Trio robbed at gunpoint in Office Depot parking lot early Sunday after visiting Cedar Springs

The parking lot of Office Depot on Oak Lawn Avenue — a popular place for Cedar Springs club-goers to park after hours — has also become a hotspot for criminal activity.

In the latest incident, three people from East Texas were robbed at gunpoint and carjacked early Sunday in the lot at 2929 Oak Lawn Ave., near the intersection of Dickason Avenue.

According to police reports, it was at least the fourth aggravated robbery in the Office Depot parking lot in the last three months. Reports show there have also been numerous vehicle break-ins and other offenses reported during the same time period.

“We’ve definitely had a problem at that location,” said Laura Martin, the Dallas Police Department’s LGBT liaison officer.

In the latest case, the three victims had returned to their vehicle at about 3 a.m. Sunday when the two suspects pulled up behind them in a white Dodge Avenger, according to reports. The suspects, described as two black males wearing hooded sweatshirts, got out, pointed handguns at two of the victims who were standing in the parking lot and said, “Get on the ground, give me your money.”

—  John Wright

Dallas police: 2nd rock was found outside ‘A-List: Dallas’ cast member Taylor Garrett’s apartment

Taylor Garrett

Two rocks with threatening notes attached — not one — were found last week outside a broken window at the Design District apartment of Taylor Garrett, a gay Republican cast member from the The A-List Dallas.

Laura Martin, LGBT liaison officer for the Dallas Police Department, said today that a porter at the complex found the first rock in some mulch in the bushes. The porter looked up and saw broken glass on the door to Garrett’s second-floor balcony. The porter notified the apartment manager, who contacted a Dallas police officer who lives at the complex. It’s unclear when the porter actually found the rock, Martin said, but records show the officer filed his report last Friday morning and placed the rock into evidence.

Martin said the officer wasn’t initially able to contact Garrett, who has said he returned late last Thursday from Los Angeles, where he’d been filming for The A List. When someone from the complex finally got ahold of Garrett, they went onto the balcony and discovered a second rock with a similar note attached. They also discovered that the double-pane glass window was broken only halfway through, Martin said.

—  John Wright

UPDATE: Dallas police release report filed Friday by Taylor Garrett’s apartment complex

The other day we told you how Taylor Garrett, the gay Republican cast member from The A-List Dallas, had alleged on Twitter that a “liberal” threw a rock (above) through a window at his Dallas apartment, with a note attached calling him “an embarrassment to the gay community” and “a pathetic mother fucking twink.”

We also told you that gay blogger Joe Jervis was questioning Garrett’s report, accusing him of a publicity stunt in advance of Monday’s premiere of The A-List: Dallas. Jervis’ suspicions were fueled by the deletion of Garrett’s original tweet about the incident, along with the fact that no one could find any record of a police report having been filed.

Since then, however, we’ve learned that a report was filed with the Dallas Police Department on Friday, Oct. 7 — the same day Garrett sent out his initial tweet. Here’s a screen grab of Garrett’s archived tweet from yfrog.com.

Some gay bloggers are now reporting that Garrett only filed a police report “four days later” — after they began to question his account. However, Instant Tea has obtained a copy of the police report that was filed Friday by someone at Garrett’s complex, which is in the Dallas Design District.

—  John Wright

Victim says robbery suspect asked directions to JR.’s, but police call report ‘very shaky’

Earlier we reported that undercover officers working the area of Douglas and Congress in Oak Lawn ended up capturing a murder suspect last week. Laura Martin, LGBT liaison officer for the Dallas Police Department, told us plainclothes officers have been assigned to the area regularly in response to “issues with robberies.” And, according to police reports, another aggravated robbery took place two nights later and two blocks away — at Congress and Throckmorton. However, a police spokesman on Tuesday questioned the validity of the report, saying the victim waited 19 hours to file it and only did so because he needed it for his lost phone.

The victim, a 20-year-old Latin male, told police that he and a friend were walking from their parked vehicle toward the nightclubs on Cedar Springs in the 2800 block of Throckmorton at about 12:45 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24. That’s when the two suspects approached and asked for directions to JR.’s. The suspects said they were visiting from New Orleans and hinted that they were performers of some type, according to a police report.

As they crossed Congress on Throckmorton, one of the suspects pushed the victim into a secluded area off the sidewalk, pointed a handgun at him and stated: “You know what this is. Give me everything in your pockets.” The victim handed over his cell phone and wallet, and the suspect reached into his back pocket and removed some cash. The victim told police he believed the other suspect was robbing his friend at the same time.

Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for the Dallas Police Department, said Tuesday afternoon there have been no arrests in the case. Asked whether the victim’s friend ever contacted police, Janse said: “No, his whole story was very shaky. He waited 19 hours to call us only after his cell phone company said he needed a report for his lost phone. The witness was never heard from.”

—  John Wright

Murder suspect captured after Oak Lawn robbery

William Langrum

A suspect who was captured after committing an aggravated robbery in Oak Lawn last week is now charged with capital murder in the stabbing death of a Lake Highlands woman, according to Dallas police.

William Langrum, 27, was arrested Sept. 21 following a chase that began in the 2800 block of Douglas Avenue, when undercover officers observed Langrum and another suspect steal a bag of clothes from a victim at knifepoint. After eluding officers in their vehicle and on foot, Langrum and his accomplice, 18-year-old Jeremy Francis, were apprehended in the 7100 block of Lemmon Avenue.

Police say evidence recovered at the scene of the Douglas Avenue robbery linked Langrum to the murder of Shearl Bennett, who’d been fatally stabbed outside her Lake Highlands home about an hour before. Bennett was returning home from church at about 10:45 p.m. Sept. 21 when she was stabbed outside her car in the 9800 block of Royal Lane.

On Monday, detectives charged Langrum with capital murder in Bennett’s death. Both Langrum and Bennett also face charges of aggravated robbery and evading arrest in connection with the Douglas Avenue robbery.

“It was a good catch over in Oak Lawn,” said Laura Martin, DPD’s LGBT liaison officer. “We’ve had officers over there on special assignment a lot because we’ve been having issues with robberies.”

—  John Wright

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

A lesson learned

We may never know for sure what happened between the gay man and the Marine during the LCR convention, but we can’t overlook the situation’s one clear lesson

David Webb

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

It’s hard to understand exactly what happened at a Dallas Hilton Anatole hotel bar last weekend when a Log Cabin Republican conventioneer was allegedly called a “faggot” and assaulted. Everyone involved seems to be engaging in high-gear damage control.

Although police cited the suspect for an alleged Class C misdemeanor assault at the scene, the victim reportedly advised police the next day he would not be pressing charges after the suspect apologized to him. That in effect gave the suspect a pass for allegedly slamming the victim’s face on a bar table.

What is extraordinary about this development is that the police apparently acted as mediators between the victim and the suspect the day after the incident. The negotiations reportedly involved the Dallas Police Department’s liaison to the LGBT community, Laura Martin, who described the suspect as 27-year-old member of the U.S. Armed Services.

Dallas police spokesman Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse claimed that the alleged crime did not rise to the level of a hate crime — even though the suspect used the slur “faggot” during the attack — because either the victim or one of his friends allegedly provoked the assault by either whistling or making a catcall at the suspect and his friends. He described both the victim and the suspect as being intoxicated, and dismissed it as a bar fight.

After the charges were dropped, police considered reporting the incident as a hate crime for statistical purposes, but decided not to, according to Martin.

The victim and his friends, who do not want their identities revealed, have disputed the official police report, calling it “misleading.” The victim, who is from out of town, said he decided not to press charges because pursuing it would be time consuming and “arduous.”

What’s more, we learned that the suspect might be a member of the U.S. Marines who was staying over at the Anatole after a tour in the Middle East. Ironically, all of this began coming to light just as reports circulated about the Marine Corps conducting seminars aimed at smoothing the way for gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. Armed Services.

What a mess. If all that’s true, no wonder the Dallas Police Department found time to negotiate a cease-fire between the victim and the suspect.

On top of all that, we learned during the same weekend that U.S. Navy Seals had finally managed to take out Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the al-Qaida attacks on the U.S. in 2001. It’s not exactly the best time to be criticizing a member of the military.

Still, there are troubling aspects to this story. From decades of covering crime, I know that the most common defenses in crimes involving everything from assaults to murders of LGBT people is for the suspect to claim the victims made sexual advances. The suspect reportedly also told the police the next day that he didn’t remember much about the incident, another common excuse for attempting to shirk responsibility.

Likewise, the victim acknowledged being intoxicated.

Astonishingly, the victim took a real verbal beating in the comments sections of the Dallas Voice’s blog, Instant Tea, where the alleged assault was reported. It was interesting that so many LGBT people took the position that the victim deserved to not only be viciously assaulted, but to be humiliated in public as well.

As a member of the U.S. military, the consequences for the suspect would be far more severe than a mere hefty fine. A conviction would mean a nasty stain on his military record. Even if the victim or someone else at the table whistled or made a comment about someone “looking good,” it hardly merits a physical attack from someone who has sworn to protect U.S. citizens.

On the other hand, members of the LGBT community need to be respectful of heterosexuals and be on guard not to offend anyone through their actions or words. With all of the gains the community has made in recent years, we are more recognizable and subject to more scrutiny and criticism.

With the end of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy quickly approaching, members of the U.S. Armed Services are likely to be more on edge and prone to taking offense.

We saw a similar event occur in 1993 when three Marines stationed at Camp LeJeune allegedly attacked a gay man in a Wilmington, N.C., gay bar., when then President Clinton was vowing to end the ban on gay and lesbians serving in the U.S. Armed Services. That led to a high-profile lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center on the behalf of the victim. The lawsuit was later settled for a token amount. The Marines in that incident also claimed they were provoked by the bar patrons.

We may never know exactly what happened at the Anatole Hilton in Dallas that night, but maybe we can learn a lesson from it anyway: We probably all need to monitor ourselves a little more closely when we are in predominantly straight venues to make sure we aren’t pushing our luck. What is appropriate in a gay bar just doesn’t work well in most other places.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative press for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  John Wright

No hate crime in Log Cabin assault

The assault of a Log Cabin Republicans member at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas last weekend — during which the suspect called the victim a “faggot” – won’t be classified as a hate crime for FBI reporting purposes, according to Laura Martin, the Dallas Police Department’s LGBT liaison officer.

Instant Tea reported Tuesday that even though the Log Cabin member opted not to press charges against the suspect, the assault could still be classified as a bias-motivated incident to the FBI, which is required to track hate crimes nationwide. However, Martin said DPD’s intelligence unit has chosen not to classify the incident as a hate crime because it doesn’t appear the assault was motivated by anti-gay bias.

Martin said the suspect’s use of the word “faggot” took place in the heat of an argument between two groups that had established contact earlier in the evening.

“There’s no obvious proof that it’s a hate crime, that the entire contact was based on the suspect’s hatred of gay people,” Martin said. “There’s just no evidence of it, and in fact the complainant [victim] agrees with that. … The complainant doesn’t believe that he was targeted simply because he’s gay.”

—  John Wright

Suspect in Log Cabin assault is servicemember; incident may still be classified as hate crime

Officer Laura Martin

The suspect accused of assaulting a member of Log Cabin Republicans and calling him a “faggot” on Saturday at the Hilton Anatole is a member of the military, according to Laura Martin, the Dallas Police Department’s LGBT liaison officer.

Martin said a police report from the incident indicates that the suspect, a 27-year-old male, is a supervisor or sergeant in the military who was responding to perceived sexual harassment of a subordinate. Other sources suggested that the suspect is a member of the Marines. The suspect’s name is being withheld because Dallas Voice doesn’t typically identify people charged with misdemeanors.

DPD declined to release a copy of the police report from the incident, which occurred at about 1 a.m. Saturday in the lobby bar of the Hilton Anatole, where Log Cabin was holding its National Convention.

Martin said even though the victim has chosen not to press charges — meaning the case will not be prosecuted — DPD may classify the incident as an anti-gay hate crime for the purposes of reporting it to the FBI. She said the police report indicates that someone at the victim’s table — but not the victim — “catcalled” and made sexual gestures toward someone at the suspect’s table, adding that both the suspect and the victim were intoxicated at the time of the incident.

“Someone who was at the complainant’s [victim's] table saw someone who he thought was attractive at another table. When he pointed him out and when the guy got up to to go to the restroom, at least one person catcalled him and made sexual gestures in an obvious manner,” Martin said. “So he went back to his table and told his supervisor, who is also in the military. The supervisor went over then to the table where the guys were to say, ‘Please stop.’ When he went over there to the table the complainant [victim] stood up as he was addressing the group, and the arrested person viewed that as aggressive toward him, so he pushed him down, and that’s how he became injured. I don’t know if the complainant was standing up because he needed to go to the restroom, or if he was standing up to argue, or if he was standing up to stretch his legs, but the guy who was arrested said he viewed it as aggressive.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Dallas police release names of murdered gay couple found in burned apartment

Dallas mayoral candidates Edward Okpa, from left, Mike Rawlings, Ron Natinsky and David Kunkle participate in a forum sponsored by the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce on Monday night at Cityplace. (Photo courtesy of Avi S, Adelman)

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Last week Dallas police asked the media to hold off on publishing or broadcasting the names of a gay couple found murdered inside a burned Lake Highlands apartment, as they tried to locate the victims’ families. Laura Martin, DPD’s LGBT liaison officer, gave Instant Tea the go-ahead late Monday to publish the victims’ names. They are 59-year-old Michael Humphrey and 61-year-old Clayton Capshaw. We’ll have an update on the case later, but for now, anyone know these guys?

2. It’s still not too late to contact your state representative and ask them to support HB 1942, an anti-bullying bill from Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, that’s viewed as the last, best chance for the Legislature to address the issue in this year’s session. Daniel Williams at Legislative Queery reports that the House didn’t get to the bill as expected Monday but may take it up today when it re-convenes at 10 a.m. today. To read Equality Texas’ action alert on the bill and email your state rep, go here.

3. Above was the scene last night at Cityplace, where the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce hosted a sparsely attended forum featuring all four candidates for Dallas mayor. We’ll have more on the forum later, but for now here’s a teaser: Two of the three major candidates, Ron Natinsky and Mike Rawlings, said they were against Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. Rawlings said he voted against the amendment, and Natinsky said he opposed it but couldn’t remember whether he actually voted. The third major candidate, David Kunkle, said he didn’t vote in the November 2005 election when the amendment was on the ballot.

—  John Wright