Hundreds of DA staffers go through diversity training

DA Craig Watkins’ policies could ensure violence against LGBT people won’t go unpunished

CoverStory

NOH8 | The Dallas County District Attorney’s office welcomed Roberta Clark of the Anti-Defamation League to the office for a training on “Why Diversity Matters.” Nearly 300 prosecutors and investigators attended the training. (Tracy Nanthavongsa/Dallas District Attorney’s Office of Communications)

 

STEVE RAMOS  |  Senior Editor

They were the words no mother wants to hear. Maria Ramos, tough ranch woman that she was, must have weakened when the Arkansas official told her that her son was injured and probably wouldn’t live through the day. It was 1985. People weren’t awakened by genial cell phone tones in those days. Instead, a 10-pound phone ringing in the early morning hours roused people like a cattle prod to the brain. The news that your son is near death would only rev that shock to a mind-splintering level.

Minutes after she hung up the phone, Maria’s bags were packed, and she was herding other family members into action. Bad news travels through Mexican neighborhoods faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, and the community circled the wagons around her. Within the hour, family friends were dropping off money to help with the trip. A couple of dollars from one, five bucks from another. Tears from all of them.

Maria and her six other children pointed their cars toward the barely rising sun. Normally, sunrises are glorious in the Texas Panhandle, but the streaks of magentas and oranges would have been lost to the family on that morning. Instead, the sun’s movement westward was only a reminder that time was running out. Doubtlessly, Maria would have prayed 10 rosaries during that tortuous drive — one for each of the hours that separated her from her dying son.

I don’t know who told Grandma what happened to my uncle, or if she knew the details before she left home or was told at the hospital. It doesn’t matter. He was brain dead, the result of a brutal gay bashing. Eyewitnesses reported that a man attacked my uncle from behind, knocked him to the ground and then kicked him in the head repeatedly.

Because. He. Was. Gay.

After the attack, my uncle was able to get up, the witnesses said, but he later collapsed. It was the last time he would walk. We soon learned the assailant had prior convictions of assault in Arkansas and Louisiana and was on probation for assault at the time of the attack. One would think it was an open-and-shut case. But not in Arkansas. And certainly not in 1985.

The district attorney should have just stayed home on the day of the trial. A first-year law student could have swatted away his feeble prosecution like a child slapping a geriatric gnat. He just didn’t care. He allowed the defense to mock the gay eyewitnesses, turning the trial into a finger-pointing at them, that they and my uncle were somehow responsible for the attack — just for being gay. They were ridiculed and humiliated, forced to divulge to their neighbors the personal details of their gay lives. They were on trial. The gay community was on trial. The only one not on trial was the defendant.

It turns out the jury didn’t care, either. Despite the eyewitness testimony that detailed the attack on my uncle, and despite the assailant’s criminal record, a dozen jurors found him not guilty. Imagine a mother being told by 12 people that her son’s life has no value to them. Indeed, as one of my aunts was later walking down the courthouse steps, she overheard someone say, “It’s just one less faggot walking the streets as far as I’m concerned.” My grandmother never recovered.

Sadly, my uncle’s story isn’t a unique one in the LGBT community. Laramie, Tyler, Paris, Dallas, Houston — this list goes on. Dallas Voice reporter David Taffet is working on a story about the Texas Obituary Project that has documented, so far, about 140 violent deaths in the community over the last several decades. How many law enforcement agencies and district attorneys buried LGBT hate crimes during those years or just determined not to prosecute them? How many mothers were told their sons’ and daughters’ lives were of no value to the legal system because they were LGBT? Too many.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins agrees. Watkins announced in February the creation of the Dallas County District Attorney’s LGBT Task Force, and in March nearly 300 of his prosecutors and investigators took part in sensitivity training, titled “Why Diversity Matters,” that will help them better understand the county’s diverse communities.

“The diversity training will benefit our office and the residents of Dallas County as a whole,” Watkins said. “We are better prosecutors, better investigators, when we understand the communities that we serve. Not only will it provide us a better understanding of the people we must prosecute, but equally with the victims and witnesses of crimes.”

Watkins said he’s aware that many LGBT people are reluctant to report crimes committed against them. Their experiences with law enforcement officials haven’t always been good, and as one trans woman recently reported, police officers in Paris told her “Being the way you are, you should expect that” treatment, after she reported to them she was receiving death threats in the East Texas city.

Watkins certainly sees a lot of hate. It’s even been directed at him, Dallas County’s first African-American DA, and as he steers his office toward an understanding of diversity, he’s liable to see more.

“My role is very controversial,” he said, “but I’m going to live up to the principles I believe in. I’ve seen people use their power to hold people back from living the American dream. It’s impossible to change this office overnight, but I am going to set the standard of behavior of what the justice system should be.”

Watkins’ creation of the LGBT Task Force and putting his staff through diversity training could stop the rise in anti-LGBT hate crimes. The FBI and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report an increase in those crimes, and the breakdown is horrifying.  Transgender people and gender non-conforming people continue to experience higher rates of homicide. LGBTQH (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected) people of color represented 53 percent of total reported survivors and victims of all hate crimes, but 73.1 percent of homicide victims.

Watkins said he’s an advocate for change and the Task Force and training will have a ripple effect in his office and in the county. He also believes it will reach the community.

“We’re already seeing it,” he said. “Many LGBT people don’t believe in law enforcement because it hasn’t worked for them. They’ve been marginalized.”

My grandmother, gone for 19 years now, would have loved to hear those words from a district attorney. The Task Force — comprised of four attorneys, an investigator, a case worker, a victim advocate and a spokesperson — will now help ensure no one in the community is excluded from the judicial process. And when LGBT people are on the defendant’s side, they are being told they can expect to face a more understanding prosecutor.

No members of the LGBT community are on the Task Force, but James Tate, LGBT spokesman, said, “We are exploring a future date and time to conduct a town hall meeting. In essence, this would allow us to introduce ourselves to the community and let them know we are here to help.”

Three of the Task Force members identify with the LGBT community, but no members of the community are on it because there will be cases that potentially come before the Task Force that can be viwed only by the district attorney’s office.

As Watkins finishes the last year of his second term, he reflects on how the job has changed him. He earned five times the amount of money in private law practice than he does as the district attorney.

“But I was unhappy,” he said. “I’m happy now. I’m very religious, and I read the Bible. We are all children of God, whether you’re LGBT or a member of any other community. In my office, we need to protect everyone.”

That sentiment did trickle down to the prosecutors in Watkins’ office.

“In some way, almost all of us are minorities,” said Brian Higginbotham, an assistant district attorney in the appellate division. “It may be gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, disability or many other things. As prosecutors, we see all kinds of people at their worst and at their best.”

In our fight for marriage equality, Watkins said, “the Constitution says you have the right to marry.” And he encourages LGBT people to marry “even if it means you’re hauled off in handcuffs.”

“Live your life the way you want to,” he advised.

Twenty-nine years ago, my grandmother saw prosecutors at their worst, but I’m hopeful that I’m now seeing one at his best. The community will hold Watkins’ to the message drawn on his cheek for the NOH8 picture. It’s a powerful symbol for a powerful office, and it’s high time for the changes promised to us.

If members of the community have a concern they want to discuss with the Task Force, they can send an email to lgbt@dallasda.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 18, 2014.

—  Steve Ramos

Dallas County DA Watkins announces LGBT Task Force

Prosecutors will go through sensitivity training to ensure better communication with the LGBT community

Craig-Watkins

EQUALITY | Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins announced Friday he established an LGBT Task Force that will help his office better communicate with the community. (Steve Ramos/Dallas Voice)

Steve Ramos  |  Senior Editor

In a move that demonstrates the growing LGBT influence in public policy, the Dallas County District Attorney’s office has created a task force that will address how that office interacts with the community.

“Several months back, I took the opportunity to meet with leaders in the LGBT community and discovered there was a communication gap between many law enforcement agencies and the LGBT community,” Dallas County DA Craig Watkins said. “I was disappointed to hear that many victims of domestic violence or hate crimes were afraid to speak out because they feared lack of a law enforcement response.”

The task force, comprised of attorneys, an investigator, a senior caseworker and a spokesperson was established to ensure there is communication between the DA and the community, Watkins said. He added that it goes into effect Friday.

Cece Cox, Resource Center CEO, said there have been times when the community has faced discrimination and bias from law enforcement and legal institutions dealing with hate crimes and family violence. But she is hopeful that the task force will help eliminate that problem.

“The task force, along with the liaison positions that currently exist at Dallas Police Department and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, is a positive step toward ensuring that LGBT persons will be treated with dignity and respect,” she said, “and that hate crimes against them will be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.”

Watkins’ office isn’t without an LGBT presence. His community relations consultant, James Tate, is out, and he contributed to the dialogue that created the task force.

“I had an ongoing discussion with the DA, telling him how important it is for us (LGBT) to be heard and that there are people who are apprehensive about reporting crimes,” Tate said. “With the creation of the task force and other initiatives the office is planning, it makes me feel incredibly proud to work with such a progressive and maverick leader.”

The task force’s operations will begin with an initial sensitivity training for all prosecutors in the DA’s office, with additional future training for new prosecutors. Ellyce Lindberg, chief of intake and grand jury, will conduct the training.

“Mr. Watkins’ new initiative is just one more of his innovative steps toward protecting and respecting victims of crime,” Lindberg said. “It comes at an ideal time in his administration due to his new electronic case management system, which is soon to be implemented.”

Lindberg added that there never has been a systematic way to track the kind of cases inherent to the LGBT community, but with the ability to electronically manage cases, those that have been designated as part of the task force initiative will be better monitored.

As of press time, the DA’s office didn’t have the statistics available that would indicate how critical the lack of communication has been, but Watkins affirmed he’s prepared to correct it.

“As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, ‘A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ and this Task Force will assist in ensuring that members of our community receive protection from criminal harms, regardless of their orientation or identity/expression,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 7, 2014.

 

—  Steve Ramos

Online revenge can now mean felony conviction

Chad West and Laura Martin

Local officials stepping up enforcement of new Internet harassment law targeting those who harass, impersonate others online

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Dallas police and the Dallas County District Attorney’s office have begin stepping up enforcement of a 2009 Internet harassment law that makes it a felony to impersonate, imitate or otherwise harass others in e-mails, instant messaging programs and commercial social networking sites.

And some gay men who use online dating and social media sites are getting caught in the crosshairs.

“Word is getting out about the law,” Dallas LGBT police liaison Laura Martin said, adding that she’s spoken to a number of people who have been harassed with phone calls, Internet posts and fake Facebook pages.

“It usually happens when a relationship ends,” Martin said, “[when] someone is seeking revenge.”

She said that usually the person filing the complaint just wants the harassment to stop. And when she’s made calls to the person, Martin said, it usually does stop.

But with the new Texas Penal Code 33.07, those using such sites to harass someone could be charged with a felony.

Since the beginning of July, criminal defense attorney Chad West said he has signed four new clients charged under the law. Three of them are gay.

The cases are varied. One involves harassment through a Facebook page; another is a “text message situation,” West said.

West said one of his clients had been dating a closeted man for years. When the closeted man broke off the relationship, the two remained in touch for awhile, but then the closeted man wanted to cut off all communication.

West said his client told him his feelings had been hurt by his ex’s actions and then “one night he did something stupid.”

On Craigslist, the client posted his ex’s first name, last initial and cell phone number with a picture of someone else. Within minutes the ex began receiving calls.

After talking to one of the callers, the victim found the page on Craigslist, printed it off and filed a complaint with the police who tracked the IP address.

West’s client, with nothing prior on his record other than speeding tickets, was arrested and charged with a third degree felony. If convicted, he faces two to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

In another case, one man was impersonating his boyfriend online. Using the victim’s passwords, he signed onto dating sites such as Manhunt to find out if the victim was cheating on him.

Cheating is not a crime. Impersonating someone else online in Texas is. And that man has now been charged with a felony.

Manhunt does what it can to prevent that sort of situation, Manhunt CEO Adam Segel said. A button on profiles allows a member to report fake or malicious profiles.

“Whenever Manhunt receives reports of harassment between users, we investigate to the best of our ability and take whatever steps are necessary to rectify the situation,” Segel said.

“This may include suspension or deletion of the offending user’s account,” he explained.

Segel said that Manhunt always cooperates with the police once officers have obtained a subpoena, but those instances are rare. “Fortunately this isn’t something we hear about very often,” he said.

West has spoken to the victims in all of the cases he represents. He said that all of them just want this to go away and that none seem interested in appearing in court to testify about intimate details of their lives.

And that’s the best hope West’s clients have.

Defending the charge is difficult when police have hard computer evidence of where the harassment originated and when a victim is willing to testify, West said.

The Craigslist case is furthest along and may be reduced to a Class A misdemeanor, but that still carries the possibility of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Probation or deferred adjudication are possibilities as well. Even if dismissed, the legal fees can mount quickly.

West said one of the victims he spoke to isn’t interested in putting his ex in jail but wants him to get counseling. A judge could set that as a condition of the probation or deferred adjudication.

Katherine Robinson is an assistant Dallas district attorney who prosecutes Internet crimes. She said that her office looks at cases like these very carefully, but because the law is still new, she hasn’t seen any cases come to trial.

Robinson said the Texas law was prompted by a 2006 cyber-bullying case in Missouri.

Megan Meier, 13, took her own life after being told online that the world would be better off without her by “Josh,” a boy who friended her on MySpace.

“Josh” turned out to be Lori Drew, an adult woman. Megan was one of her daughter’s classmates.

However, Drew had not violated any criminal law at the time. She was charged and acquitted of violating the terms and conditions of MySpace under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Robinson said that after that case, legislatures started enacting stricter Internet harassment laws.

“That case hit home how devastating it can be,” Robinson said.

Assistant District Attorney Rick Watson has handled two cases under the Internet harassment law.

“I talk to the victim, balance what they want and make sure the public is safe,” he said.

In one case, a high school student created a Facebook page with another student’s information and made threatening remarks.

The student received four years probation but only after a psych evaluation to make sure he was not a danger.

Watson said the student thought he was pulling a prank, and had no idea he would be charged with a felony.

Watson said that although charges may be reduced, they’re not likely to be dismissed.

West warned that although these cases may eventually be pled to misdemeanors, the arrest and associated costs can be enormous. He said that the potential is a felony conviction and with all the attention placed on bullying last fall, Internet harassment is being taken seriously by law enforcement in Dallas.

And Dallas County is not the only place police are pursuing these cases. Of West’s four clients, only two are in Dallas. One is in Denton and another is in Collin County.

____________

TEXAS PENAL CODE

Sec. 33.07.  ONLINE HARASSMENT.

(a) A person commits an offense if the person uses the name or persona of another person to create a web page on or to post one or more messages on a commercial social networking site:

(1) Without obtaining the other person’s consent; and

(2) With the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten any person.

(b) A person commits an offense if the person sends an electronic mail, instant message, text message, or similar communication that references a name, domain address, phone number, or other item of identifying information belonging to any person:

(1) without obtaining the other person’s consent;

(2) with the intent to cause a recipient of the communication to reasonably believe that the other person authorized or transmitted the communication; and

(3) with the intent to harm or defraud any person.

(c) An offense under Subsection (a) is a felony of the third degree. An offense under Subsection (b) is a Class A misdemeanor, except that the offense is a felony of the third degree if the actor commits the offense with the intent to solicit a response by emergency personnel.

(d) If conduct that constitutes an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under any other law, the actor may be prosecuted under this section, the other law, or both.

(e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the actor is any of the following entities or that the actor’s conduct consisted solely of action taken as an employee of any of the following entities:

(1) a commercial social networking site;

(2) an Internet service provider;

(3) an interactive computer service, as defined by 47 U.S.C. Section 230;

(4) a telecommunications provider, as defined by Section 51.002, Utilities Code; or

(5) a video service provider or cable service provider, as defined by Section 66.002, Utilities Code.

(f) In this section:

(1) “Commercial social networking site” means any business, organization, or other similar entity operating a website that permits persons to become registered users for the purpose of establishing personal relationships with other users through direct or real-time communication with other users or the creation of web pages or profiles available to the public or to other users. The term does not include an electronic mail program or a message board program.

(2) “Identifying information” has the meaning assigned by Section 32.51.

—  John Wright

DA Craig Watkins says Club Dallas charges were dismissed based on U.S. Constitution

On Wednesday we reported that charges have now been dismissed or rejected against all 11 men arrested in the Dallas Police Department’s October raid of The Club Dallas, a gay bathhouse in Deep Ellum.

Today, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins for the first time publicly addressed the reasons behind his office’s dismissal of the charges, issuing a one-sentence statement.

“Based upon the U. S. Constitution and the applicable Texas statute, the elements of the offense were unprovable,” Watkins said.

Watkins didn’t specify which portion of the Constitution he was referring to, but undoubtedly it’s the right to privacy.

Seven of the men were charged with public lewdness, which is defined as sexual intercourse or sexual contact in a public place. However, defense attorneys have raised questions about whether the confines of the Club Dallas are considered a public place under the law.

Three of the men were charged with indecent exposure, which is defined as exposing one’s genitals with the intent to arouse or gratify and in a manner that is “reckless about whether another is present who will be offended or alarmed …” But defense attorneys say it’s difficult to argue that sex in a bathhouse is recklessly offensive when all members typically sign waivers saying they acknowledge it takes place.

—  John Wright

DA’s office confirms that charges have been dismissed or rejected in all 11 Club Dallas cases

The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office has now dismissed or rejected charges against all 11 of the men arrested in a controversial police raid at a gay bathhouse in October.

Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office, confirmed today that 10 of the cases have been dismissed, while one was rejected and therefore will not be filed.

Bradfield said District Attorney Craig Watkins was out of the office and unavailable for comment. Bradfield said it’s possible that Watkins will be available for comment Thursday about why the DA’s office chose not to prosecute the cases.

Watkins previously has declined to discuss the matter because some of the cases were still pending.

Defense attorneys have said they believe the cases were dismissed over questions about whether the bathhouse, Club Dallas on Swiss Avenue in Deep Ellum, is considered a public place. Court documents say only that the cases were dismissed “in the interest of justice.”

Ten of the 11 men were charged with public lewdness or indecent exposure after undercover officers observed them engaging in various sex acts inside the business. An employee was charged with interfering with police after he refused to allow uniformed officers into the club to execute the arrests.

Dallas police have said they conducted the raid, the first of its kind in recent memory, in response to a citizen complaint. But police officials have declined to comment on whether they’ll conduct vice operations at Club Dallas or other gay bathhouses in the future, given that the DA’s office dismissed the cases.

“The Dallas Police Department recently learned that many of the charges involving activities at The Club Dallas in October 2010 were dismissed,” DPD said in a statement last month. “The department plans to meet with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office as soon as possible regarding these cases. The purpose of the meeting is to determine the cause of the dismissals, and to determine what, if any, procedural changes may be needed. An update will be provided following the meeting.”

—  John Wright

Did the DA’s Office file a new case just to avoid discussing its dismissal of Club Dallas charges?

Charges have now been dismissed against seven of the 11 men arrested in the Dallas Police Department’s raid of The Club Dallas in October, according to Dallas County court records.

In addition, as of this morning, there was no record of charges ever being filed by the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office against three of the 11 men.

Oddly, though, a new case was filed against one of the 11 men on Jan. 28, and it’s now pending.

We say oddly because all of the other cases — the original seven — were filed in November or early December. And most of them were dismissed in early January, with the last one dismissed on Jan. 27 — just one day before the new case was filed.

So, why has the DA’s Office now chosen to file a new case against one of the remaining four men arrested in the raid?

We’re trying to get an explanation from the DA’s Office, but here’s our best guess:

District Attorney Craig Watkins has declined to comment on his office’s decision to dismiss the cases. Watkins’ stated reason for not commenting was that at least one case was still pending. He said commenting on the dismissed cases could affect prosecution of the pending case. But that’s BS. Watkins’ real reason for not commenting was that he simply didn’t want to comment on this sensitive topic. And he still doesn’t, so in order to keep his excuse valid, his office has to ensure that at least one case is pending. So, after the lone case that was previously pending was dismissed, his office had to file a new one.

Again, this is just a theory, and it could be totally off. Who knows, maybe it’s typical for the DA’s Office to file seven of 11 cases stemming from the same incident, then dismiss most of them a month later, then file one of the other four a month after that. After all, Instant Tea is not a prosecutor.

—  John Wright

Charges dismissed in raid of gay bathhouse

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Charges have been dismissed against most of the 11 men arrested for engaging in sex acts during a Dallas Police Department raid of The Club Dallas in October.

The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office confirmed this week that it dismissed charges against at least six of the men earlier this month. Defense attorneys for the men said they expected charges to be dismissed against the others soon.

DA  Craig Watkins didn’t elaborate on why his office chose not to prosecute the cases, citing the fact that charges against at least one of the men had not yet been dismissed.

“Due to the fact that these cases are so closely related, commenting on the dismissed cases would affect the prosecution of the pending case,” Watkins said in a statement.

David Hill, a defense attorney who represents nine of the 11 men, said charges were dismissed over questions about whether The Club Dallas is defined as a public place under Texas law. Seven of the men were charged with public lewdness, three were charged with indecent exposure, and one was charged with interfering with police.

“The issue relates to whether it’s a public versus private location, so you can imagine that the decisions and the conversations I had with them [prosecutors] hinged on that element,” Hill said Wednesday, Jan. 19. “After reviewing the cases, the District Attorney’s Office made a determination that it was in the best interest of justice to dismiss the cases.”

Hill commended the District Attorney’s Office for its decision. “They were willing to take the time to look at these cases with an open mind and make a determination after having done that,” he said.

Asked whether it’s safe for people to go to the gay bathhouses, Hill said he was reluctant to offer broad legal advice. “I think everyone has to make their own decision about their own personal conduct, but I would think that the decision regarding these cases would give people some comfort about that,” Hill said. “I don’t begin to assume what DPD is going to do in the future, but I would think the fact that the cases were filed, and the result that’s come about in this case, I’m sure they have other things they’d rather spend their resources on than purusing cases that may or may not get prosecuted.”

Neither DPD Chief David Brown nor LGBT liaison officer Laura Martin responded to requests for comment.

DPD’s vice unit has said it conducted the raid in response to a citizen complaint.

A co-owner of The Club Dallas declined to comment on the dismissal of the charges.

—  John Wright

More on Club Dallas

We’re still trying to get in touch with someone at the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office to explain why prosecutors have chosen to dismiss charges against several of the men who were arrested in the Dallas Police Department’s raid of a gay bathhouse in October. However, it appears we are running into the same roadblock as the Dallas Morning News. The DMN reports that District Attorney Craig Watkins has designated one person to handle all media inquiries, and prosecutors in the DA’s office have been instructed not to talk to the media at all, and some fear getting fired if they do.

Anyhow, we’ve requested an interview with Watkins himself about the decision to dismiss the charges. The DA’s office’s media representative informs us that she’s passing along our request. It seems as though when the Dallas Police Department goes out of its way to raid a gay bathhouse and arrest 11 people — then the DA’s office declines to prosecute — there ought to be some sort of public explanation. The raid was hugely controversial in the gay community and made national news. We could speculate, as others have, that the DA’s Office believes these cases would be difficult to prove and doesn’t view them as a priority. Again, though, that’s speculation and hearsay — something prosecutors don’t typically like.

We also haven’t received any response from DPD as to what the department thinks about this decision by the DA’s office. We’ve spoken with both LGBT liaison officer Laura Martin and Chief David Brown himself, and both have promised to get back to us. Specifically, we’d like to know whether DPD plans to continue conducting these types of raids in the future knowing that the DA’s office isn’t going to prosecute those arrested. Imagine all the resources it took to plan and conduct the raid, then complete all the paperwork and book the 11 men into jail. And all for nothing, apparently. In extremely tight budget times, that shouldn’t sit well with anyone.

—  John Wright

Jury deadlocked in trial of state trooper accused of slamming woman into concrete wall

UPDATE: Perez was found guilty of misdemeanor assault.

Back in October, John Wright posted this item here on Instant Tea about Texas State Trooper Arturo Perez who faced criminal charges after video taken during a traffic stop for suspected drunk driving surfaced of him slamming 23-year-old Whitney Fox face first into a concrete retaining wall on the Dallas North Tollway after finding out that Fox and her friends in the car with her were on their way home from a gay bar in Oak Lawn.

The Dallas Morning News has reported that jurors hearing the misdemeanor assault case against Perez in Judge Jane Roden’s court are deadlocked and unable to return a verdict. The jurors had been deliberating for about five hours total when, at noon Friday, they send the judge a note saying they were at an impasse.

DMN reports that Judge Roden was expected to tell the jurors to keep deliberating.

The incident in questioned happened in October 2009 after Perez stopped Fox on suspicion of drunk driving. He had cuffed the young woman’s wrists behind her and was patting her down when she began arguing with him about the way he was touching her. Perez told Fox several times as she argued with him that she was “fixing to get yourself hurt.”

Then Perez began leading Fox to his squad car, holding her left arm. When she tried to jerk away from him, Perez  jerked Fox’s arm in return, swinging her around and into the concrete.

Fox — who in the video is visibly stunned by the impact — was left with a large gash in her chin. As she collapsed to the ground, Perez walked away, leaving a second trooper to attend to Fox.

John’s post in October examined allegations  Fox’s attorney, Randy Isenberg, made to Fox 4 News in Dallas that Perez began handling Fox more roughly and slammed her into the wall after another young woman in Fox’s car said something about having left a gay bar in Oak Lawn. The implication, of course, was that Perez is homophobic and deliberately hurt Fox because he thought she is gay.

The incident was captured on video, posted below, by the dashcam in Perez’s squad car.

The Dallas County District Attorney initially charged Perez with official oppression in the case, but a grand jury refused to issue an indictment on the charge. The DA’s office then charged Perez with misdemeanor assault. Perez’s attorney, John Haring, told Fox 4 News this past October that the Texas Ranger had reviewed the video and concluded that Fox was resisting arrest and Perez was not at fault.

Perez retired shortly after the incident occurred, just before the Department of Public Safety could fire him. The DWI charges against Fox were dropped.

—  admin

Schoolteacher arrested in 2008 shooting death of partner

Vaughn told police Judy Bell was shot by an intruder, but police say Vaughn was a suspect all along

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Seidah Muhammad Vaughn

CEDAR HILL — Few details emerged this week about what may have led a woman to fatally shoot her lesbian partner in this suburb south of Dallas in 2008, or how authorities finally linked her to the crime three years later.

Seidah Muhammad Vaughn, 41, was arrested Monday, Dec. 6, on a charge of first-degree murder in the February 2007 murder of her partner, Judy Marie Bell, 34.

After being taken into custody at the high school where she teaches in Oklahoma City, Vaughn waived extradition and was brought Tuesday to the Dallas County jail, where she was being held on $500,000 bond.

Vaughn called 911 in the early morning hours of Feb. 29, 2008, and said an intruder had shot Bell in the Cedar Hill home they shared. But there were no signs of forced entry, and authorities never believed Vaughn’s story.

“She’s always been a person of interest, and our detectives have actually kept up with her location over the years because of that,” said Corky Brown, a spokesman for the city of Cedar Hill. “Recently, they came across some information that gave them what they were looking for.”

Brown declined to elaborate and said the motive for the crime remained unknown.

“We don’t typically try them [cases] in the public,” Brown said. “The idea is to get the information to the district attorney and let them try the case.”

Marshall McCallum, the assistant Dallas County district attorney assigned to the case, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons said court records contained no additional information because the case was referred by a grand jury.

According to media reports, both Vaughn and Bell taught at Permenter Middle School in Cedar Hill at the time of the murder. They’d lived together for four years.

Bell was a special education teacher and basketball coach. Vaughn taught English and language arts.

Bell’s 10-year-old son and three of Vaughn’s children — ages 11-20 — were in the home sleeping at the time of the shooting.

Vaughn began teaching in Oklahoma City in February 2009.  Bell’s son now lives with his father in Houston.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens