Joey Dauben Crusaded Against Child Porn. Now He's Accused of Assaulting a 15-Year-Old Boy.
Perhaps you've heard by now: Joey Dauben, publisher of the Ellis County Observer and several other small-town papers and websites throughout North Texas, has been indicted and arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. The 30-year-old Dauben, who Patrick Michels profiled in an Observer cover story earlier this year, was arrested by Texas Rangers at his grandmother's house in Mabank late Monday afternoon. He currently sits in Navarro County Jail; his bond has been set at $200,000.
Photo by Patrick Michels Joey Dauben, who now sits in jail in Navarro County
Dauben stands accused of three counts of sexual assault on a child, one count of indecency with a child, and sexual contact. All charges stem from an alleged incident in 2007, during a retreat for a now-defunct church, Olive Tree Ministries, at Navarro Mills Lake.
Reached by phone, his friend and video editor Brannon Bridge tells Unfair Park, "Basically, all I know is what's like been printed about it. But I can tell you, I'm 100 percent sure he's innocent."
Dauben, as Patrick mentioned in his cover story, began writing back in February about a man in Ennis who was busted with an apartment full of child pornography, and who Dauben believes is responsible for the murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, the decades-old case that led to the establishment of the "Amber Alert" system (although Patrick called the connections between the Ennis man and the cold case "tenuous," and other media outlets, and law enforcement agencies, seem to agree). More recently, WFAA notes, Dauben posted an article on the Ellis County Observer site about "child porn rings" on Facebook, which he called "the breeding ground of a massive, global, inter-connected, sick and sadistic, electronic child porn, child-sex trafficking ring."
Anonymous friends told WFAA they believe Dauben has been falsely accused in retaliation for his reporting. An article posted on the ECO homepage states, "This accuser has a history of falsely making accusations," and posts the bulk of a MySpace conversation from 2007. Both names in the conversation are redacted.
"He spends 80 hours a week trying to expose corruption and fights against this kind of stuff," Bridge says. "He spends so much time and energy just trying to make sure that kids and people who are victims ... have a voice and whatnot." Brandy Owen, managing editor for the Ellis County Observer, posted an update to their blog yesterday stating that she'd received a phone call informing her Dauben has been placed on suicide watch.
Dauben previously served 12 days in jail for publishing the mug shot of a police officer, William Achey, That incident was related to a much longer and more confusing feud between two "gypsy cops," Michael Meissner and John Hoskins. Hoskins accused Meissner of posing as a woman and soliciting nude photos from underage boys, a charge for which Meissner was arrested. Dauben then posted a variety of allegations against Hoskins and other police officers investigating the case; in the process, he published the Achey photo, which came from a computer database that's supposed to only be accessible to law enforcement. Hoskins alleged Meissner paid Dauben $200 to post the photo.
There's an excellent sum-up of the Hoskins-Meissner mess by Mike Orren over at Pegasus News, and a Dallas Morning News article likewise recaps Hoskins and Meissner's lengthy battle. All charges against Dauben and Meissner were ultimately dropped.
Before his tumultuous career as a publisher, Dauben freelanced off and on for eight years for the Ellis County Press under editor Charlie Hatfield.
"Well, I don't have a clue" if the sexual assault charges against Dauben ring true or not, Hatfield tells Unfair Park. "The Texas Rangers investigated it for 30 days before filing the charges. My personal belief is I don't believe the Texas Rangers file charges no reason."
Hatfield also spoke about Dauben's parting from his paper. "My concern with Joey was that he started writing stories based on rumor, not fact," Hatfield said. "We couldn't afford it. The credibility of the paper was at stake. I told him, 'You need to choose.' He decided to be a political activist instead of a reporter."
Nonetheless, Hatfield says, during the time Dauben worked at the Press, "he had a lot of promise. I think Joey has a brilliant mind. The problem is that he's gone to the dark side, so to speak. He wants to write about what he wants to write about, without being subject to the discipline of good journalism."
Returning to the allegations, Hatfield says, "I would never have thought that of Joey. I was shocked and very disappointed." Ultimately, he adds, "I thought he was going to turn things around and be a good journalist. He had the potential of doing that. Sadly, I think he's lost his credibility."