Top 10: Reno attack made national news

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BEATEN AND BURNED | Burke Burnett was stabbed with a broken beer bottle and thrown onto a lit burn barrel at a Halloween party in East Texas. (Courtesy of Burke Burnett)

No. 9

Burke Burnett says he was inspired to come out as gay at 15 after learning about the hate crime murder of gay Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard. Thirteen years after Shepard’s death, Burnett himself became the victim of a brutal anti-gay hate crime in Reno, Texas, a small town east of Paris and 100 miles northeast of Dallas.

Burnett, now 26, was at a Halloween party in the early morning hours of Oct. 30 when he was jumped by three men who yelled anti-gay epithets as they stabbed him repeatedly with a broken beer bottle, before throwing him onto a lit burn barrel.

Burnett said he’d never before had problems in his hometown due to his sexual orientation, but he believes the men were trying to kill him.

It took 30 stitches to close stab wounds to his back and forearm, as well as a cut above his left eye. He also sustained second-degree burns and severe bruises.

It was arguably the worst anti-gay hate crime Texas has seen since Jimmy Lee Dean was beaten nearly to death in the heart of Dallas’ gay entertainment district in 2008. And for many in East Texas, Burnett’s beating undoubtedly evoked memories of the 1993 murder of Nicholas West in Tyler.

Fearing that local authorities wouldn’t treat the crime seriously, Burnett’s friends contacted the media. After graphic photos of his injuries were posted on DallasVoice.com, the incident quickly made national news.

Reno police were tightlipped about their investigation, but within days they’d arrested three men in connection with the crime — 31-year-old James Mitchell Lasater III of Paris, 25-year-old Micky Joe Smith of Brookston and 33-year-old Daniel Shawn Martin of Paris.

The suspects each were charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault, but under Texas law, it would be up to prosecutors to decide whether to treat the case as a hate crime.

And LGBT advocates weren’t terribly optimistic, given that in the 10 years since Texas’ statute was passed, only about a dozen cases have been prosecuted as hate crimes.

They would be pleasantly surprised, however, when on Nov. 10 the Lamar County District Attorney’s Office announced that that all three suspects would face hate crimes enhancements.

Aggravated assault is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison, but the enhancements would bump up the charges, making them first-degree felonies punishable by life in prison.

— John Wright

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Hunt draws another challenger in District 14

Chad Lasseter

IT Sales professional says differences of opinion with council incumbent led to candidacy

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Chad Lasseter said this week that he decided to run for the District 14 Dallas City Council seat after meeting with incumbent Angela Hunt in January and discovering he has “a basic difference in philosophy” with her.

While he called Hunt extremely gracious for taking the time to meet with him, he said he found that he differed from her on how to approach a number of issues.

“From that meeting, I found I would do things differently” in a number of areas, Lasseter said.

Lasseter said one of District 14’s biggest challenges has always been Lowest Greenville Avenue, where business owners are often pitted against neighborhood groups on questions of parking for area bars and restaurants, noise, litter and destruction of property by patrons.

While a solution for the area is in the works, Lasseter said that the problem has been around for years and that only after Hunt faced opposition in her re-election was anything done.

Lasseter also said he would have taken a different approach to solving the area’s problems, and that he would have chosen an approach that didn’t involve homeowners in the area giving up property rights.

Walking up and down Cedar Springs Road and talking to storeowners along the way as he talked to a reporter, Lasseter said he believes the gay entertainment district should be used as a model for the East Dallas area. But the gayborhood has issues, too.

Lighting in Oak Lawn on streets around the Crossroads area has been a problem. Lasseter wants to expand sodium arc lighting into the neighborhood to increase safety.

Lasseter said the deciding issue in his decision to run was property taxes. He called Hunt’s vote to increase taxes last year the deciding vote on the council and said raising taxes on senior citizens”criminal.”

“These are people who spent their lives paying into our system,” Lasseter said. “These people are, for the most part, on fixed incomes and we’re now running them out of their homes.”

He wants to freeze property taxes for seniors, look into rolling them back and implement a senior tax cap.

“I’d like to see a government that’s more responsive,” he said. “I’d like to see a government that’s more transparent and a government that’s more accountable.”

Lasseter called public safety the first responsibility of local government.

“We have mounting debt services and a budget shortfall,” he said.

With a billion dollar budget, 75 percent is for essential services, which doesn’t leave much fat, he said.

There are three ways to balance a budget, Lasseter said: Raising taxes and cutting spending are the first two, but he’s against tax increases and said that there’s little room for cuts that allow for maintaining the quality of life the city’s residents expect.

The third is to increase revenue and Lasseter believes there are a number of things the city can do in that area.

“Create additional revenue and grow the tax base,” he said.

Lasseter said that he’d like to make it easier to do business with the city by limiting the amount of paperwork and permits a business needs to operate in Dallas. And he called public-private partnerships like the Lee Park Conservancy another example of how the city can work with organizations to increase revenue.

Lasseter said he has been looking into the possibility of bringing the Texas Rangers to Dallas once their lease at the Ballpark in Arlington expires in 2018, a move he said would generate more revenue.

Creating incentives for businesses to return to the city from the suburbs and to move here from out of state would help the tax base grow, Lasseter said, pointing at the growth and development in downtown Austin as a model.

He mentioned a number of quality of life issues he supports including maintaining the parks, expanding rail and trolley lines and repairing roads.

Throughout the campaign period, Lasseter said he plans to issue platform position papers. The first will be about public safety and include his ideas on reducing crime and lessening the burden on the police force. Others will follow.

Lasseter, 37, is director of sales and services for NorthWind Consulting Services. He lives in the Hollywood Heights neighborhood of East Dallas.

He said that a number of public forums are being planned for the candidates to discuss the issues as the campaign progresses. •

Meet the candidate campaign launch party at Barley House, 5612 SMU Blvd. Feb. 19 from 2 to 5 p.m. For more information, visit ChadLasseter.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Violent crime down 23% near gay strip

Violent crime was down 23 percent last year in a 1-square-mile area that encompasses Dallas’ largest gay entertainment district, according to statistics from the Dallas Police Department.

The statistics from DPD show that the number of violent offenses recorded in the area known as the Cedar Springs-Wycliff Target Area Action Grid dropped from 220 in 2009 to 169 in 2010.

The 2010 figures put the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG at No. 7 for violent crimes on a list of 27 TAAGs city-wide. In 2009, Cedar Springs Wycliff was No. 4 on the list. However, DPD officials have cautioned against ranking the TAAGs because they vary in size and violent crimes aren’t recorded on a per capita basis. Cedar Springs businesses have also raised concerns given that the Cedar Springs-Wycliff TAAG stretches all the way to Stemmons Freeway in some places.

Overall, violent crime was down 14 percent across all 27 TAAGs, the city’s worst hotspots, which helped fuel a 10 percent reduction in crime in Dallas in 2010.

Here are the top 10 TAAGs for violent crime in 2010:

1. Five Points: 291 offenses

2. Northwest-Harry Hines: 259 offenses

3. Forest-Audelia: 220 offenses

4. Jim Miller-Loop 12: 207 offenses

5. Hatcher-2nd: 205 offenses

6. Ross-Bennett: 188 offenses

7. Cedar Springs-Wycliff: 169 offenses

8. Buckner-Peavy: 167 offenses

9. MLK-Malcolm X: 165 offenses

10. Jefferson Corridor: 165 offenses

—  John Wright

Brutal stabbing shocks Houston’s Montrose area

Aaron Scheerhoorn

A 28-year-old man was brutally stabbed to death in a parking lot in the heart of Houston’s heavily gay Montrose area late Friday night. Police say the suspect, described as clean cut and tidy, chased down the victim in the 700 block of Pacific before stabbing him multiple times and calmly walking away. From the Houston Chronicle:

Authorities do not yet have a motive in the killing — or any evidence it was a hate crime — but several people witnessed the attack, in which the victim was stabbed in the chest, abdomen, forearm, left side and  hand, said Houston homicide Sgt. W. Meeler.

“It was brutal. We think there was some sort of confrontation, and the (victim) ran away and was chased by the suspect and killed,” said Meeler, adding the suspect and victim likely did not know one another.

The victim, who was not identified, was attacked in the parking lot of a night club in the 700 block of Pacific. Police, however, believe the two men were likely in the roadway when the altercation started, not inside the tavern.

KPRC Channel 2 reports that the stabbing occurred outside Blur Bar at 710 Pacific St. and was witnessed by security and patrons. The station reports that witnesses described the attacker as a black man wearing a colored turtleneck.

From the Associated Press:

Police said after the stabbing that they were talking to businesses near the scene to determine whether any had surveillance video that could help the investigation. Police spokesman John Cannon on Saturday told The Associated Press he had no information on how that effort has gone.

Although the victim was attacked in the parking lot, police believe he and his attacker were in the roadway when the altercation began and not inside the tavern. …

Cannon told the AP that a man ran to the door of the night club about 11:30 p.m. Friday, saying he had been stabbed. As he pleaded for help, Cannon said, a man wearing an orange turtleneck sweater and black pants approached the victim from behind and stabbed him several more times.

Meeler said investigators believe the man who did the stabbing took the knife with him because they did not find one at the scene.

Club patrons and security workers saw the attack, but Cannon said it’s not clear whether any of them tried to stop the stabbing or go after the assailant.

UPDATE: The victim has been identified as Aaron Scheerhoorn. Police say the incident was not a hate crime or a robbery, but may have been a crime of passion. The suspect, who remains at large, is described as a tall black man between the ages of 25 and 30.

—  John Wright

Violent crime drops 11% in Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG

Police report 11 percent decrease in violent crime in Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG in first 6 months of 2010

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Scott Whittall

Despite a recent high-profile hate crime in Oak Lawn, the area surrounding the Cedar Springs strip has gotten safer over the last six months, according to statistics from the Dallas Police Department.

In 2009, a roughly 1-square-mile area that includes the gay entertainment district recorded the fourth-most violent offenses of any of the city’s 26 worst crime hotspots.

But during the first six months of 2010, the area known as the Cedar Springs Wycliff Target Area Action Grid (TAAG) saw an 11 percent drop in violent crime, the statistics show.

From January through June of this year, the Cedar Springs Wycliff  TAAG recorded 95 violent offenses, down from 107 in the same period last year.

While DPD officials have cautioned against ranking the areas, 2010 numbers put the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG at No. 7 on the citywide list for violent crime.

DPD Deputy Chief Malik Aziz, who’s over the department’s Northwest Division, said according to more recent statistics, through July 11, violent crime is down 15 percent in the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG.

“We’ve been pouring a lot of resources into different areas,” Aziz said Thursday, July 15. “We’ve still got issues we’ve got to deal with, but crime is on the decrease. The payoff is as great as the community engagement with police.”

Overall, the 26 TAAGs have seen a 6 percent reduction in violent crime in the first half of this year.

In the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG, individual robberies have seen the biggest drop, going from 69 in the first six months of 2009 to 55 this year. The other categories of violent crime — aggravated assault, murder, rape and business robberies — have stayed roughly the same.

Aziz said there’s also been a substantial decrease in nonviolent offenses — including property crimes such as burglary and theft — in the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG.

Scott Whittall, president of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, said he’s noticed a difference.

“It’s definitely an improvement,” Whittall said. “I think as business owners on the street, we feel it. It’s definitely reduced, so those numbers don’t shock me.”

Whittall and others have criticized the TAAG statistics in the past, saying they’re not an accurate reflection of the gay entertainment district.

While it includes the strip, the Cedar Springs Wycliff TAAG stretches to Parkland Hospital and beyond Stemmons Freeway in some places.

“I have a feeling that in our little area, that it’s a higher drop,” Whittall said.

He added that he’s noticed an increased police presence, including an unmanned cruiser parked in the Kroger parking lot.

“That type of little extra effort is very welcome,” he said.

Whittall, co-owner of Buli Café, said the business received a visit recently from DPD officers conducting a survey about crime issues in the area.

During a June meeting with LGBT stakeholders, new Police Chief David Brown promised a return to community-oriented policing.

“We’re just trying to drill down to be more pointed and more focused on specific things we need to target,” Aziz said of the survey.

………………………………..

Top 10 Crime Hotspots in Dallas in 2010

Area:    No. offenses
Five Points:    153
Northwest Hwy/Harry Hines:    114
Ross/Bennett:    108
Hatcher/2nd:    102
Forest/Audelia:    97
Jim Miller Loop 12:    96
Cedar Springs/Wycliff:    95
Buckner/Peavy:    92
Jefferson Corridor:    91
Buckner/Bruton:    87
Source: Dallas Police Department

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 16, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas