Officer’s Widow Sues Dallas to Keep Death Video Private

May 31, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – The widow of a Dallas police officer killed in an ambush at a peaceful protest against police brutality last year sued the city on Tuesday to block the release of video of his final moments and prevent “grave harm” to her children.

Katrina Ahrens sued Dallas and Dallas County in Federal Court on privacy and constitutional claims. Her husband, Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, was among the five police officers killed on July 7 when a gunman opened fire near El Centro College on the west side of downtown Dallas. Nine other officers and two civilians were injured.

Ahrens says the defendants refused her request to not disclose graphic video of the final moments of her husband’s life, to which she was granted access.

“She viewed, for instance, detailed digital video footage of her husband being shot roughly thirteen times in various parts of his body, suffering through the slow process of dying, and then speaking his last words before her eyes,” the 12-page complaint states.

“As any reasonable person would expect, viewing these records was extremely painful and upsetting, gut wrenching, and devastating to her. Even watching the videos in seclusion caused her severe mental and emotional distress.”

Ahrens says her young children will almost certainly be exposed to the upsetting material if it is released: One of her children already is searching his father’s name online for images and articles.

She says media outlets have asked the defendants for information that “specifically relates to the fatal injuries, wounds, and death” of her husband, including “sensitive death records” evidence the city has shared with county attorneys.

“The city has stated it has not, to its knowledge, released any information related to its criminal investigation of the July 7 attack, but that it intends to produce materials including sensitive death records once its investigation is closed,” the complaint states.

Ahrens says she sued after the city refused her request to not release the information, citing privacy rights under the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Constitution, common law, and the Texas Public Information Act.

She also claims that the city intercepted, seized and read mail that was sent to her after her husband’s death, without her consent. She says this violates her rights under the Fourth Amendment, Texas Constitution and common law. In one case, the city gave her a letter in February from a local community center inviting her to an awards gala and Martin Luther King Jr. parade — in January.

“But because the plaintiff received the letter two months after it was dated, she was – by no fault of her own – unaware of the gala honoring her late husband,” the complaint states. “This, of course, reflects negatively on plaintiff, who would have gladly attended the gala and parade had she been aware.”

Ahrens said that some mail was diverted to the office of former Police Chief David Brown.

“Plaintiff has been told mail sometimes sat unattended in his office for so long that charitably donated checks could no longer be cashed due to the passage of time,” the complaint states.

Ahrens is represented by Casey Griffith with Griffith Bates in Dallas.

Police said the suspect, Micah X. Johnson, was killed when a bomb disposal squad detonated explosives near him several hours after the ambush. Johnson served in the Army Reserve in Afghanistan and allegedly targeted white police officers in retaliation for several high-profile shootings of unarmed black men.

From Courthouse News.

Texas Attorney General Paxton May Get New Judge in His Criminal Trial

May 31, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s relentless pursuit for a new judge in his criminal securities fraud case may have succeeded Tuesday, when an appeals court found the trial judge lost jurisdiction when he moved the case from suburban Dallas to Houston.

A three-judge panel with the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas granted Paxton’s petition for writ of mandamus vacating all orders signed by state District Judge George Gallagher after his April 11 order transferring venue from Collin County to Harris County.

The appeals court did not explicitly remove Gallagher from the case, however, injecting more uncertainty in the 2-year-old case.

Paxton was charged in 2015 with a third-degree felony count of failing to register with the Texas Securities Board and two first-degree felony counts of securities fraud. He faces up to 99 years in state prison if convicted.

He is accused of failing to tell investors in McKinney-based tech firm Servergy that he would earn commissions on their money, and of lying to them that he was investing in the company. The alleged crimes took place while he was a member of the Texas House of Representatives.

Gallagher, a trial judge from Tarrant County, was assigned to the case after a Collin County judge recused himself. Gallagher has ruled against Paxton since, rejecting four applications for habeas corpus and six motions to quash in December 2015.

In granting special prosecutors’ request to change venue in April, Gallagher apparently was persuaded that Paxton’s legal team had launched a “crusade” to taint the Collin County jury pool.

Paxton was originally set to go to trial in Collin County in May on the failure to register charge before being tried separately on the securities fraud charges. His first trial was rescheduled for September in Harris County after the venue change, but the Fifth Court’s order vacates that date.

Paxton has tried to get a new judge at least four times since the venue change. Gallagher rejected Paxton’s first request for a new trial judge on April 17.

Two weeks later, Paxton asked Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniels to randomly assign a Harris County judge. He then asked the head of the First Administrative Judicial Region in Dallas to remove Gallagher. Judge Mary Murphy declined, saying she lacks the power to do so and that the trial and appellate courts have jurisdiction.

From Courthouse News.

Texas City Settles With Family of Man Killed by Police

May 23, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A Dallas-area suburb has agreed to pay $850,000 to settle claims by the family of a black man who was shot and killed by a white police officer at a car dealership two years ago.

Christian Taylor, 19, was shot four times in August 2015 inside the closed showroom of Classic GMC Buick in Arlington.

Security camera footage showed Taylor, a sophomore football player at Angelo State University, walking up to several cars in the parking lot after midnight, jumping up and down on vehicles, kicking the windshield of a Ford Mustang, then driving his Jeep through the glass exterior of the showroom.

Police Chief Will Johnson fired the shooter, Officer Brad Miller, within days “for exercising poor judgment” in pursuing Taylor into the building alone against department policy and putting other officers in danger.

Johnson said at the time he had “serious concerns” about the “rationale articulated” by Miller for his use of deadly force.

He said Miller fired after Taylor failed to comply with commands to get on the ground, and was “actively advancing towards” Miller.

A Tarrant County grand jury declined to indict Miller in June 2016.

Taylor’s death attracted national attention as it came within days of the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner later determined Taylor had the synthetic drug NBOMe in his system, as well as signs of recent use of marijuana. NBOMe is “known to cause distorted perceptions, agitation and hallucinations” and has “been associated with random and bizarre behavior,” according to the autopsy.

The Arlington City Council is expected to approve the $850,000 settlement at its meeting Tuesday evening, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Taylor’s family has yet to sue the city of Arlington. Both sides attended a pre-suit mediation in November that failed to result in a settlement but have now reached an agreement, according to a city staff report.

Taylor’s father, Adrian Taylor Sr., said the settlement will not bring peace to his family.

“The main thing about the settlement is we can’t be satisfied with any amount of money, because it can’t bring my son back,” he told the Star-Telegram on Tuesday. “Our goal is to get a community center in his name.”

Arlington officials did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment Tuesday afternoon.

From Courthouse News.

Jury That Cleared Killer Cop Says She Was Not ‘Blameless’

May 22,  2017
By David Lee

TULSA, Okla. (CN) – The jury that acquitted white Tulsa police Officer Betty Shelby for killing an unarmed black motorist questioned Friday whether she had “other options available to subdue” the man before he reached into his car, implying that she is not “blameless” in his death.

The unidentified jury foreperson submitted a letter entered into the court record “in an effort to placate” members of the media who wish to interview jurors. The foreperson asked for privacy, saying each juror was “adamant about staying as anonymous as possible” after the two week-long trial.

The jury deliberated for nine hours Wednesday before reaching a verdict.

Shelby, 43, faced up to life in state prison if convicted of first-degree manslaughter. She shot and killed Terence Crutcher, 40, in September after he refused to follow her commands and walked toward his disabled SUV in the middle of a street.

Police dashboard and helicopter video show Crutcher walking away from Shelby and her police cruiser with both arms in the air before she shot him.

Shelby said she shot him out of fear he was reaching for a weapon inside his car. No weapon was found on Crutcher or in the car. The defense said the left-front window was open, while the Crutcher family said the helicopter video showed the window was closed.

The foreperson wrote that it was clear to the jury “after intensely studying the video, still photos and testimony” that the window was open.

“(T)he jury believes from said evidence that Terence Crutcher did in fact reach into the window disobeying the instructions of the police officers on location,” the 3-page letter to Tulsa County Judge Doug Drummond states. “The jury concluded that any officer put in that situation at that exact moment and regardless of the skin color, gender or size of the suspect, would have performed the same way, which is in accordance with their law enforcement training.”

The foreperson said the killing was “unfortunate and tragic, but justifiable” due to Crutcher’s actions.

However, the letter added, some jurors believe Shelby had other options to subdue him before he reached into the car.

“What is unclear based on the testimony and the evidence presented in that courtroom, was whether her judgment at that time was in accordance to her training as a police officer in the line of duty or whether her training allowed her to holster her service and draw her Taser instead,” the letter states. “There was no evidence presented that she was acting outside of her training, or even if her training allowed her flexibility of a decision at that point.”

The foreperson said the jury believes Crutcher’s life could have been saved had he been shot with a Taser before he reached into the window, and that that option was available to Shelby. But they could not determine beyond a reasonable doubt that she did “anything outside of her duties and training” in that situation.

“This was critical to the verdict rendered,” the letter states. “Because of this perceived option that she may have had, many on the jury could never get comfortable with the concept of Betty Shelby being blameless for Mr. Crutcher’s death, but due to the lack of direct or even circumstantial evidence that she was acting outside of her training in the thirty feet prior to Mr. Crutcher reaching the window of that SUV, the jury was forced by the rule of law to render a not guilty verdict.”

Shelby blamed Crutcher for causing his own death and testified that she had “no regrets” about what happened. Her attorneys called two police officers to testify about their previous run-ins with Crutcher.

One testified that force was used on Crutcher for not complying with orders in 1995. The other testified that a stun gun was used on Crutcher twice in a 2012 arrest.

Crutcher’s family opposed allowing that testimony, telling reporters that their relative was being put on trial instead of Shelby.

The foreperson said Crutcher’s arrest history and multiple outstanding arrest warrants did not play a role in their deliberations, and that his “guilt in previous incidents were not considered as a means to justify” Shelby’s actions.

From Courthouse News.

Dallas Political Corruption Trial Ends in Smoking Ruins

May 22, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) — After several embarrassing missteps at trial, federal prosecutors said late Friday they will not retry Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price for tax fraud after a jury acquitted him of several other corruption charges.

U.S. Attorney John Parker said that seeking a retrial on the four counts of tax fraud “will not serve the interests of justice.”

Price, 67, was acquitted in April on seven bribery, mail fraud and conspiracy charges; the jury hung on the tax fraud counts. The acquittal was a stunning defeat for Parker’s office and the FBI, which spent a decade investigating and prosecuting Price.

They failed to persuade the jury that Price took more than $950,000 in cash, cars and real estate from political consultant Kathy Nealy in exchange for her clients’ bids for county contracts, and more than $200,000 in cash from a clothing store run by Price’s assistant Dapheny Fain and an art gallery run by his friend Karen Manning.

Fain, 55, was tried with Price on one count of lying to federal agents and one count of conspiracy. She too was acquitted.

The defense said Price’s money was from loans he made to Nealy, a close friend, and that large amounts of cash seized by the FBI at his home in 2011 belonged to Fain, who claimed she kept it there to prevent her from spending it on shopping.

Price is the most prominent politician to be federally prosecuted in Dallas. His confrontational style and focus on issues of race and economic equality have made him controversial, but his constituents in south Dallas have comfortably re-elected him for three decades. His supporters have said Price was targeted because he is black.

Price said Friday evening that about halfway through his nine week-long trial he forgave the federal government for targeting him.

“God showed me favor,” Price told The Dallas Morning News. “We owe it to continue to try to make the system that we’ve inherited better, and that’s what I work to do every day.”

Nealy was to be tried separately from Price and Fain. She will no longer be prosecuted, the U.S. attorney said.

“Although I am disappointed in the outcome of this case, my responsibility is larger than the consideration of my subjective views,” Parker said in a statement. “I must objectively consider the totality of circumstances that the prosecution now faces. … My decision today is fundamentally different than the initial decision to seek this indictment and in no way reflects on the soundness of that earlier decision.”

Parker said that knowing what he knows now, the “reasonable, good-faith beliefs we had at the time of indictment” are “substantially diminished.”

“The evidence and facts as known at the time of indictment demanded that this office pursue this case,” he said. “However, while it is our responsibility to seek justice when presented with such evidence, it is never our responsibility to secure a conviction at all costs.”

Parker’s office had numerous embarrassing errors in the final weeks of the trial, acknowledging several failures to turn over evidence to the defense.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn called the failures “terribly inappropriate and very disappointing.”

Price’s attorneys capitalized on the mistakes, accusing federal investigators and prosecutors of being incompetent and dishonest. They said prosecutors’ long line of witnesses and evidence lacked a “smoking gun” showing a conspiracy to bribe, and that the case was built largely on circumstantial financial records.

Judge Lynn was so unimpressed with the prosecution that she warned before closing arguments that she was probably going to throw out the mail fraud charges even if the jury found Price guilty. She said it was “virtually impossible” for the jury to convict based on the poor connection prosecutors made between the alleged crimes and the U.S. Postal Service.

From Courthouse News.

Judge Tosses Suit Filed by High Schooler Arrested Over Clock

May 19, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A black Muslim teenager who was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school failed to state a valid claim of racial discrimination against a Dallas-area school district, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Dubbed “clock boy” by the press, Ahmed Mohamed made headlines in 2015 when he was arrested at MacArthur High School in Irving after bringing a circuit board and power supply that he wired to a digital display inside of a metal pencil case. A teacher purportedly thought it looked like a bomb.

His father, Mohamed Alhassan Mohamed, sued school principal Daniel Cummings, the Irving Independent School District and the city of Irving in August 2016, claiming his son’s civil rights were violated.

The lawsuit claims Mohamed was interrogated by police and school officials for 90 minutes, was threatened with expulsion if he did not write a statement, and that his requests for his parents were denied.

It also claims police forcefully pulled him out of his chair and marched him in front of the school in handcuffs.

A photograph of a bewildered Mohamed being led away in handcuffs went viral on social media, with President Barack Obama tweeting him an invitation to the White House in response.

U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay granted the city and school districts’ motions to dismiss, concluding the lawsuit does not allege facts for him to “reasonably infer” that any school district employee intentionally discriminated against Mohamed based on his race or religion in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights.

“Plaintiff does not alleged at the IISD treated A.M. differently because of his race or religion than other students involved in similar disciplinary situations,” the 37-page opinion states. “Absent allegations of intentional discrimination, or allegations from which the court can reasonably infer intentional discrimination, plaintiff fails to allege an equal protection violation against the IISD.”

However, Lindsay cited U.S. Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent in allowing Mohamed’s father to refile the lawsuit by June 1, giving him a chance to amend his claims that are “factually deficient.”

The judge was not persuaded that Mohamed was arrested without probable cause in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, writing the lawsuit failed to “identify any official policy” that caused the alleged violation.

He also declined the plaintiff’s request to ignore Fifth Circuit precedent and instead rule that Mohamed’s Fifth Amendment rights were violated when police allegedly refused his request to speak to his parents or give him a Miranda warning.

“The court is bound by the law of the Fifth Circuit and declines Plaintiff’s invitation to ignore binding precedent and look to case decisions from other circuit courts,” the opinion states. “Here, plaintiff has pleaded that all charges against A.M. arising from the arrest were dropped. Plaintiff does not allege that any information allegedly improperly obtained from A.M. were ever used against him in a criminal trial or in pretrial proceedings.”

Mohamed was released to his parents hours later and charges were dropped, but he remained suspended from school for three days.

He never returned to MacArthur High School – he later accepted a full scholarship to study in Qatar thanks to the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.

Judge Lindsay said the lawsuit advances only a “subjective belief” that Cummings’ actions were motivated by Mohamed’s race. He said even if the lawsuit had adequately alleged intentional racial discrimination by Cummings or a teacher, the school district “cannot be held vicariously liable under Title IV.”

Irving ISD and Cummings’ attorney, Kathryn Long with Thompson & Horton in Dallas, applauded the ruling as the court understanding the “challenging situations” faced by public school employees.

“Schools and principals must make decisions every day regarding student safety,” she said in a statement Friday afternoon. “The opinion confirms that there was no suggestion of discriminatory intent by any school district employee.”

Mohamed’s attorney, Susan Hutchison with Hutchison & Stoy in Fort Worth, told Courthouse News the reason why they were not sufficiently specific on the facts is due to not being allowed to conduct any discovery.

“It’s a Catch-22 – the defendants file a motion to dismiss on the basis that we haven’t provided enough information, but we are not allowed to conduct discovery to obtain any information,” she said Friday afternoon. “So I will be asking the court to allow limited discovery to address the points raised by the court and leave to add parties.”

From Courthouse News.

Texas Judge Reprimanded for Sex With Clerk

May 18, 2017
By David Lee

FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) – A Texas judicial discipline agency announced Thursday the public reprimand of a Fort Worth-area judge for having sex with his former chief clerk at the courthouse.

Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Russell Casey violated the Texas Constitution and Texas Code of Judicial Conduct when he “engaged in an improper sexual relationship” with the female clerk, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct’s May 9 order states.

Courthouse News Service is not disclosing the clerk’s name due to her claims of sexual assault by Casey and the graphic details in the order.

Casey was first elected in 2007 to Precinct 3, which includes the affluent Fort Worth suburbs of North Richland Hills, Colleyville and Southlake in northeast Tarrant County. His current term expires in January 2019.

The clerk had worked for Casey’s predecessor and served as chief clerk and court manager under Casey. She complained to human resources after the judge initiated termination proceedings in 2014 and later filed a federal lawsuit claiming she was sexually harassed. She also filed a report with the district attorney claiming she was sexually assaulted.

The commission cites deposition testimony from the federal lawsuit in which Casey admits to having a sexual relationship with the clerk that started as early as 2008 when the two were working after hours.

“[T]he two of them began discussing how long it had been since either of them had had sex, that [the clerk] offered to and then performed oral sex on him, and that the incident occurred in [her] office at the courthouse,” the 15-page order states. “When describing other encounters, Judge Casey state that he asked [her] to perform oral sex on him ‘over the course of the years,’ estimated that she performed oral sex ‘less than 10’ times, related that [she] refused ‘four or five times,’ explained that he inserted his penis into [her] vagina on two occasions, and recalled that the last sexual encounter occurred in June 2014, and Judge Casey also explained that these encountered always occurred at the courthouse or at a conference related to court business and admitted that the courthouse was county property.”

Casey testified he tried to fire the clerk for “claiming money that did not belong to her” and said he believed she was using court deposits for her own personal use.

“Finally, Judge Casey admitted that he denied the relationship when he was first asked about it by human resources because he was embarrassed,” the order states.

The clerk painted a far different picture of the relationship, testifying that the first incident took place in 2009 with the judge closing the door behind her with other employees in a nearby office.

She said he “locked the door, told her how good he treated her, sat down, ‘took his penis out,’ pulled his pants down, asked her to ‘just do that,’ and stated that if she did, ‘he would never ask [her] again.”

The clerk testified she tried to leave, that Casey then told her people in the office disliked her and that he was the only reason she still had a job.

She testified that Casey “grabbed her hand, put her hand ‘on his penis,’ and ‘pushed [her] head down there,’ and [she] described performing oral sex on Judge Casey,” the order states. “When explaining what happened afterwards, [she] testified that she started crying, that Judge Casey told her ‘to compose [her]self before leaving,’ and that she went to the restroom and ‘threw up.’”

The clerk claimed that from 2009 to 2004, Casey would regularly expose himself to her at the office, made more statements about keeping her job if she complied and asked for oral sex, including one time while wearing his judge’s robe. She testified that when Casey said he was going to fire her, he never mentioned issues with improper mileage reimbursement claims.

The public sanction is the second harshest punishment the commission can levy. The harshest penalty – a suspension – can be given only when a judge is indicted for a felony or misdemeanor involving his official position, according to the commission’s web site.

Tarrant County officials declined to comment on the reprimand Thursday morning.

A message requesting comment from Judge Casey was left with his staff Thursday morning. Casey told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram the reprimand is “balderdash.”

Casey had asked the commission for a lesser punishment of a private reprimand, the order states. The commission disagreed, saying the factors weigh “at a minimum” in favor of a public reprimand.

“The stipulated facts and the testimony established that the misconduct was not an isolated incident but was instead a pattern of conduct occurring over many of the years in which he has served as a judge,” the order states. “Furthermore, [the clerk] testified that there were twenty sexual interactions, and Judge Casey stipulated that ‘he requested and received oral [sex] from her approximately ten times.’ Although misconduct did not occur in the actual courtroom, the misconduct did occur in the courthouse offices and often during work hours. Moreover, [she] testified that Judge Casey used his role as a judge and as her employer to receive sexual favors, and as set out above and as agreed to by Judge Casey, his actions undermined the respect that citizens have for the judiciary.”