process.
Staff and Parents at Garland School Didn’t Know about Shooting Threat for a Week. A former Garland Classical Academy student had posted a video on April 10 on social media saying he was going to shoot up the school. He was arrested that night, but the school’s director didn’t tell teachers, parents, or students about the threat until six days later. Teachers and parents say they should have been notified immediately and are angry over how the threat was handled.
Dick’s Sporting Goods Destroying Assault Weapons. The company is no longer selling assault rifles at its 35 Field & Stream locations, one of which is near Dallas, in Prosper. It’s also destroying and recycling the rifles instead of returning them to the manufacturer to get its money back.
Community Protests Dallas Father’s Deportation. Mario Amaya is trying to fight his deportation to El Salvador and says if he’s deported, he fears for his life because he refused to join gangs there. The group Faith in Texas protested outside the ICE office yesterday to keep Amaya here. His reps at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services said they hope his deportation, scheduled for today, will be stopped and that he will be granted asylum.
Sinclair Could Own Dallas Station.Sinclair Broadcast Group is in the process of purchasing the company that owns the news station KDAF-TV on Channel 33 in Dallas. If you haven’t watched the Deadspin edit of local anchors around the country reciting the exact same anti-fake news spiel, which Sinclair mandated, you should.
DeSoto ISD Superintendent Resigns. David Harris had been on leave for more than a month but has now resigned. Trustees had hired an attorney to investigate concerns about his performance.
Hit-and-Run Driver Fled with Victim on Her Hood. Police are searching for a driver who, after a crash in southern Dallas, hit the other driver who’d gotten out of her car to exchange information and drove for a mile with the victim on the hood of the car.
Remains Found in Field that Could Belong to Christina Morris. The search for more evidence will continue this morning in a field in Anna. Kidnapping victim Christina Morris has been missing since 2014, and authorities found partial skeletal remains that could be hers. The medical examiner’s office will process the remains in order to make an identification.
Dallas DA Candidate Won’t Yet Concede Democratic Primary. Elizabeth Davis Frizell was losing to John Creuzot by only 516 votes yesterday morning. Creuzot seems to be the winner, but Frizell’s campaign has not yet commented on whether she will want a recount or concede the race. Whoever wins will run against incumbent Faith Johnson in November.
Mavs Suspend Employee for Allegedly Racist Comment in 2016. While the sexual misconduct allegations against Mark Cuban from 2011 are still being investigated, the Mavs had to suspend Roger Caneda, the general manager of Mavs Gaming, for tweeting a racist comment two years ago.
Chip and Joanna Gaines Having a Baby Boy. Chip tweeted yesterday that the couple is having a boy—the fifth child for the Fixer Upper stars.
Dirk and Rick Carlisle Comment on Mavs’ Sexual Harassment News. Following the story on improper workplace conduct in the Mavs’ organization, Dirk’s response was on point: “It’s tough. It’s very disappointing. It’s heartbreaking. I’m glad it’s all coming out. I was disgusted when I read the article, obviously, as everybody was. I was shocked by some of the stuff. Just really really disappointed that in our franchise—my franchise—that stuff like that was going on. It’s just very sad.” Carlisle added that, “I also have a 13-year-old daughter and I want her to know that it’s both brave and safe to speak out.” Dirk said that Mark Cuban is hiring investigators to find answers. In addition to dealing with this scandal, he created another one for himself when he said the Mavs should lose on purpose to get a better lottery position. He was fined $600,000.
Police Detain Three Students Due to Guns and Threats. Three students from three Dallas-area schools are in custody for having guns or making threats. A student was detained yesterday for bringing a gun to Duncanville High School. A student from Carrollton’s Creekview High was detained Tuesday for making social media threats about a school shooting. Yesterday, a student brought a BB gun to Arlington’s Bowie High. When will it stop?
Dwaine Caraway Threatened Following NRA Comments. After Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway suggested that the NRA national convention in May go somewhere other than Dallas, he received threats and menacing messages. I truly don’t understand how people can still be against further gun control after all the school shootings that have happened.
Billy Graham Dies at Age 99. The evangelist, who had many ties to Texas and Dallas, died yesterday at his home in North Carolina.
John Battaglia To Be Executed Today. 62-year-old Battaglia, who murdered his daughters in 2001 at his Deep Ellum loft, had postponed execution twice for his attorneys to evaluate mental competency, but he was eventually deemed competent. He is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. this evening.
Grand Jury Clears Police in Killing of July 7 Gunman. The criminal investigation of the Dallas cops who killed the July 2016 gunman came to an end yesterday after 18 months. The cops were, unsurprisingly, cleared of wrongdoing.
SWAT Officer and Nurse Save Life During Church Ceremony. A man went into cardiac arrest during an awards ceremony at the Cathedral Guadalupe. Senior Cpl. Darian Loera and registered nurse Magali Reynoso acted quickly: Loera did chest compressions and Reynoso used a defibrillator. After Ron Heflin started breathing again, he was taken to a hospital.
Bike-Share Ultimatum Delivered. Add City Manager T.C. Broadnax to the list of people fed up with the unregulated onslaught of rental bikes tangled up on Dallas sidewalks, trails, and bodies of water. In a letter to the five bike-share companies now hawking their product here, Broadnax on Thursday warned that they have until Feb. 5 to get their act together, which involves moving bikes off of narrow sidewalks and away from sidewalk ramps and unpaved surfaces, among other requests. Otherwise, the city will begin collecting some of the 20,000 or so rental bikes in Dallas itself.
Here’s That Panhandling Lawsuit Against the City That Everyone Knew Was Coming. And it’s from no less than the “Will Rap For Weed” woman, Yvette Gbalazeh, the Deep Ellum cannabis enthusiast and street activist turned novelty gubernatorial candidate. Gbalazeh, arrested twice for solicitation in 2016, alleges that the city’s panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional, an assertion that the city attorney and police chief seem to agree with, which is why it is not presently being enforced. Her lawyer smells class action.
Local Connection to the Most Horrific Story of the New YearFound. The man and woman charged in California with torturing and imprisoning their 13 children for years allegedly started the abuse when they were living near Fort Worth.
County Commissioner Candidate Makes Questionable Offer. In a recorded phone call, J.J. Koch told Stephen Stanley, his opponent in the race for the northern Dallas County commissioner’s seat, that he would pay Stanley’s campaign debt if Stanley dropped out of the race. It is, at least, a very bad look for Koch, and at most, attempted bribery. Stanley sent a complaint to the state Attorney General’s office.
Timberlawn Shutting Down. The troubled East Dallas psychiatric hospital will close on Feb. 1 after a number of incidents called into question patients’ safety there.
It’s Not That Cold. We might even hit 60-something degrees Saturday, if you can believe it.
Former Hicks Estate Sells for $36.2 Million. A local developer—Mehrdad Moayedi, CEO of Centurion American Development Group—bought the 25-acre North Dallas property on Walnut Hill Lane. He plans to preserve the original house and build other luxury homes elsewhere on the land.
Suspected Bank Robber Arrested in East Dallas. The man was arrested yesterday near North Hall and Live Oak streets and is suspected of robbing four banks in the last two days. The robberies took place at Compass Bank on Oak Lawn, Compass Bank on Abrams, Chase Bank on Marsh, and Wells Fargo on Northwest Highway.
More Flu-Related Deaths in Dallas County. This could be one of the county’s worst flu seasons. A 73-year-old and an 80-year-old died from complications with the flu. “Right now it looks to be a real serious flu season, and so we need to make sure everyone practices steps for prevention. We’re seeing an increase in our flu cases, so that is a concern,” said Zachary Thompson, director of the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department. Almost 400 people have been hospitalized for the flu since September in Dallas County. Stay healthy, people.
Mayor Rawlings Announces New Goals for Dallas. During his State of the City address yesterday, he said he has to a goal to, well, come up with new goals. He wants to implement a major strategic plan, Goals for Dallas 2030, to cultivate strategies for things like infrastructure, technology, housing, and education. Rawlings said it’s finally the right time to tackle the big picture. “Hopefully, it’s not my plan. It’s the city of Dallas’ plan, because if it’s the mayor’s plan, it will be thrown in the dustbin,” he said.
More Theaters Cut Ties With Lee Trull. After the DTC fired Trull, their director of new play development, for inappropriate behavior, other theaters he’s worked with are following suit. Stage West canceled Trull’s plans to direct a regional premiere in March. Kitchen Dog Theater cut ties with him. Playwright Kate Hamill and composer Shawn Magill ceased work on the musical adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea they were developing with DTC and Trull. Second Thought Theatre retracted the offer for Trull to direct Hillary and Clinton in January. I have a feeling the list will keep growing.
Sherin Mathews’ Parents Can’t Contact Surviving Daughter. A Dallas judge blocked them from contacting their surviving 3-year-old. Child Protective Services doesn’t have to help them work to regain custody. Both Wesley and Sini Mathews still face criminal charges regarding Sherin’s case. A civil trial sometime in early 2018 will determine whether they will regain their parental rights. Their surviving daughter has been temporarily placed with relatives.
SMU Hunt Leadership Scholars Program Receives $15 Million. The Nancy Ann Hunt Foundation gave SMU the money to help support Hunt scholars. There are 20 scholars selected every year, and they receive annual financial aid that comes close to a full ride. The scholarship has aided 372 students to date.
Four New Parks May Be Headed to Downtown. After the bond package was approved, Dallas philanthropist Robert Decherd wants to move ahead with the construction of four new downtown parks—Pacific Plaza, Harwood Park, Carpenter Park, and a West End park. He wants them all to be completed within a few years.
Dallas Police Increasing Foot Patrols to Deter Crime. Chief U. Renee Hall’s new crime reduction initiative will send more officers to high-crime areas to talk to residents, carry out warrants, and prevent criminal activity. Overall crime in Dallas is lower than it has been, but business robberies and aggravated assaults have risen lately. The south-central and northwest parts of Dallas are the most affected areas.
Body Found Outside Old East Dallas Home. A killer is at large after the body of 24-year-old Julio Navarete-Leal was found yesterday in the driveway of a home in Old East Dallas. Police say no suspects are in custody and they have yet to determine a motive.
AT&T Outage Reported in Dallas. Last night, AT&T users reported an outage here and in other cities after they realized they couldn’t make or receive calls. AT&T suggested restarting your phone, which might have to be done multiple times. They said “that should resolve the issue,” even though they still don’t know what the issue is.
Execution Date Set for John Battaglia. The man who shot his two daughters in his Deep Ellum loft in 2001 as their mother listened on the phone will be executed February 1 in Huntsville. Battaglia was first scheduled for execution in March of last year but was granted a stay to appeal his sentence. The date was then moved to December 2016, but he was granted another stay to evaluate his competency, which was eventually confirmed.
Houston Astros Win First World Series Ever. They secured a 5-1 victory in game seven over the Dodgers in Los Angeles last night. Former Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish didn’t look so good pitching for L.A. He lasted less than two innings and allowed all five runs. The other Dodgers pitching ace, Highland Park’s Clayton Kershaw, threw four scoreless innings, but it wasn’t enough for a comeback. Congrats, Houston!
Garland Task Force Created to Battle Gang Activity. Recently, Garland has seen an increase in gang activity, whether fights or criminal mischief. To focus on it, Garland police have formed a task force, which could lead to a permanent police gang unit. Overall crime in Garland, however, is down compared to last year.
Record-Breaking Heat Today. The high will be 91 or 92, depending on your source. Temps have never gotten up to 90 degrees in November in D-FW since records started more than a century ago. I really thought Dallas summer was behind us at this point. Sigh.
City Council Bolsters Dangerous Dog Ordinance. The vote went through yesterday 13-1, following several dog attacks in southern Dallas. The amendment adds a criminal penalty for canine bites and other guidelines for owners.
Council Also Votes on Scooters, Trees, and Other Things. Bike and electric scooter operators will need to get permits and pay Dallas per vehicle. The scooters will be legal for at least six months, until the council evaluates them again. The $173 million settlement for police- and fire-pay lawsuits went through unanimously. And the tree preservation ordinance was passed, which will make the city a greener place.
SEC Sues Dallas Men for Fraud. The plaintiffs allegedly spent investor money on a wedding, travel, and a Russian dating website. Most of them are already in federal prison, but authorities want to ban them from the securities industry after their terms are over.
Local Investor Buys Lakewood Towers. Caddo Holdings bought back the 9-story and 4-story buildings, the larger with the Wells Fargo sign, from a company they previously sold it to. There’s more than 170,000 square feet of space in the complex, which is mostly leased.
City Hall Will Pay $15.5. Million to Have School Crossing Guards. Yesterday, the council approved a $15.5. million contract for three years for All City Management Services Inc., which will run the crossing-guard program.
McKinney Councilman Apologizes for Alleging Racial Profiling. The McKinney City Council voted 6-0 yesterday to approve a resolution that expressed disapproval of how council member La’Shadion Shemwell handled a traffic stop earlier this month, when he accused a white police officer of racial profiling for pulling his over for an alleged speeding violation. Shemwell brought forward the motion to censure himself. It doesn’t remove him from office and there is no added punishment.
Frisco Student Faces Felony Charge for Threats. A 14-year-old student was taken into custody after authorities suspected the student made a terroristic threat yesterday against Cobb Middle School. The kid could get two to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Body Found in White Rock Creek Identified. The body found earlier this month was identified as 39-year-old Eric Hall, but the medical examiner’s office hasn’t released an official cause of death. Hall, who went by Nicole, was described as a pioneer in Texas’ black transgender community. A vigil is being planned for Saturday.
In July 1997, Andrew Wayne Roark, then living in DeSoto, called 911 after his one-year-old daughter appeared to have trouble waking up. According to Roark, she had fallen from her bed. The girl was taken to Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. That same night, the police arrested Roark for intentionally injuring his daughter.
The allegations against Roark relied primarily on the science of “shaken baby syndrome,” a constellation of medical symptoms that were at one point popularly thought to be caused by violently shaking a baby, often to death. During the 1980s and 1990s, SBS became a favorite of prosecutors around the country, resulting in more than 3,000 known convictions.
By 2011, however, medical experts, including the one who coined the term “shaken baby syndrome,” agreed that the physical markers could not be read as indicators of abuse. In fact, over the past decade, many so-called “shaken baby cases” are now recognized as wrongful convictions based on faulty evidence.
Roark’s case seemed ripe for Dallas County’s Conviction Integrity Unit, an independent division of the District Attorney’s office that investigates claims of wrongful convictions. Unlike in other states, Dallas’ CIU cannot overturn a sentence on its own. It instead makes a recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which makes the ultimate decision. Craig Watkins, the elected Dallas County District Attorney at the time, had agreed to recommended Roark’s case for reversal, but, under current DA Faith Johnson’s purview, that decision was delayed. Johnson decided to allow the appellate section to continue to challenge Roark’s fight for freedom; that was the end of the cooperation. (The Dallas County DA’s office said it could not comment on ongoing cases.)
Roark’s case represents the turmoil that the CIU has been under since its inception in 2007 by then-DA Watkins. While Dallas County boasts the first Conviction Integrity Unit in the country, the question remains: does the CIU serve its purpose or has it become a political football in a contested election? The division has taken on a new significance in the light of Johnson’s upcoming race against Democratic challenger John Creuzot. Both candidates appear poised to use the CIU’s success (or lack thereof) as a talking point to appeal to voters of all parties who don’t want to see the repeat horror of large numbers of wrongful convictions.
Both Creuzot and his primary opponent Elizabeth Frizell had promised to strengthen the CIU with more money and manpower. In an age where exonerations are the most visible form of criminal justice reform, the role of the unit is one of the few political positions that reds and blues can agree on. Wrongful convictions erode public trust in the system, making the job harder for everyone. But just how does an office whose main job is to put people away commit itself to freeing people? And how effective is Dallas County’s?
When the Dallas County CIU was formed, it was the first of its kind, a bold move by Texas’s first black district attorney. Between 2001 and 2007, DNA evidence proved 13 Texas prisoners were innocent of the crimes they were convicted for, the third most of any state. After winning the election, Watkins ordered the review of 400 more in Dallas County alone. In an interview, Watkins, who is now in private practice, said he worked to “develop credibility” as the first unit of a DA’s office whose purpose was to free people, not lock them up.
“I was told it was not the job of the DA to free criminals,” Watkins remembers.
The racial disparity of the criminal justice system generally didn’t escape Watkins, either. He took over a DA’s office that had once been led by Henry Wade, who famously said, “any prosecutor could convict a guilty man, but … it takes a real pro to convict an innocent man.” (And, indeed, he likely had at least one innocent man executed.) Watkins’ changes were an upheaval and an acknowledgement that, perhaps, the time had come for Dallas to reckon with its racist and punitive legacy. (“Race is a big deal,” Watkins says today.)
Watkins was praised across the country for introducing a novel form of defense. Embedded within the prosecutor’s office, the CIU operated independently and used DNA testing to free the wrongly convicted. He was featured in a 60 Minutes episode and in the New York Times. He appeared on the cover of D Magazine. Watkins forged a relationship with the Innocence Project of Texas to hunt for cases that were ripe for a second look, and the first head of the CIU, Mike Ware, a Fort Worth lawyer, is now the executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas. Under Watkins’ tenure, more than 30 people were exonerated.
Watkins’s CIU even began testing DNA where available in cases where the defendant hadn’t even claimed a wrongful conviction, resulting in at least one exoneration. Watkins’ commitment to freeing the wrongly convicted was evident from the first day he took office in January 2007. Watkins appeared at the hearing for Andrew Gossett, who was exonerated as a result of a DNA test. In a first for a prosecutor, Watkins apologized.
But after Watkins lost his reelection bid in 2015, losing to Republican Susan Hawk after a series of controversies involving misspent forfeiture funds, there were no exonerations. (The Exoneration Registry includes some exonerations that were finalized after Watkins left office.) Watkins says today that he has “three bankers’ boxes” of letters from incarcerated people who would like the Dallas CIU to look at their cases. He said he informed Hawk and Johnson, but no one ever came to pick the documents up. Johnson’s office acknowledged that “the CIU has received several letters from Mr. Watkins requesting review of some cases by the CIU. We have been responsive in those cases by acknowledging receipt. We have not concluded anything from those reviews yet.” Through a spokesperson the office denied knowledge of more material. (Representatives from Hawk’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)
Today, more than a decade after Watkins took office, CIUs are almost an institution in any large prosecutor’s office that calls itself progressive. There are at least 33 across the country, although about half of them have not freed a single person. In a report last month, the National Registry of Exonerations—the gold standard of exoneration data—credited CIUs and other “professional exonerators” (like Innocence Projects) for over half the 139 exonerations in 2017.
The Dallas County CIU now considers both DNA and non-DNA cases. The problem with Dallas County’s CIU has generally been the politics of the county itself. First, there was the negative press generated out of Watkins’ office for issues extraneous to the work itself. (A federal audit in 2015 called for the DA’s office to return $112,000 in forfeiture funds that were not correctly recorded. Most of this, according to The Dallas Morning News, went to paying bar dues, although Watkins also used money to to repair a county-owned car that he wrecked in addition to a monetary settlement that barred the other driver from speaking to the media.)
While the CIU was at its most effective then, it was difficult for the project – then brand new – to keep its momentum.
Then came Susan Hawk, who hired Patricia Cummings. Cummings now runs the CIU for the newly-elected reformer district attorney in Philadelphia. In the ensuing chaos of an office where Hawk was largely absent, the CIU was unable to accomplish much of anything. Without the strong arm of a district attorney committed to freeing the innocent, it was too easy for the appellate division of the DA office—the section that continues to prosecute crimes after conviction is achieved—to argue against giving some cases another look.
However, new reforms to Texas law now allow defendants to appeal their cases should new scientific evidence arise. The county also has a DA in Faith Johnson who has attested to her resolve to pursue exonerations. But, since she was only appointed last year, there hasn’t been enough time to see the results of her vision of the CIU.
Richard Miles, who was exonerated in 2009 for a shooting he did not commit, understands the importance of CIUs and is skeptical that prosecutors are willing to put their efforts behind their rhetoric. He was the first non-DNA exoneration by Watkins’ office. He says that the team of CIU lawyers led by Mike Ware worked “hand-in-hand” with the nonprofit Centurion Ministries (an organization that investigates claims of wrongful conviction) to reinvestigate his case and push through his exoneration. He argues that the “CIU hasn’t done anything since Watkins was relieved from office.”
“Dallas should not get a DA who doesn’t acknowledge exonerations … That’s what the DA is supposed to do; he or she should embody justice,” Miles says. “We are moreso chess pieces in [the candidates’] political strategy.”
Too, candidates are touting expanding the unit’s duties. In prior public comments, Democratic candidate John Creuzot has said that he believes the CIU should expand its focus to include training attorneys and police to prevent wrongful convictions. (Watkins said that the CIU was already doing this under his administration.) Not all see it that way. The Conviction Integrity Unit, Miles argues, should be primarily involved with exonerating the innocent. Other duties, he thinks, should not be added before the backlog of exonerations are cleared.
“It should be the same thing that Watkins wanted it to be. To add anything more to it is to place weight on a brand new baby.”
Miles also believes that there are two reasons why exonerations seemingly vanished from the DA’s office. First, there’s the issue of pride. DAs don’t like to admit error. And second, Texas has a relatively generous compensation package for exonerees, which now guarantees $80,000 for each year exonerated plus a monthly annuity. It is widely regarded as the most generous compensation package in the country.
As the CIU became an issue in the Democratic primary, with both Creuzot and Elizabeth Frizell suggesting that the unit has not been as effective as it could be, Johnson defended her work. She noted the appointment of an additional attorney to the CIU in August of 2017, a move that brought the total staff to three full-time attorneys, one assistant, and one investigator.
The CIU chief reports directly to Johnson, which her office says is different from her predecessor.
“The CIU at the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office remains a leader in the field of Conviction Integrity,” Johnson said. “In fact, other DA Offices around the country continue to contact us looking for advice and ideas on how to model their CIUs using our mold and best practices.”
Johnson’s office also said that the CIU has reviewed the cases of 145 individuals since she took office in January 2017 under the direction of Cynthia Garza, who was formally appointed chief of the unit last July. Johnson’s office did not detail the results of the reviews, and it appears that a review could be anything from a full reinvestigation to a reading of the file.
One problem on which both Miles and Johnson’s office agree is that the process to exonerate a person takes longer than the original conviction. As a result, people wait years—often longer than their original sentence—for DNA to get tested or lost evidence to be located. Johnson’s office said in a statement that non-DNA cases “are very challenging cases requiring time-intensive investigations that are often slow-moving for a variety of reasons.”
Some of this delay is the result of the Texas process, which requires more than just a prosecutor’s say-so, although a DA’s blessing is an important step. There is at least one case, that of Timmy Duke, who was recommended for exoneration by Johnson’s office. Duke had pled guilty in 1992 to a robbery, but records showed that he was incarcerated at the time of the crime and, as a result, could not have committed it. His case is pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
But, there is some concern from groups and exonerees that the CIU doesn’t go far enough. There is a reason why CIUs are so powerful: they are run by district attorneys who have all of the information and can see where mistakes were made. Watkins added that the DA was “very powerful,” and asserted that DAs could make pretty much any decision they chose.
One high-profile case is Benjamin Spencer’s, whose conviction for an assault and robbery relied on shaky eye-witness testimony with no forensic evidence. Spencer has been in prison for more than three decades. Watkins admitted to The Atlantic that he refused Spencer’s case because there was no DNA.
“I’m not going to take a chance on that,” he told the reporter.
In 2008, a judge weighed the evidence and held that Spencer deserved a new trial on the grounds that he was likely innocent. He thought he would go home any day. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the judge’s recommendation, and Johnson’s office told The Atlantic last summer that, while the office stood behind the conviction, it would test DNA evidence were it to become available. (A spokesperson for Johnson’s office said it could not speak further about the case because it is pending, and that the comments Johnson made to The Atlantic were made last summer, with no knowledge of when the story would be published.)
Spencer’s case was particularly problematic. Many people believe he is innocent, including Miles, who knew him well in prison. (They are both clients of Centurion Ministries.) There is no forensic material to test, and most of the eyewitnesses have recanted or cannot remember. While some of this might change, Spencer currently seems more likely to serve out his entire sentence than he is to see a new trial.
Miles pointed out that there are other outstanding cases like Roark’s, where the CIU has promised to review the evidence, but has yet to make a move. Some appear to be moving forward, albeit slowly. One is Tyrone Day’s, who now works at Miles of Freedom. Day, whose case is one of the oldest in the CIU, was released on parole after 26 years of incarceration, but he has not yet been exonerated. He says his lawyers, Barry Scheck and Bryce Benjet of the Innocence Project, are in the process of hammering out details with the CIU attorneys, and, therefore, did not want to discuss the case. New DNA technology has allowed for alternative suspects to be identified and for Day to be ruled out.
As Miles points out, there is a question as to whether the measure of a CIU’s success should be the amount of cases it has reviewed or the people it has exonerated.
I asked Miles whether he or other exonerees had been asked to contribute to the CIU, and he said that while he’s met with the current DA, no formal plans have ever been made. The district attorney still holds the power in directing the strategy of the unit.
“Our stories have not been truly been valued,” he says. “We can train prosecutors. We have not been used as a resource.”
Chief Hall Takes Oath of Office. Yesterday, after serving as Dallas Police Chief for eight months, she was sworn in as Dallas’ first female police chief. Hall paid tribute to Officer Rogelio Santander, who was killed last week in the line of duty.
Dallas Residents Aren’t Satisfied. A new survey says they are the least satisfied they’ve been in about 10 years, although ratings are still higher than most other large cities. “What we see over time is that largely, the city of Dallas has stayed consistent in that we’re better than other large cities in terms of satisfaction,” said Dallas Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich.
Plano Teen Arrested in Mass Shooting Plot. 17-year-old Matin Azizi-Yarand, a Plano West Senior High School student, has been arrested for an ISIS-inspired plot to commit a mass shooting at Stonebriar Centre mall in Frisco. He is being held on $3 million bail and could be sentenced to life if convicted.
Philanthropist Margaret McDermott Dies at 106. She had given millions over the years to Dallas science, education, and arts, including the Arboretum and the Dallas Opera. Her memorial service will be held at the Meyerson.
Dallas Man on Texas’ 10 Most Wanted List. Billy Don Urango, a sex offender who fled from his Dallas halfway house, has been added to the state’s most wanted. There’s a $5,000 reward that’s being offered for information that leads to his capture.
April Showers Bring May…Showers. Don’t forget to bring an umbrella today and tomorrow. Hail might even make an appearance.
For the April issue of D Magazine,Mike Mooney wrote about the death of Jonathan Crews, shot in bed in his Coppell apartment in 2014. Crews’ girlfriend, Brenda Lazaro, the only other person in the apartment at the time, says that Crews pulled the trigger himself. But enough questions about the evening persist that the headline “Killer or Victim?” feels appropriate for Mooney’s story.
That story came about largely because of the efforts of Sheila Wysocki, a private investigator attached to the case. Mooney describes her like this:
Sheila Wysocki’s unusual path to working as a PI got her featured on 20/20 and in both People and the Washington Post. When she was a student at SMU in the mid-’80s, her roommate was raped and murdered. The case went unsolved until, 20 years later, living in Nashville, Tennessee, as a stay-at-home mom, Sheila had a vision about her roommate and decided to become an investigator. She started with background checks and cheating spouses and worked her way up to missing persons and murder. At her urging, after hundreds of calls to the Dallas Police Department, her roommate’s case was reopened, and the evidence was retested. The DNA matched a rapist who had been out on parole at the time of the murder.
Today, Sheila talks like a veteran detective, familiar with the unsettling details of far too many crime scenes. She works with a network of experts on everything from speech patterns to handwriting analysis. She’s 5-foot-5, with dark hair and glasses. She looks like a friend’s aunt or your kid’s teacher or that nice lady from church.
Great subject for a true crime podcast, right? The producers of the popular podcast Criminal thought so too, devoting two episodes to Wysocki this month. The first, “Cold Case,” covers Wysocki’s start as a PI, investigating the cold case murder of her college roommate at SMU. The second, “Shadowing Sheila,” goes deeper into her investigative work. I’m about halfway into the first episode, and it’s a pretty riveting listen. About as riveting as the feature from the April issue of D Magazine, which you can read here.
Dirk Says He’ll Return for a 21st Season. Wearing a walking boot on his left foot at what was supposed to be his exit interview last night, Dirk said he’s planning to come back for another season. At least now he has a chance to go out on a good note next year.
$1.2 Million in Legal Aid Going to Frazier Courts Residents. A Dallas developer and three lawyers have pledged $1.2 million in order to get families in the Frazier Courts area, south of Fair Park, free legal services. Those services will include rental agreements, immigration, and veterans claims and will be done through the Community Lawyering Center, run by Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas and UNT Dallas College of Law.
Former Parkland Employee Pleads Guilty to Leaking Patient Info. Former Parkland certified medical assistant Krystal Ann Hodge stole 100 patients’ personal information, which was then used in a tax refund scam. The patients were inmates at Dallas County jails. Hodge faces up to 10 years in prison.
Landmark Garage in Downtown Purchased. The 5-story parking garage and retail building at 711 Elm St. was built in 1925 to serve the Sanger Brothers Department Store. It was sold to a local investment group.
More Evacuations Due to Gas Leak Concerns. Atmos evacuated more homes and apartments in northwest Dallas yesterday after a natural gas smell was reported. Hundreds of homes in the area are still without natural gas. It would be great if Atmos could get this situation under control.
City Council Nixes New Concrete Plants in Joppa. Council members voted 9-5 to deny companies permission to put new concrete plants in Joppa. “Your health is worth more than any economic development that any corporation can offer. Put your health first. I am not going to leave you without any economic development. But I believe you have a right to breathe clean air,” said council member Kevin Felder, who represents Joppa.
Tonya Couch Arrested for Bond Violation. The “Affluenza” mom, who’d been arrested in Mexico with her son in 2015, has been arrested yet again. This time, officials said she violated her bond conditions after she failed a urinalysis test, as she isn’t allowed to drink alcohol. She’s still facing charges of hindering the apprehension of a fugitive and money laundering.
72-Year-Old Security Guard Killed at Lake Highlands Hotel. This story makes me sick. The security guard at a Holiday Inn, Adane Weldekiros, told 34-year-old Randal Terrell to leave after he was hanging around the parking lot around 1 a.m. Terrell left, but came back with a gun and shot the 72-year-old, who begged for his life, according to a witness. Terrell was arrested and charged with murder.
Craig Miller became the DISD police chief more than six years ago, after 30 years with the Dallas Police Department. I worked with him when he was still with DPD and I was still with the City Attorney’s Office. When I received a call from a DISD teacher concerned about safety measures in her secondary school following the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida, I checked in with him to find out how the DISD Police Department is responding. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
I don’t know much about the DISD Police Department. How does it work? We’re the second largest school district police department in Texas. If you had 1,100 police chiefs in Texas, roughly 180 of those are going to be school district police departments. In the state of Texas, 90 percent of all police agencies have less than 30 people on the department. We’re up around 200 people in our department. If you put things in perspective, not just compared to school police departments, we’re in the top 5 percent of the largest police agencies in the state.
Who does your department report to? I think, for me, one of the things that’s important to the school district is that our police department actually works for the superintendent of schools. When you’re an SRO [School Resource Officer] for a municipal police department, you’re actually still working for your police department. If you’re in Richardson, Plano, Garland, Mesquite—they have SROs that work in schools, but those SROs are still assigned as employees to their police departments. Me and the guys that work for me are actually employees of Dallas ISD. I think for that reason, we have a responsibility to work with the campuses and the administrators because we’re all on the same team.
How do individual schools develop safety plans? I think when things like Florida happen, I think all of us feel the sorrow for the people experiencing the problem. Then we realize how important it is that we have a plan and we know what we’re going to do in the event something should happen. The emergency management function for the school district falls under the police department. We’re responsible for the safety plans that the campuses get, the Campus Emergency Operations Plan or CEOP. We work with them in the fall. In doing that, there’s a part that deals with active shooters, and the expectation is that every school in the district, in the first two weeks of school, will do an active shooter lockdown situation. We kind of start the school year off with that because we have a lot of principals that change here. Each new school year brings about new challenges for each of the campuses. Emergency management folks work with them on their plans.
Are the drills only done once a year? In the fall, the state of Texas requires that you do one type of drill. Dallas ISD does two drills. One is a lockdown drill, and then another type of drill. That doesn’t include a fire drills, which they do all the time. Then in the springtime we do, once again, two more drills. Those include the weather, shelter in place drills for the storms that come through Texas. I feel like we’re prepared that way. I just think anytime something like this happens, it’s a shock. There’s always outrage. How could this happen? I think it’s just a reminder to us of how important our function is here.
What do you think that DISD is getting right in terms of student safety? I think physical security is really important. I think two years from now, there’ll be a question when the civil lawsuits come out in the case in Florida about how did this person get onto the campus and get into the school to pull their alarm and then get back out? With many doors on our schools, I think it’s really important that we harden our facilities. Since most of our resources are placed at the secondary campuses, the middle schools and the high schools, I think it’s really important that we provide the elementary schools with things to make their lives easier. That really came about after Sandy Hook happened, and we were given $2 million. With that $2 million we were able to do some real enhancements in physical security. When you go up to the school, you’re greeted by a buzzer that has a camera. You talk to the buzzer. Then we made sure the portables all have the doors that have the peephole in them where a teacher can actually be 7 feet away from the door and see who’s knocking on their door. Previously, they didn’t know who was knocking.
Card access is something that we’ve really rolled out following Sandy Hook, and then we have crazy cool, intricate camera systems in our secondary schools and middle schools and high schools. We didn’t, at that time, have so much camera coverage in any of the elementary schools. Today, we have camera systems in all the schools in the district. I really think that’s something DISD is really getting right.
I heard from one DISD teacher who said she was concerned that her school has a secure front door, but there were a number of side access doors that were never locked. On several occasions, she had discovered former students and other individuals roaming the halls without authorization. She felt that her administrators weren’t taking the issue seriously. If teachers are seeing a failure in security on campus, how is that best handled? I think that the mantra going across the country right now is “See something, say something.” I personally take it another level and I say, “See something, say something, do something.” If you’re a teacher and you are aware that other teachers are leaving doors open, or there’s access points where an intruder could come in and violate your safety, it’s your responsibility to report that to your campus administrator and have them work with our emergency management folks. If you are at a school that’s a secondary school and you have a police officer or security on that campus, you can actually reach out to the police officer who’s on campus and say, “Hey, I’m noticing this, what do you think?” I think a lot of the times, if you really get into that “do something” part of the phrase—don’t sit there if you know there’s a problem. We can’t fix it unless you let us know.
Part of the problem with the shooting in Parkland appears to be the fact that the local police department, and even the FBI, had received prior complaints about the shooter, but that information was not followed up on or communicated to the school. Do you feel that you have a good line of communication with DPD and federal authorities? I tell you what I feel comfortable with, Kathy, is the fact that with 158,000 kids—and I have no idea if 100,000 of them are on social media or what the number is—it’s impossible for us to monitor every kid’s social media site. I think that gets back once again to that “See something, say something, do something.” When it’s brought to our attention that a student has made a threat, similar to what happened in Florida, I do believe that we do a very good job of vetting those complaints, those concerns. It’s an ongoing thing, where one parent will have heard from another parent who heard it from a parent that a child said they were going to do this. It’s incumbent upon us to be able to review those things. You and I, being from the city, have a great relationship with DPD. And the ability to reach out to the North Central Texas Fusion Center, gives us an asset being here in a large city, that a lot of places may not have. If we think there’s a threat, if we determine that there’s a level of credibility and it indeed rises to that level, we have the ability to reach out to the Fusion Center, which is an incredible intelligence source and can help us out. I feel real comfortable that when threats are brought to our attention, that we act on those threats and do everything we can to vet them and to ensure whether or not they’re legitimate.
The teacher I talked with was also concerned that metal detectors weren’t being used appropriately at her school, and that while students walked through them, their bags weren’t being searched. Do you think they are an effective tool? I think that metal detectors are something that there’s a lot of debate about. The Houston ISD’s larger than us, and they don’t use metal detectors. They use wands. I think that’s one of the things, moving forward, is doing random spot checks with wands, might be more effective. Our district’s stand is still to use metal detectors in the secondary schools and that’s what we do. Are they successful or not? I know that we don’t get weapons as they come through metal detectors. I know that we had a situation a couple years ago, a student did come through a metal detector and inadvertently shot himself in the leg. That tells me right there that they can get on the campuses. That’s the way it is. I think that it’s just incumbent upon us to stay vigilant, and when a kid says they think there’s another student with a gun, or when anything comes to our attention that we think there might be a gun, that we investigate each of those. I think that’s the beauty of us.
What’s your approach to potentially violent students? I can tell you something that the DISD is doing, I think, that’s really out of the box. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the term “restorative justice“? In our situation, a lot of times, a student, possibly like the one in Florida, might have been intercepted after having 36 calls to the police. Having his own history, he might have been interjected here into a restorative justice type of program. In doing that, he would have been surrounded in this circle, and had a chance to really vent and say the things that were going on, or the concerns, or thoughts that he had. In our scenario, a Dallas ISD police officer would have been a part of that restorative team. I think that’s trying to foster kids to come forward and tell campus officers. If you’re aware of something, let your campus officer know. I don’t know if they were doing this in Florida, and I don’t pretend to, but I know that in our district we’re moving forward with that restorative justice program.
How has DISD historically handled it when kids have brought weapons into schools? Our goal as police officers in schools is not to criminalize children. I always want to work with a kid. If it’s just a failed threat, and they don’t actually have a weapon, that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t arrest them, but I think it’s our intent to try and find out what the problem is. A couple years ago, we had the clown threats and we had a lot of stuff going on. We had kids that weren’t in school and people were concerned, and we handled that in the appropriate way. I do think that we investigate those crimes that we feel are appropriate to be investigated. And if they need to be criminalized in our school district police department, I’ve got the exact same arrest capabilities I have right now as a DISD police officer as I did when I was a Dallas police officer—no more, no less. Being school employees, our goal is to try and work with these kids and not give them a criminal record, but if someone does something that warrants being interjected into the criminal system, we’ll certainly do that.
I read a Dallas Morning Newsinterview with you, I think it was several years ago, where you were talking about the training that the officers go through for school shootings. You mentioned that, down the road, you wanted to see teachers receive active shooting training, but at the time I think it wasn’t an option or wasn’t a priority. Is that something that’s happening now? Well, I don’t think it’s not a priority. I just think that we’ve still not really evolved to where we have teachers engaged in that. I think a part of that problem is the fact that schoolteachers are what I refer to as 187-day employees. They’re off in the summer, and they’re off on the breaks. When the teachers are off in the summer and off on the breaks is when our police officers really have an opportunity to train them. We’ve not been able to marry up those two to where we can get teachers involved in our active shooter training. They get introduced to active shooters and what to do through the Campus Emergency Operation Plans.
When school shootings like the one in Parkland happen, does it prompt any sort of internal analysis? Unfortunately, in our world, to be honest with you, Kathy, major events are what prompts major change. Look what happened after Columbine. Police officers learned, as a result of Columbine, that we really don’t have the opportunity to wait for backup in some instances. Even with lesser resources, we’re going to have to handle that. Then you look at what happened in Virginia Tech, and the Clery Act that was basically introduced about that time, and how it’s enhanced today where you can notify 50,000 students at the University of Texas that there’s a problem. Then Sandy Hook prompted the changes that we made to physical security. One of the very first things we did that didn’t cost very much money at all was to put that peepholes in the doors of 1,500 portables. It’s as big as a silver dollar on the inside, and it looks like a peephole on the outside. And then we put the cameras in all of the elementary schools. We started card access, and we put what I call the buzzer intercom systems, some people refer to it as the 8-ball system, at the front of the school where you push the button and then you talk and you’re on a camera. We did all of those. Look at what’s taken place with Dallas PD following the shooting there—the officers getting millions of dollars to get Kevlar helmets, to get Kevlar vests. Sensational events prompt sensational things.
Gunman Kills Richardson Cop and Another Victim. The Richardson officer, whose name has not yet been released, was responding to a disturbance call at an apartment last night when he was fatally shot. The gunman also killed another person before he surrendered and was taken into custody. This was the first on-duty officer death in Texas this year.
Twice-Convicted Felons May Be Able to Serve on Dallas Boards. A City Council proposal discussed yesterday suggests that two-time felons wouldn’t necessarily be disqualified from sitting on Dallas boards and commissions anymore. This came after the removal of Marlon Rollins from the Park Board for undiscovered felony convictions. Most council members were in support of the proposal. Matt Goodman wrote about the topic last week for Frontburner.
Amazon Starts Grocery Service with Whole Foods Today. Amazon Prime Now is rolling it out in Dallas, Austin, and two other cities today. It’s free for Prime Now members for guaranteed two-hour delivery, and Whole Foods employees pick the items. The one downside: wine is not included in the delivery options.
Flu Deaths Up to 106 in Dallas-Fort Worth. 60 of those are in Dallas County, more than three times the number of flu deaths last season. Stay healthy, friends.
Lakewood Package Thief Faces Felony Charge. Kelli Russell, the woman recently suspected of stealing packages off porches in East Dallas, will face a felony theft charge. She turned herself in to police yesterday. The value of the packages she stole came to about $5,000, and Highland Park police think she also stole packages there. A grand jury will decide if she’ll be indicted.
City Council Approves Money to Be Spent for Streets and Parks. $155.7 million in 2017 bond money was approved to go toward Dallas streets, parks, and recreational facilities this fiscal year. This is part of the five-year $1.05 billion bond package the council plans to execute. Here’s hoping some of those nasty potholes on Ross will disappear.
Bishop Lynch Will Have Online School Due to Flu. Today and tomorrow, the high school will give classes online because of a flu outbreak. More than 10 percent of students were out sick yesterday. Other area schools have had to cancel regular classes as well to disinfect their campuses.
Former Dallas Police Official Hired by Tarrant County DA. Tammie Hughes, a recently retired Dallas police assistant chief, will be in charge of the investigative division for the Tarrant County district attorney. She had been with the DPD for 33 years, and she’ll now oversee 40-plus investigators who help prosecutors leading up to trials.
Dallas City Hall Isn’t Worried about ICE Chief’s Threats. Thomas Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said he wants to prosecute sanctuary city elected leaders that do not cooperate with him. But Mayor Mike Rawlings isn’t worried. “It’s total hogwash. No one is going to be arrested, especially here in Dallas. We’re not a sanctuary city. We cooperate with ICE. This is basically rattling a saber to make good sound bites.”
Frisco Man Gets 15 Years for Assaulting Man Because He Was Gay. 21-year-old Nigel Garrett was one of the four men who used the app Grindr to target and rob gay men early last year. Yesterday he was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. The other three men are awaiting sentencing.
Natural Gas Odor Noted in Highland Park. An officer patrolling the 3600 block of Mockingbird Lane reported smelling natural gas yesterday afternoon, and Atmos Energy crews have been investigating. Earlier this week, a gas explosion destroyed a home in Irving after a natural gas odor had been noticed. The family escaped uninjured, but the house was deemed a total loss.
Dallas Police Targets Home or Business Owners Who Tolerate Crime. Yesterday, the City Council passed a “nuisance abatement” ordinance, which lets Chief U. Renee Hall pinpoint properties that tolerate crime and focus on the owners. City officials can now put up a sign on these properties and mark them as “habitual criminal activity” sites. Anyone who removes the signs without approval will be committing an offense, but owners who fix up the property can get the sign taken down.
Developers Want to Save Part of the Old Dallas ISD’s Headquarters. Leon Capital Group is spending more than $9 million on DISD’s former Ross Avenue headquarters. It plans to build an apartment complex on the block at Ross and Washington with 380 rental units and a six-level parking garage. The space includes the existing central building of the DISD headquarters.
Dallas Firefighter May Be Charged with Intoxication Manslaughter. An off-duty firefighter, who was suspected of driving drunk in Cedar Hill yesterday, crashed into an 18-year-old woman and her unborn baby, who were killed in the crash. He rear-ended the woman, Alyssa Pimentel, who was ejected by the impact. The firefighter, Horace Shaw III, was booked into the Dallas County Jail and faces a count of intoxication manslaughter.
Hazing Gets TCU Fraternity Suspended. The Epsilon Beta chapter of Delta Tau Delta was suspended due to allegations of hazing. Details of the hazing are unclear, as is whether a police investigation is underway. “This chapter, including its leadership, willfully violated not only the fraternity’s risk management policy but also our stated values. Hazing is an aberration to those values,” said Jim Russell, executive vice president of the fraternity’s national chapter.
Sherin Mathews’ Doctor Had Told CPS of Abuse. A Dallas doctor who examined the 3-year-old in March found several bone fractures. She reported this to CPS because she was concerned that Sherin’s parents might have been abusing her. The doctor’s testimony was heard yesterday at a court hearing to determine if the parents will be able to reunite with their other child, who’s also a 3-year-old girl. They’re still in jail and face criminal charges related to Sherin’s death. It’s even more tragic if this could all have been prevented.
English is No Longer the Official Language of Farmers Branch. City council members voted to repeal an ordinance that made the city’s official language English. The ordinance had also prohibited the use of other languages for city documents, meetings, and the like. “We hope this new chapter in our community’s history will help further promote an inclusive environment, not only among our residents, but anyone looking to live, work, or play in Farmers Branch,” said Ana Reyes, the council’s first Hispanic member.
T. Boone Pickens Wants to Sell You His Ranch for $250 Million. The 89-year-old Dallas businessman and oil tycoon is selling his 65,000-acre Mesa Vista Ranch for a mere $250 million. It’s got man-made lakes, tennis and golf courses, a movie theater—oh, and a two-story pub. Time to get the checkbook out.
Zeke Elliott Has Another Hearing Today. There will be yet another court hearing—the fifth one—to determine if he will keep playing or if he’ll finally have to serve his six-game suspension. It’ll be at 1 p.m. and could bring an end to his legal uncertainty.
City Council Approves 107-Year-Old Oak Cliff Home to Become Restaurant. The house was built in 1910 by the former chief justice of Dallas’ 5th Court of Appeals who became mayor of Dallas in 1936. It will be preserved and updated, and renovations will begin in the next 60 days by developer Jim Lake.
Good Works Under 40 Winner Named Today. Five Dallas civic leaders younger than 40 are finalists for the award. The winner will receive a $10,000 donation to a nonprofit of his or her choice, and the other finalists will receive $3,500 for their nonprofits. The finalists are Stephanie Giddens, president of Vickery Trading Company; Lana Harder, pediatric neuropsychologist and CASA volunteer; Dominic Lacy, Deaf Action Center’s first deaf board president; Robert Taylor, director of The Educator Collective; and Elizabeth Viney, an attorney who works pro-bono with Advocates for Community Transformation.
Student Brings Gun to DISD Elementary School. This happened on Tuesday at Highland Meadows Elementary, but adults didn’t know about it until yesterday. Another student who’d seen the gun told a parent, and the student who brought it owned up to it. There’s an ongoing investigation.
Director Anna Zetchus Smith today released a 75-minute documentary about Barrett Brown. Its full title is Accidental Warrior: the Life and Time of Barrett Brown. An opening sequence lays out the doc’s goal this way:
In early 2011 Aaron Barr, then the CEO of private internet security company HBGary Federal, claimed to have uncovered the “top leadership of Anonymous” in the hopes of receiving prestige and bigger contracts.
Members of Anonymous mocked him by hacking the company, which, among other things, resulted in the release of 70,000 internal emails, emails that revealed how these types of companies, unwatched, interact with government to build the surveillance state.
It would take an entire film to explain all of those details, and this is not that film. This film is about what happened to the journalist who did try to explain it.
It’s an interesting flick, featuring, without voiceover narration, interviews with Nikki Loehr, Barrett’s onetime girlfriend; Caleb Pritchard, a childhood friend; John Kiriakou, a CIA whistleblower; Marlo Cadeddu, one of Barrett’s lawyers; Kevin Gallagher, who helped raise money for Barrett’s legal defense fund; Gregg Housh, an early Anonymous participant; and me. Anna interviewed me in the D Magazine office the day Barrett was sentenced. If I’d known she was going to use that much of our discussion, I would have insisted on hair and makeup.