Texas Widens Scope of Election Fraud Probe in Dallas

June 29, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Wednesday he will join the Dallas County district attorney’s investigation of possible voter fraud in West Dallas.

Paxton told reporters his office will expand the scope of Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson’s investigation of whether elderly voters’ ballots were manipulated.

“Recently, there have been too many questions raised about elections in Dallas County,” Paxton said at a news conference. “I am honored today that District Attorney Johnson has invited my office to assist in their investigation, and we will do everything within our resources and abilities to solidify trust in every election here and around the state.”

State District Judge Carl Ginsberg ordered the sequester of absentee ballots before the June 10 runoff election for cities and schools, resulting in hundreds of votes not being included in tallies on election night and results being delayed.

Ginsberg’s order came at the behest of prosecutors after several elderly voters in West Dallas complained about receiving absentee ballots in the mail that they did not request. Others complained they were unable to vote at the polls on Election Day due to someone else mailing in an absentee vote in their name.

Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole said in April that the allegations are taken “very seriously” and that the integrity of the voting process is “our utmost concern.” She has declined to comment further, saying her office has cooperated with Johnson’s.

Pippins-Poole said two weeks ago that Russian hackers tried and failed to hack into Dallas County servers before last November’s presidential election. She told The Dallas Morning News that federal officials informed the county before the election of around 600 suspicious Internet Protocol addresses possibly linked to the Russians. She said the county scanned its system for the addresses and found 17 matches that tried to get access.

Johnson urged voters to “believe in the system” and to know “their vote actually counts.” She pledged to “get to the bottom” of what is happening in Dallas County.

“I am confident that [Paxton] and his investigative and prosecutorial units are committed to assisting us, committed to helping us deal with this issue, and get to the bottom of what’s happening here in Dallas County as they have done so in other areas in Texas,” Johnson said. “We believe as they assist us that we will be able to restore faith in our electoral process here in Dallas County.”

From Courthouse News.

Man Takes Out a Ten Commandments Monument — Again

June 29, 2017
By David Lee

LITTLE ROCK (CN) – A man who destroyed a controversial Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma Capitol with his car three years ago did the same thing Wednesday to a similar monument at the Arkansas Capitol.

Michael Tate Reed, 32, of Van Buren, was arrested before dawn after smashing his car into a newly placed Ten Commandments monument that had been installed at the Arkansas Capitol the day before. The privately funded stone monument was knocked down and smashed into several pieces.

Reed is charged with defacing objects of public interest, criminal trespass and first-degree criminal mischief. He was to be arraigned Thursday morning, according to Pulaski County officials.

Authorities believe Reed streamed a live video of the collision on his Facebook page. A male voice can be heard exclaiming, “My goodness, freedom!” before the car accelerates and smashes into the monument.

Oklahoma County sheriff’s spokesman Mark Opgrande told The Associated Press that Reed was arrested in October 2014 for doing the same thing at the Oklahoma Capitol.

Reed reportedly said at the time that he was directed by Satan to urinate on and destroy the monument. Authorities arrested Reed for allegedly threatening to kill President Barack Obama at the Oklahoma City federal building.

Despite opposition to the Oklahoma monument, by the ACLU and others, monument opponents roundly denounced the “desecration” of the monument by “vandals.” ACLU of Arkansas Rita Sklar denounced the destruction of the Arkansas monument on Wednesday.

“We strongly condemn any illegal act of destruction or vandalism,” Sklar said in a statement. “The ACLU remains committed to seeing this unconstitutional monument struck down by the courts and safely removed through legal means.”

Reed apologized for destroying the Oklahoma monument in 2015, telling the Tulsa World newspaper that he suffered from mental health issues and “wished I could take it all back.”

Oklahoma County officials declined to pursue charges against Reed, opting to place him in a mental health facility for several months instead. His family reportedly had him transferred to a mental health facility in Arkansas.

From Courthouse News.

Stressed-Out Cops Need Close Monitoring, Professors Say

June 26, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – Criminologists say that police officers who deal with stressors, including divorce and falling behind on paying bills are more likely to use deadly force and should be closely monitored throughout their careers.

Faculty members at the University of Texas at Dallas, Loyola University Chicago and the University of South Florida studied the personnel records of 1,935 Philadelphia police officers and published their findings in the latest issue of Police Quarterly journal.

“While the extant literature has uncovered numerous structural, organizational, and situational predictors of police shootings, studies to date are more limited with respect to individual-level factors and have essentially ignored criminological theoretical constructs,” the study states. “The results indicate that officers with lower self-control are significantly more likely to have been involved in a police shooting.”

The study found officers were 21 percent more likely to be involved in a shooting for each of eight factors of poor self-control they exhibited. The factors include having debt of more than $1,000, being under court orders, going through a divorce or separation, having traffic tickets in the past five years, paying bills late, being fired from a job, being involved in a traffic accident or having a driver’s license suspended, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Study co-author and UT-Dallas assistant criminology professor Jon Maskaly said that an officer having one or two factors can be “bad luck,” but that a pattern may require a closer look by police departments.

“Done well, this should help departments recruit and retain the best officers who can work with our community to keep our cities safe,” Maskaly told the Morning News last week.

The study comes one month after former Balch Springs police Officer Roy Oliver was charged with murder for shooting Jordan Edwards, an unarmed black teenager, who was being driven away from a party in Mesquite in suburban Dallas.

Edwards’ father filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit, claiming Oliver has “a reputation for having a short fuse” that led the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office to file a complaint against him for aggressive behavior while serving as a witness in a drunk driving case. The lawsuit also claims Oliver pulled a handgun on a motorist who rear-ended his car in southwest Dallas in April.

From Courthouse News.

Slain Man’s Estate Sues Acquitted Tulsa Cop

June 15, 2017
By David Lee

TULSA, Okla. (CN) – The estate of unarmed black motorist Terence Crutcher sued white Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby and the city Thursday, claiming he was unnecessarily shot and killed without probable cause during a traffic stop last year.

Estate administrator Austin Bond sued in federal court, alleging Crutcher’s civil rights were violated when he was subjected to excessive force and deprived of his equal protection rights. Shelby, 43, was acquitted last month of first-degree manslaughter.

She is shown on dashboard and helicopter video shooting and killing Crutcher, 40, in September after he had both arms in the air and approached his disabled SUV in the middle of a roadway.

Shelby insisted he did not comply with her commands and feared that he was reaching for a weapon inside the left-front window. She said she believed he was on drugs and a medical examiner later determined he had phencyclidine – PCP or “angel dust” – in his system when he died.

Jurors publicly stated that although they acquitted Shelby, they believe she is not “blameless” in Crutcher’s death and that she had “other options available to subdue” him.

Shelby – who has since been reinstated to the Tulsa police force – has repeatedly blamed Crutcher for causing his own death and testified that she had “no regrets” about what happened, that she relied on her training.

According to the Thursday’s lawsuit, “For years, the city’s training of TPD officers and its customs, patterns and practices of TPD are known to be deliberately indifferent to ensuring that the constitutional rights of city residents are properly respected and protected.”

Bond acknowledges that police risk their lives every day to uphold the law and that deadly force is sometimes necessary.

“However, the realities of police work in Tulsa, Oklahoma did not constitute cause for Officer Shelby to become Terence’s ‘judge, jury, and executioner,’” the 15-page complaint states. “The dangers police officers generally face also do not provide a license to police officers to ‘shoot first and ask questions later,’ without properly evaluating the need for such force.”

Bond says Crutcher was “clearly outmanned and virtually surrounded” and was in the process of “peacefully submitting” when he was killed.

“Terence had not committed and was not suspected of committing any serious crime; he did not pose an immediate threat of great bodily harm or death to Officer Shelby, any other officers on the scene (who were there in sufficient numbers to control the situation), or the general public,” the complaint states. “Terence was never told he was under arrest or warned he would be shot by Officer Shelby.” (Parentheses in original.)

The lawsuit further blames Tulsa for failing to teach officers how to “properly de-escalate encounters” and emphasize deadly force as a last option.

Crutcher’s family has yet to file a civil lawsuit regarding his death. Bond serves as a court-appointed estate administrator, as Frenchel Johnson – the mother of three of Crutcher’s children – and Crutcher’s relatives fight over who controls his estate.

Bond seeks an injunction ordering an independent investigation into the shooting by the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation.

He also seeks actual damages for violations of Crutcher’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and is represented by M. David Riggs with Riggs Abney in Tulsa.

From Courthouse News.

Texas AG Wins Long Fight for New Judge in Securities Fraud Case

June 9, 2017
By David Lee

McKINNEY, Texas (CN) – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton got his wish Friday when the trial judge in his drawn-out criminal securities fraud case relinquished control to be replaced by another judge in Houston.

State District Judge George Gallagher on Friday vacated several orders he made after he moved the closely followed case from Collin County in suburban Dallas to Harris County on April 11.

The 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas ruled May 30 that Gallagher lost jurisdiction when he changed venue. Paxton relied on a little-used argument that state law requires the defendant to sign off on the judge continuing on the case after the venue change.

The state’s highest criminal court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, rejected prosecutors’ appeal of the ruling on Wednesday, paving the way for Gallagher’s replacement.

Harris County District Courts Administrator Clay Bowman told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday that Administrative Judge Robert Schaffer would be in charge of naming a replacement judge.

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, has repeatedly ruled against Paxton during the run-up to trial. He rejected several motions to have the case thrown out in December 2015.

Gallagher further annoyed Paxton’s legal team in February when he granted prosecutors’ request to hold two felony trials, one for each type of charge. Paxton’s attorneys said the ruling was “absurd” and that it would “either double or triple” the cost to Collin County taxpayers.

In granting prosecutors’ request for a change of venue two months later, Gallagher was apparently persuaded that Paxton’s legal team had engaged in a “crusade” to taint the jury pool in his home county.

Paxton has doggedly tried to get Gallagher taken off the case since the venue change, asking to a new judge at least four times. Gallagher rejected Paxton’s first request for a new judge on April 17.

Paxton asked Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniels to randomly assign a Harris County judge two weeks later.

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.

AG Paxton May Get New Judge in His Felony Trial

June 8, 2017
By David Lee

AUSTIN (CN) – Texas’ highest criminal appeals court late Wednesday paved the way for removal of the trial judge in Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal securities fraud case, rejecting prosecutors’ request to reinstate the judge.

Special prosecutors Brian Wice, Kent Schaffer and Nicole DeBorde asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last week to keep state District Judge George Gallagher on the case. The request came after the intermediate 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas granted Paxton’s petition for writ of mandamus on May 30, concluding that Gallagher lost jurisdiction when he moved the case on April 11 from Collin County in suburban Dallas to Harris County.

The high court denied the prosecution’s request without comment, meaning the 5th Court’s vacating of all of Gallagher’s orders after the transfer order will stand. The 5th Court did not explicitly remove Gallagher from the case, but a state district judge in Harris County is expected to be appointed.

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.

Paxton has tried to get Gallagher removed from the case at least four times since the venue change, arguing that state law requires it.

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.

Gallagher, a trial judge from Tarrant County, has frustrated Paxton’s defense with a string of adverse rulings since his appointment to the case in 2015 when a Collin County judge recused himself. He rejected Paxton’s four applications for habeas corpus and six motions to quash in December 2015.

Gallagher surprised Paxton’s attorneys in February when he granted prosecutors’ request to hold two felony trials, one for each type of charge. Paxton’s attorneys called the second trial “absurd,” and said it would “either double or triple” the cost to Collin County taxpayers.

In granting prosecutors’ request for a change of venue two months later, Gallagher apparently was persuaded by arguments that Paxton’s legal team had engaged in a “crusade” to taint the jury pool in his home county.

From Courthouse News.