Family angry at Balch Springs PD’s response to brother’s death

Duby Redburn says police failed to respond to the first calls for help, and that an officer made an anti-gay comment while discussing the case with her

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

BALCH SPRINGS — The sister of a gay Balch Springs man said this week she believes the Balch Springs Police Department’s failure to answer a call at his home may have contributed to his death last month. And she claims that an officer’s anti-gay response to her inquiries make her question how thoroughly her brother’s death will be investigated.

Duby Redburn said that her brother Rodney Johnson’s body was found by another brother, laying face down on the floor of his mobile home, in a pool of blood.

But when Redburn spoke to Balch Springs police Investigator Thomas Clements, she said he told her they found her brother sitting at the computer with his pants down. Redburn said the cop told her, “I don’t know what sort of lifestyle he led,” and snickered.

“He was very insensitive,” she said.

And Redburn wondered why calls to Balch Springs police two nights before the body was found went unanswered.

When Johnson did not show up for work at his job as a security guard at a Bank of America branch on Thursday, Nov. 10, his supervisor, Cheri Mendoza, became worried. And when she couldn’t reach him by phone, her worry grew.

It just wasn’t like Johnson to just not show up for work, Mendoza said, adding “You could set your watch by him.”

So Mendoza drove to the mobile home park where Johnson lived. Unable to get into the trailer and convinced something was wrong, she called and asked police to help.

Mendoza said she called both 9-1-1 and directly to the Balch Springs Police Department. But no officer showed up.

Mendoza’s calls are not listed on the police report.

Two days later, Rodney Johnson’s boyfriend, who lives in Canada, called Rodney’s brother, Roger Johnson. The boyfriend told Roger that while he and Rodney ordinarily spoke by phone every day, he had been unable to reach Rodney for two days.

So Roger Johnson called his brother, and when he got no answer, he took his key to Rodney’s home and went to check. That’s when Roger went into the trailer and found his brother’s body.

Redburn, who lives in California, this week told Dallas Voice she is frustrated after getting no answers from the police and the delays from the Dallas County Medical Examiner. She is also angry over the officer’s anti-gay comments about her brother.

She said her brother Rodney Johnson was diabetic, but was otherwise a healthy man. She described him as “good, honorable and upstanding.”

Redburn said her brother’s arms were underneath him as if he was trying to catch his fall. He was found naked but she said Rodney always slept in pajamas.

Several days later, Roger found that the mobile home had been broken into. Among the things taken were his sheets as well as jewelry,  a camera and his Bank of America badge. On Monday, Nov. 14, someone tried to access Rodney Johnson’s bank accounts.

Redburn wondered if that was related to the death or if someone simply broke into the home because it was not occupied.

Redburn said the missing sheets bothered her. She wondered if someone had returned to the house to take any possible DNA evidence that might be found or if someone simply used the sheet to carry out other items.

The Dallas County Medical Examiner told the family that test results would take three months to come back, the standard amount of time for toxicology tests to be returned.

Balch Springs police confirmed this week that they had no investigation open. Clements, who was assigned to the case, is out of the office for the week and was unavailable to comment.

The police report doesn’t indicate receiving a call from Mendoza but begins with the call from Roger Johnson on Nov. 12.

The report states that Rodney Johnson advised that “he thinks his brother is dead,” and that “he hadn’t heard from his brother in awhile so he went over there to check on him.”

The account ends two hours later with transferring the body to Dallas County.

Redburn was concerned that Balch Springs police weren’t investigating the death. She said her brother might have died of natural causes, but she questioned the police response to her.

She wondered why the police account of how the body was found differed from what her brother reported. The police report does not mention blood on the floor or position of the body.

Redburn doesn’t know if foul play was involved. She wonders if her brother was still alive when Mendoza arrived at the house. Had police responded to Mendoza’s call, Redburn wonders if her brother could have been saved.

Redburn said she hopes the medical examiner’s report will reveal whether there was a physical attack, if he died of natural causes and why there was no investigation when blood was found.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Gay couple shot near downtown apartment

Police say investigation is ongoing but decline to discuss details

David-Zaragoza-Travis-Vanderlaan

David-Zaragoza, left, and Travis-Vanderlaan, right

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

David Zaragoza and Travis Vanderlaan were shot during a robbery near their Dallas Farmer’s Market-area apartment at about 3 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18.

One of the victims was shot in the head and the other in the neck. Both are improving and expected to survive.

Two suspects were taken into custody soon after the incident.

According to friends, Zaragoza and Vanderlaan are a couple. The two live at the Camden Farmer’s Market apartments in Downtown Dallas.

Police are releasing very little information about the shootings or the arrests.

“We don’t want to jeopardize the investigation,” said LGBT police liaison Laura Martin.

The names of the suspects arrested are being withheld by police, Martin said. Although she said that was unusual, she said it was because of the ongoing investigation.

She could not confirm if police are looking for additional suspects.

According to Dallas County jail records, however, one of the people taken into custody is Kyle Bibbs, 31, of Carrollton. He is being held in Lew

Sterrett on $100,000 bond for two counts of aggravated robbery.

Police would give no details about the robbery beyond what went into the police reports.

“The complainant was shot during the course of an aggravated robbery,” said the police report. “Complainant was shot twice and robbed.”

The report also indicates that a blue Puma messenger bag containing $3,500 was taken during the robbery but recovered, apparently by police when they arrested the suspects.

Records from 9-1-1 indicate Vanderlaan called for help at 2:46 p.m. on Friday, reporting it as a shooting and robbery. Police were dispatched at 2:47 p.m.

Bibbs’ time of arrest is also listed as 2:47 p.m.

Bibbs has had several prior charges. One case was no billed by the grand jury. One was dismissed. In February, he agreed to plead guilty on a possession of marijuana charge. Dallas County records indicate he had probation revoked for possession of marijuana and possession of a prohibited weapon.

The incident is not being investigated as a random shooting.

Zaragoza is listed on police records making two calls to 9-1-1 earlier this year. No details appear on the reports but the signal codes indicate that one was to report a major disturbance and the other a burglary.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

BREAKING: Pedestrian critically injured by hit-and-run driver on Cedar Springs strip

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post stated that the pedestrian was struck in the lighted crosswalk at 3900 Cedar Springs Road, at the intersection of westbound Reagan Street. According to police, the pedestrian was actually struck in the non-lighted crosswalk at 3850 Cedar Springs Road, which is at the intersection of eastbound Reagan Street.

A pedestrian crossing Cedar Springs Road was critically injured Thursday night when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver near the crosswalk at 3850 Cedar Springs Road, at the intersection of Reagan Street eastbound. There is only a painted crosswalk on the street and no traffic signals or lights at the intersection, near Thai Lotus Restaurant and the Drama Room.

Wayne Earl Priest, 55, who lives in the 2800 block of Reagan Street, was crossing Cedar Springs Road eastbound shortly after 9 p.m., according to a police report. A witness saw Priest “walking outside of the northern portion of the crosswalk by about 2 feet and then stop in the left lane near the double yellow lines.”

The witness said the suspect’s vehicle exited a private drive to the north and began traveling southbound on Cedar Springs, the report states. The front left side of the suspect’s vehicle struck the left side of Priest. The impact was so severe that it caused Priest’s shoe to fly off and strike the witness’ vehicle. Another witness told police he was “not totally certain” whether Priest was in the crosswalk at the time of the collision.

Priest was taken to Parkland hospital in critical condition. The suspect who struck Priest failed to stop and render aid or leave his information. A description of the suspect’s vehicle was not available.

UPDATE:

Lt. Scott Bratcher of the Dallas Police Department’s Traffic Division said the suspect’s vehicle is described only as a maroon four-door.

“Right now we’re looking for anybody who’s seen anything or knows anything to call our Vehicle Crimes Unit,” Bratcher said Friday afternoon. “That’s usually how we end up solving these things.”

The number for DPD’s Vehicle Crimes Unit is 214-670-5817.

Bratcher said he had no update on Priest’s condition.

—  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

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

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

Police Blotter: 2 robberies reported in Oak Lawn; intoxicated man breaks new door at JR’s

• An intoxicated man who broke the new glass front door at JR’s Bar & Grill was arrested and charged with public intoxication. According to a police report, the man was asked to leave the bar at about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 27 because he was causing a disturbance. The suspect left but not before running into the door and causing it to break. The report says the man was unaware he broke the door because he was intoxicated, but a J.R.’s employee who called police said he felt it was intentional. The suspect was charged with public intoxication and taken into custody. Damage to the door was estimated at $1,000.

• A 21-year-old man suffered a 3-inch gash under his eye when he was punched in the face on the dance floor of Station 4, according to police. The victim was dancing near the suspect at about 2:45 a.m. on Saturday, May 1, according to a report. Due to the way the suspect was dancing, his elbow was striking the victim in the groin. The victim leaned over to tell the suspect he was hurting him and ask him to move over. Without saying anything, the suspect punched the victim below the right eye, causing a gash. After calling police, the victim pointed out the suspect to the responding officers — a heavyset Latin male in an orange and yellow polo shirt — but the suspect denied ever seeing the victim. The victim was treated for his injuries at the scene.

• A Zini’s Pizzeria delivery driver was robbed at gunpoint Saturday night at an apartment complex at 2626 Reagan St. in Oak Lawn. According to a report, the suspect met the driver outside the entrance of the complex at about 9:15 p.m.. The suspect acted like he was going to give the driver a $100 bill to pay for his order, the report says. When the driver pulled $80 in cash out of his pocket to make change, the suspect grabbed the money and said he had a gun. The suspect pointed to the silhouette of what appeared to be a pistol in his pocket, before running away and driving off in an older model 2-door vehicle, possibly an Oldsmobile. The driver was unable to get the license plate number of the suspect’s vehicle, and the phone number from which the order was placed came up unavailable.

• A group of three people, including an 18-year-old woman, was robbed at gunpoint as they were leaving the Office Depot parking lot at 3800 Dickason Ave. early this morning. The group was getting in their car to leave the area at about 3:00 a.m. today when four men walked up and held them at gunpoint, according to a police report. The suspects went through the victims’ pockets and took two cell phones, a passport and a small amount of cash. The suspects then got in their vehicle, described as a four-door, cream-colored Buick, and fled.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Anti-gay bill clears Montana House; Maryland Senate takes up marriage

Nathan Bowen

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The Montana House approved a bill that would nullify local LGBT discrimination protections. “Missoula’s Democratic legislators were infuriated by the passage of House Bill 516, by Rep. Kristin Hansen, R-Havre. Her bill passed 60-39 and faces a final House vote before heading to the Senate. Sixty Republicans voted for it. All 32 Democrats voted opposed it, joined by seven Republicans. One Republican was absent.”

2. The president of a GLBT center in Enid, Okla., is accused of sexually molesting a 15-year-old. “According to EnidGLBT.org, Nathan Bowen is President of the Enid GLBT Community Center located in the 1300 block of S. Van Buren Street. According to the police report, Bowen and the victim began texting each other sexual messages after the victim met Bowen on Friday. The molestation incident happened on Sunday after Bowen allegedly picked up the minor at a park and took him to a home in the area.”

3. The Maryland Senate will begin debate on a marriage equality bill today: “Debate on the contentious measure to allow same-sex couples to marry is expected to run into Wednesday evening and carry over to Thursday. Miller has told senators to clear their weekend schedules in case an expected filibuster extends into Saturday. The bill, which would repeal Maryland’s definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, is widely expected to clear the Senate — but there are no guarantees. Twenty-four senators have declared their support for the measure, the minimum needed for final passage.”

—  John Wright

Police Blotter

• A woman who left her vehicle in the parking lot of the Black-eyed Pea early Saturday, Feb. 19 because she was “unable to drive” returned later in the day to find it stolen. The woman left her Acura RSX in the parking lot at 3857 Cedar Springs at about 12:30 a.m., according to a police report. She reported the vehicle stolen at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Inside the stolen vehicle valued at $9,000 were the woman’s purse, her keys and a Droid mobile phone.

• A woman reported that a man asked her to dance at Station 4 early Saturday, Feb. 19, then reached into her back pocket and took her credit card before running up more than $700 worth of purchases, police said. The suspect approached the woman at 2 a.m. inside the nightclub at 3911 Cedar Springs. He asked her to dance and “at the beginning everything was fine,” she told police. But when the suspect started reaching into her back pockets, she felt uncomfortable and asked him to stop. When he continued she pulled away and went to the bathroom, where she noticed her credit card was gone. She didn’t report the incident to club staff right away, but called police on Saturday afternoon and told them the suspect had spent more than $700.

• Havana Bar & Grill reported that someone broke out the glass front door of the business early Monday, Feb. 21. The incident occurred at about 4:20 a.m. at the nightclub at 4006 Cedar Springs, and the suspect is described as a black male, in his late 20s or early 30s, standing about 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighing 230 pounds. He fled in a white four-door vehicle that was possibly a Scion.

• Amico’s Pizza at 4032 Cedar Springs reported that someone broke into the restaurant late Thursday or early Friday, Feb. 18 by climbing through the duct system from an adjoining business, then dropping down through the ceiling. The suspect made off with an unknown amount of cash. The owner of Amico’s told police that “this has been going on for some time” and that on this occasion, he noticed footprints on the shelves and saw that the suspect had entered through the duct system.

—  John Wright