Investigation continues into 2nd fatal hit-and-run on Cedar Springs

LGBT liaison officer says police have ‘good information’ from witnesses; Hunt says efforts to improve safety ‘must be expedited’

HUNT.ANGELA

ANGELA HUNT

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Dallas police are continuing their investigation this week into the Nov. 25 hit-and-run on Cedar Springs Road that claimed the life of Edward Lee King, 61.

LGBT Liaison Officer Laura Martin said police reports indicate King was crossing from the west side to the east side, in the middle of the 4100 block of Cedar Springs, near the Knight Street intersection, around 10:30 p.m., when he was struck by a dark-colored SUV traveling south.

The vehicle, described by witnesses as possibly a Land Rover or a Range Rover with wraparound taillights, sped off without stopping and turned east on Throckmorton Street.

Martin said police have “some pretty good information” from witnesses and hope to locate the driver of the vehicle soon.

King, known to family and friends as Joe, worked part time at Amico Pizza, located on Cedar Springs near the site of the accident. He was the second person to be killed within a three-block area of Cedar Springs in November.

Wayne Priest, 55, was killed Nov. 3 in a hit-and-run near the intersection of Cedar Springs and Reagan Street.

Martin said that the two incidents in November were the second and third traffic incidents involving pedestrians between the 3800 block and the 4200 block of Cedar Springs this year. The first occurred in January, but Martin said the pedestrian in that incident was not seriously injured, according to reports she had seen.

Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, whose District 14 lines the east side of Cedar Springs Road where both fatalities occurred, said this week that city officials continue to search for ways to improve safety in the high-traffic entertainment district.

Following Priest’s death early in the month, Hunt told Dallas Voice she had asked city officials to “look into exactly what happened and to make recommendations about how we can move forward in making the area safer.”

This week, following King’s death, Hunt said those efforts “have to be expedited. This is obviously a situation that needs immediate attention.”

She said the city is looking at other cities to see how they have addressed the issue of pedestrian safety in similar areas.

“There are a range of issues involved,” Hunt said. “I am no expert. But we have to find an expedited and thoughtful solution.”
Councilwoman Pauline Medrano, who represents District 2 on the west side of Cedar Springs, did not return calls this week seeking comment.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Levi Crocker claims he was attacked in OKC by 4 gays who hate ‘The A-List: Dallas’

If you’re heading to tonight’s A-List: Dallas watch party at Axiom, you might ask host and cast member Levi Crocker if his head is feeling any better. Gay blogs have been buzzing about Crocker’s tweets from the Thanksgiving weekend in which he claimed he was assaulted in a bar in Oklahoma City. Crocker now seems to be downplaying the incident, but not before posting this pic of what looks like a bloodied scalp after he was apparently hit with a bar stool. Crocker claims the attack was perpetrated by four gay people whose motive was the fact that they don’t like the show.

According to the Oklahoma City Police Department, there is no record of Crocker filing a report about the incident. I tweeted Crocker seeking more info. “I decided to leave this subject alone for now,” he responded earlier today.

This incident comes on the heels of fellow cast member Taylor Garrett’s claims that he was assaulted in Oak Lawn earlier this month.

Crocker’s tweets are after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez

DPD: Don’t park at Office Depot

Officials warn club-goers after another violent attack in store’s lot

DARK AND DANGEROUS: Office Depot at 2929 Oak Lawn is shown from Dickason Avenue. The red sign is turned off late at night, making the parking lot darker than in this photo. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

In the wake of another violent robbery in the Office Depot lot on Oak Lawn Avenue, Dallas police this week warned club-goers against parking there at night.

Officer Laura Martin, DPD’s liaison officer to the LGBT community, said the lot at 2929 Oak Lawn Ave. has long been a trouble spot for crime after hours, primarily because it’s so poorly lit.

In the latest incident, three people who’d been out on the Cedar Springs strip were robbed at gunpoint and carjacked early Sunday, Oct. 23.

According to DPD records, it was at least the fourth aggravated robbery in the Office Depot lot in the last three months — in addition to numerous other offenses such as vehicle burglaries.

“That Office Depot has just been a thorn in our side for several years,” Martin said Wednesday, Oct. 26. “We would prefer that people didn’t park there. I don’t anticipate that that problem is going to go away unless we improve lighting over there significantly. I would just advise people not to park in that parking lot and not to park on that street near the parking lot.”

Martin said undercover officers have been patrolling the area, but the city is powerless to improve lighting in the parking lot itself since it’s on private property. Deputy Chief Malik Aziz, who heads up DPD’s Northwest Division, has been working with city officials to improve street lighting nearby, Martin said. However, light from city fixtures on Dickason Avenue is blocked by trees lining the northeast side of the parking lot.

DPD officials recently met with Office Depot representatives, who said they have no plans to add lights in the parking lot, Martin said. She also noted that Office Depot once towed vehicles from the lot but stopped doing so in the wake of complaints from the community.

“Office Depot is not going to be doing anything differently,” Martin said. “They’re not going to tow cars and they’re not going to increase lighting. They don’t want to tow vehicles because of all the complaints they got when they did tow vehicles, and they’re not going to add lighting because they don’t have the money to add lighting.”

An assistant manager who answered the phone at Office Depot declined to comment. He referred questions to the store manager, whom he said was not available.

Jared Pearce, president of Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats, called on Office Depot to help address the problem. DSYD’s recent Light Up Oak Lawn safety campaign led to the city installing 45 new lights in the area, but none near Office Depot.

“Good stewards of the community can put lights up themselves,” Pearce said. “Office Depot could do it for a lot cheaper than the city could.”

One of the victims in last week’s robbery said he doesn’t normally park at Office Depot — but did so that night because a friend was driving his car. The 21-year-old and his two friends, all from Tyler, had returned to his vehicle from Station 4 at about 3 a.m. Sunday.

The victim was sitting in the passenger seat, and his two friends were talking in the parking lot. The two suspects, described as black males wearing hooded sweatshirts, pulled up behind them in a white Dodge Avenger. The suspects got out, pointed handguns at his friends and said, “Get on the ground, give me your money.” One of the suspects then got into the victim’s 2010 Toyota and said, “Get out of the car or I’ll blow your head off.”

After the victim got out, the suspect drove off in the victim’s Toyota, while the second suspect drove off in the Dodge.
Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for DPD, said police later recovered the stolen vehicle with no wheels or tires at an apartment complex in the 1100 block of North St. Augustine Road.

“Detectives are still waiting for physical evidence collected in the recovered vehicle to be analyzed and returned,” Janse said Wednesday.

The victim, meanwhile, was trying to figure out how to get the badly damaged vehicle back to East Texas, where he’s a college student. He said the car, valued at $36,000, was mostly paid for, but his insurance had lapsed two days before the robbery.

“They won’t cover it,” he said. “I’m just out of luck.

“I’m a student so I pretty much live in my car, and I had everything in my trunk,” he added. “Literally, they took my underwear.”

The victim said he normally tries to park directly behind the Cedar Springs nightclubs because his car had previously been burglarized in Oak Lawn. And he echoed Martin’s advisory about the Office Depot lot.

“Even though it might be hard to get a parking spot, keep trying somewhere closer and somewhere where it’s light,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

New FWPD liaison officer ‘ready for a new challenge’

Officer Kellie Whitehead tapped to take over as LGBT liaison, says she hopes to work more with youth

Whitehead.Kellie

Kellie Whitehead

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Fort Worth Police Department Officer Kellie Whitehead said this week that she sees her new assignment as the department’s liaison to the LGBT community as an exciting next step in her 12-year career with the department.

“I was ready for a new challenge, for something different, and after talking to [former LGBT Liaison Officer Sara Straten] I was very excited about this new opportunity,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead takes over as LGBT liaison from Straten, who had held the position since it was created two years ago in the wake of the

Rainbow Lounge raid. The liaison officer is part of the FWPD’s Public Information Office, and PIO Supervisor Sgt. Pedro Criado said that Straten had chosen to move to a new position “where she can get back to doing hands-on police work.”

Criado said that Whitehead’s previous assignment as a Neighborhood Police Officer had given her experience that will be invaluable in her new role as LGBT liaison.

“The Neighborhood Police Officer program is about community policing. These officers are assigned to work in a specific designated area and to build relationships with the people of that neighborhood,” Criado explained.

“A patrol officer responds to specific calls and has to clear those calls and move on to the next one. The Neighborhood Police Officer is the one who is there, on call 24-7, to follow up on any problems. They are mediators, friends, problem solvers. This program frees these officers up, gives them flexible schedules, so they can work on issues long-range,” Criado added.

That, Whitehead said, is basically the same mission she has now as liaison officer, only instead of working in a specific geographic neighborhood she will be working specifically with the LGBT community city-wide.

Whitehead said that she will continue the work Straten initiated as LGBT liaison, and that she also hopes to expand the position’s outreach.

“I am going to continue to build the relationships that Sara started, and I hope that maybe I can work a little more with the kids in the community. I know there are kids out there who are having a really tough time, and I want to find ways to help them,” Whitehead said.

She said she also hopes to be able to reach out to non-LGBT youth “who have been raised not to be accepting of people who are different from them” and help bridge that gap in understanding and tolerance.

Whitehead, who grew up in Mineral Wells, said that being a police officer had been her dream since she was a child. She said she studied criminal justice in college, but had to leave school to get a job before she got a degree.

She worked as a private prison for a couple of years and then moved on to a job with a security company. It was while working as a security guard in Fort Worth’s hospital district that she began to meet and form relationships with FWPD officers.

She finally was able to join the FWPD in 1999.

Whitehead said she has been open with her fellow officers and her superiors about her sexual orientation since she first joined the police force, and that she has never faced any discrimination from her coworkers.

But now, in her new position as LGBT liaison, “I’ll be more out than ever! But I am ready for it. I have never been ashamed of who I am.”

Whitehead said that her partner and the rest of her family have been “totally supportive” of her move to the liaison position, and that she believes that kind of support is vital to her success as an officer and as community liaison.

“There’s no way you can do this job without your family backing you up, and everyone in my family has been very supportive and encouraging,” she said. “That’s going to make it even easier for me to do the job and do it well. I just want to do everything I can to make things better for the community.”

Thomas Anable, president of the LGBT community organization Fairness Fort Worth, said he is pleased with the way the police department has handled the transition from Straten to Whitehead, and that he looks forward to working with the new liaison officer.

“I think she is very professional and I think she will do a very good job,” Anable said.

And Sgt. Criado agreed. “When Sara Straten took this position two years ago, she hit the ground running,” he said. “And I am certain that Kellie is going to take that ball and just keep on running with it. I think she is going to be great.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

DPD’s gay liaison moves to Northwest Division, where she can keep a close eye on Oak Lawn

Laura Martin

Laura Martin, the Dallas Police Department’s LGBT liaison officer, recently transferred from Jack Evans Police Headquarters to the department’s Northwest Division.

“I’m still citywide, even though I’m stationed at Northwest,” Martin said. “I still do the same thing. It’s just I have a different desk.”

Martin said she was assigned to the Northwest Division because it includes Oak Lawn and the city’s largest gay entertinament district — the Cedar Springs strip.

“That was their reasoning for sending me here, so I could be close to the Oak Lawn area and find out more about what’s going on in Oak Lawn by talking to patrol officers,” Martin said. “I feel like nothing will get lost, so to speak.”

In addition to DPD headquarters, Martin has done stints in the Central Business District, the Northeast Division, and the Central Division.

Last year, Martin’s LGBT liaison duties became full time in response to a request from City Councilwoman Delia Jasso.

Martin’s new desk phone is 214-671-0130. She can still be reached via email at police@rcdallas.org.

—  John Wright

DPD says it has not yet made a determination about future enforcement at The Club Dallas

DPD LGBT Liaison Officer Laura Martin

Last week we reported that neither Chief David Brown nor LGBT liaison officer Laura Martin had returned our phone calls seeking comment about the dismissal of charges against several men arrested in DPD’s October raid of The Club Dallas. Over the weekend, Martin did post a comment on our article itself, which we thought we’d pass along for those who haven’t been monitoring the thread:

“We are in the process of gathering accurate information regarding the facts of the dismissal of the charges against some of the men arrested. We are being asked to make a comment regarding future enforcement at Club Dallas. Due to the large number of arrests, and the fact that several cases are still pending prosecution, we are not able to make that determination at this time. I will continue to update the community when we are able to add to this story.”

UPDATE: Martin provided this official statement from DPD on Monday afternoon:

“The Dallas Police Department recently learned that many of the charges involving activities at The Club Dallas in October 2010 were dismissed. 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

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

Meet every candidate and their brother at Ojeda’s tonight

With midterm elections exactly two weeks away, and early voting already in full swing, you can bet it’ll be standing room only at Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ monthly general meeting at Ojeda’s tonight. SDD is the largest LGBT political group based in North Texas, and many of its endorsed candidates will undoubtedly be on hand for the last meeting before the Nov. 2 vote. One who’ll definitely be there is Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who’s scheduled to speak. Also addressing the group will be the Dallas Police Deparmtent’s LGBT liaison officer, Laura Martin, and Youth First Texas’ Sam Wilkes. Besides, it’s worth it just for the margaritas.

DEETS: Ojeda’s, 4617 Maple Ave. Dallas. Free. StonewallDemocratsofDallas.com

—  John Wright

11 arrested in raid at Club Dallas

DPD liaison says action prompted by complaint, warns more police activity possible at bathhouse

John Wright | Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Dallas police Officer Laura Martin, liaison to the LGBT community.
Dallas police Officer Laura Martin, liaison to the LGBT community.

Eleven people were arrested at The Club-Dallas on Friday night, Oct. 8, when police raided the gay bathhouse in Deep Ellum for the first time in several years.

Ten patrons of The Club reportedly were charged with either public lewdness or indecent exposure, while one employee was charged with interfering with police. DPD would only release records related to three of the 11 arrests, saying Dallas Voice needed to file a freedom of information request to obtain additional details.

Laura Martin, DPD’s liaison officer to the gay community, said the vice unit raided the establishment on Swiss Avenue in response to a complaint. But police wouldn’t say who had complained.

Martin said she believes it marked the first time since 2003 vice officers have gone in to the 34-year-old establishment, one of nine similar clubs nationwide.

“We’ve done operations in that club since the late ’70s. There just hasn’t been one in a while because there hasn’t been a complaint,” Martin said. “They [officers] were in there for a legitimate reason, and obviously there was illegal activity going on or that many arrests wouldn’t have been made.”

The Club Dallas on Thursday, Oct. 14 issued a one-sentence statement about the raid.

“The Club Dallas management is committed to pursuing justice for and defending the rights of each of its members,” the statement read.

The Club reportedly helped bond out arrested members from jail and has offered them legal representation.
Martin, meanwhile, warned that additional police activity at the business is possible.

“When somebody complains we have to go in, just like when someone calls 911 we have to go to the call,” Martin said. “Now that so much activity was found there, they can probably expect more vice operations there. … I’ve certainly never been there, but I’ve heard that public lewdness does go on in the club. All you have to do is keep your ears open.”

Though it is billed as “a private men’s club,” The Club Dallas is considered a public place for the purposes of Texas’ public lewdness statute, according to one criminal defense attorney who frequently represents people charged with the crime.

Public lewdness, defined as sexual intercourse or sexual contact in a public place, is a class-A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.

Criminal defense attorney Tim Menchu said a public place has been interpreted by Texas appellate courts to mean any place “a substantial group of the public has access to.”

“Just having to pay a cover charge doesn’t take you out of the realm,” Menchu said, adding that he would argue in court, “I guess everyone in the world has access to the bottom of the ocean, but nobody’s going to go there.”

Of the three individuals whose arrest reports were released to Dallas Voice, one was charged with public lewdness and two 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 …”

Indecent exposure is a class-B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.

Menchu said he once successfully fought indecent exposure charges against five men who were arrested at Midtowne Spa, another gay bathhouse in Dallas. He said it’s hard for prosecutors to argue that the activity is recklessly offensive when all club members typically sign waivers saying they acknowledge it takes place.

“I don’t think it flies,” Menchu said of the indecent exposure charges.

“They didn’t go to the freakin’ park. They’re not out in the mall in the bathrooms. What the hell is wrong with that?” said Menchu, who’s straight.

“I personally have no problem with it. The problem is that with these particular officers in the vice unit, and with the DA’s office and with the state of the law, you’re putting yourself at risk.”

One member of The Club-Dallas who asked not to be identified said he doesn’t believe most patrons are aware of the risk. The member said one of his friends who is bisexual but was not out to his family was arrested in the raid, forcing him to call relatives from jail and explain what happened.

“Guys just honestly don’t know,” the member said.

“Most of these guys, if not every single one of them, while the police were interviewing them said, ‘How is this illegal? This is a private men’s club.’

“You’ve got to realize if you take away our places to have our sexual releases, that means we have no choice but to return to the streets, so it’s not a smart move,” the member added.

Another member who was present during the raid but was not arrested, accused police of  harassment and intimidation.

According to police reports, two undercover officers paid their way into The Club and gathered evidence, before additional officers came in and helped execute the arrests.

The member said the officers were carrying plastic flexcuffs and detained him for 45 minutes even though he was just working out in the fitness area.

He said he believes the city is trying to shut down The Club to make way for redevelopment around the new DART station that sits next door.

At one point the member said he heard one of the officers remark that, “I’m going to have nightmares forever after this.”

The member said he was also at The Club-Dallas the following night when the fire marshal paid a visit. “There’s real crime going on in the city, and they don’t need to be harassing a private club,” he said. “I’m irritated and I’m frustrated because I feel like the police department is targeting them.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

11 arrested in DPD vice operation at Club Dallas

Officer Laura Martin

Eleven people were arrested at Club Dallas on Friday night, Oct. 8, when vice officers raided the gay-oriented gym in response to a complaint, according to Laura Martin, the Dallas Police Department’s LGBT liaison officer.

Martin said 10 of those arrested were charged with public lewdness — or sexual activity in public — while one was charged with interfering with police. The person charged with interfering with police reportedly was a Club Dallas employee who didn’t immediately comply with officers. Martin said she believes it was the first vice operation at Club Dallas —commonly known as a gay “bathhouse” — since 2003.

“We’ve done operations in that club since the late ’70s. There just hasn’t been one in a while because there hasn’t been a complaint,” Martin said. “They [officers] were in there for a legitimate reason, and obviously there was illegal activity going on or that many arrests wouldn’t have been made. It just happened that no one complained in a few years, so they haven’t been in there in a few years.”

The manager of Club Dallas, on Swiss Avenue in Deep Ellum, didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment, but Martin said she feels the vice operation was justified and conducted appropriately.

“I’ve certainly never been there, but I’ve heard that public lewdness does go on in the club,” she added. “All you have to do is keep your ears open.”

Though they may seem private, the confines of businesses such as Club Dallas are considered public places under Texas’ public lewdness statute.

Martin said police won’t reveal the source of the complaint, but she said it was “most likely a former member who thought they didn’t get what they paid for.” However, she said it’s also possible that the complaint was made by another business owner in the area, which is undergoing redevelopment thanks to DART’s new rail line.

“When somebody complains we have to go in, just like when someone calls 911 we have to go to the call,” Martin said. “Now that so much activity was found there, they can probably expect more vice operations there.”

One Club Dallas member who witnessed the vice operation but was not arrested said officers were rude and unprofessional during the operation. He also said he feels the club is being targeted by the city to make way for the redevelopment.

The member, who asked not to be identified, said he was working out when he went around the corner to get a drink of water and was confronted by an officer. He said he was forced to remain seated throughout the operation.

“He said, ‘You sit down there and you don’t move,’” the member said. “I tried to ask him what’s this about, and he said, ‘You just chill out.’ They detained us when we were just working out, which I thought was strange.”

The member said about a dozen officers participated in the raid, which began at 9:30 p.m. and lasted until 10:15 p.m.

The officers came in carrying plastic flexcuffs and seemed to be trying to intimidate patrons, the member said.

At one point the member said he heard one of the officers remark that, “I’m going to have nightmares forever after this,” a reference to the fact that it was a gay-oriented business.

The member said he was also at Club Dallas the following night when the fire marshal paid a visit.

“There’s real crime going on in the city, and they don’t need to be harassing a private club,” he said. “I’m irritated and I’m frustrated because I feel like the police department is targeting them, and I don’t appreciate being talked to like that, being detained.”

Public lewdness is a class-A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.

—  John Wright