Morning News' Tod Robberson Pours on Vicious Lies in Unending Slime Attack on a South Dallas Car Wash

Categories: Schutze

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Yesterday in a blog item Dallas Morning News editorial writer Tod Robberson stated as fact that the controversial car wash on MLK Boulevard -- topic of many Dallas Observer stories over many years -- is "a major drug emporium for South Dallas." The strong suggestion of the piece and an accompanying photograph was that Dale Davenport, an owner of the business, is a drug dealer.

That's a malicious lie. It makes me sick to my stomach. One phone call to almost any knowledgeable city official would have set Robberson right. It's such a specific and personal allegation, such an enormous slur on Davenport's well known exemplary personal history and character, one can't help wondering if Robberson's piece, obviously written in anger, was not a deliberate and malicious attempt to ignore the truth and use the power of a daily newspaper instead to deprive a private person of his livelihood.

The Robberson piece was riddled with other wrong statements that may have been simple mistakes. He states as fact, for example, that the car wash is now out of business. "But now it's closed," he says. "Good riddance."

It's not out of business at all. In my piece yesterday, I said police last Sunday had barricaded the place in a bizarre instance of selective enforcement, which I compared to past actions by the police department which were confessed to and apologized for by a former chief of police. But my piece did not say the car wash was out of business.

In 2005 Chief David Kunkle admitted before the Texas House Civil Practices Committee that his department had engaged in improper official harassment of the car wash owners. Kunkle promised it would never happen again. My story Monday said they were back at it.

Robberson's piece contains another piece of fiction writing that I can only attribute to urban mythology, or perhaps I should call it country club mythology. It's a picture of drug dealing that would be recognized immediately as completely false and unrealistic by any cop, by any reporter who had ever spent any time on the street, by anybody else who had ever spent time on the street, by anyone, for that matter, who had ever watched The Wire.

Without saying exactly where this picture comes from -- without claiming to have seen it himself, for example -- Robberson says of the car wash: "The main activity involved people walking back and forth with satchels and bags full of something unusual that required resupplying from a house a block away. That house had mean-looking guys outside, and expensive-looking cars parked out front."

That's not how it works. In fact it's the opposite of how it works. Dealers don't take their stash out of the depot house and carry it in a satchel to an open-air market known to be under constant police surveillance. In street drug sales above the level of small amounts of marijuana, money and drugs are exchanged on places place which dealers have gone to great lengths to protect from surveillance.

For one thing, Davenport and his father, Freddy, have covered their place with security cameras, which they make available to the police. They have a long documented history of calling the police when they think they see wrongdoing -- hundreds of calls and reports over the years that Robberson could have discovered with that single phone call he never made.

Yes, there are some bad drug houses in the immediate area, not to mention a gambling house that police have left alone ever since a City Council member complained about enforcement activities there, explaining it was where his own father plays poker. The Davenports have complained long, bitterly and loudly about the apparent hands-off posture of the police where nearby crack houses are concerned. One can only see echoes of the movie, Chinatown, in the failure of Dallas police to go after the nearby drug houses while devoting enormous resources instead to harassing the car wash.

But before we leave Robberson's picture of satchel-carrying drug dealers (does anyone alive actually own a "satchel" any more?), I need to add a bit of back-story. This same portrayal was painted for me by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. He said he had ordered the reluctant and fearful police driver of his official city SUV to take him into the heart of the car wash one day. He said that when people in the car wash saw the black SUV coming their way, they began tossing down satchels, jumping fences and high-tailing it.

I believe that the mayor saw something and that he interpreted is as evidence of drug dealing. I also believe -- not to detract in any ways from the mayor's august personage -- that if a drug dealer had an entire satchel of drugs in his possession, it would take 10 SUVs and automatic weapons fire to make him throw it down. And, I might mention, I believe that if a drug dealer or multiple drug dealers did throw down multiple satchels full of drugs, the police would have picked up those satchels, and, by the way, the Davenports really would be out of business by now, if not behind bars.

So do people at the car wash carry satchels? Yup. Every time I have been there, I have seen people with ... hey, do you mind if we call them duffel bags? Every time I hear the term satchel, I think of the Negro Leagues. But, yes, many duffel bags are in sight, all of them containing car washing supplies.

Why would they throw down their car washing supplies when they see a cop barreling onto the lot in a black SUV? Because the police, as they were doing when I was there Sunday, insist on deliberately misapplying an anti-panhandling ordinance to write expensive tickets on people at the car wash who wash other people's cars for a fee.

I'm working on that aspect for a column for next week's paper. For now, let me simply suggest there's an easy way to tell drug dealers from car washers. The car washers wash cars. They tend to be old or at least older. They have calloused and hardened hands from working. They dress modestly. They carry duffel bags full of car washing supplies.

No, drug dealers do not think to themselves, "Wow, I know how I could create a clever cover for my drug dealing. I could go stand in the broiling sun all day and wash other people's cars for 20 bucks." In fact, if you could think of some way to force drug dealers to wash cars at the car wash all day in order to deal drugs, you could probably put an end to drug dealing.

Mayor Rawlings told me he had asked Dallas Police Chief David Brown to send undercover officers into the car wash to arrest drug dealers. He told me Brown had declined to do so, explaining it would be a waste of resources because there are no major drug dealers there and that's not how major drug dealing works.

I'm sorry to say that former Morning News City Hall reporter and now editorial writer Rudy Bush joined commenters on Robberson's piece to say he had personally surveilled the car wash and had found incontrovertible evidence of drug dealing. "I haven't been there that I didn't see a car pull up, a window roll down, someone walk up to it and an exchange happen," Bush says in his comment. I don't know what he saw. Bush wouldn't maliciously make things up, as I believe Robberson has done.

But I do think Bush's observations are not unrelated to something Robbberson says in his piece. Robberson writes: "The bag people at the car wash kept so busy and spent so much time not washing cars at the car wash, they dragged chairs and a sofa out to the back, covered area so they could rest during lulls in business. That is, the covered area in back where the overhead police cameras couldn't monitor them."

Yes, the car wash people do sit on furniture in the back and hang out. They do drink beer. They do play cards. I suspect once in a while one of them may fire up some reefer. I have caught whiffs of something there that was either weed or somebody was burning sprinkles of potpourri.

The car wash is a huge social center in this bitterly poor neighborhood, and what we are looking at, dear friends, is poor black people having fun. Drive down there. Look around the 'hood. A block away you will see bombed out hulks of apartment buildings with no glass in the windows. You will see small modest frame dwellings, some of them falling apart, some immaculately maintained (one of them owned by a guy who earns his entire livelihood washing cars at the car wash).

You will not see any swimming pools. You will not see a country club. No golf course. Cars, washing cars, hanging out, playing cards, dominoes, some smoke from a barbecue trailer, some of that other kind of smoke are the swimming pool here, the country club, the golf course. All of that is this car wash. The sad fact is that our mayor and Rudy Bush and maybe Tod Robberson -- if he ever even drove by the place -- look at this scene and assume evil.

Is it just a big friendly picnic, and everybody's welcome? Hell no. I have to watch my ass when I go down there, pick my moments and keep my eyes open in the back of my head. I've been run off. What hell: I'm an old white guy. In what parallel universe does an old white guy think everybody at the car wash on MLK is going to look up and say, "Oh, happy day, a white person approaches!" But you do know, Morning Newsites, that if a geez like me can do it, you young strapping fellows can also walk into that car wash yourselves some day and actually talk to people. In fact, how has this story gone on for a decade, and nobody from the News has ever done that? They could at least hire a black reporter and have him or her do it for them while they watched from an armored vehicle across the street.

There is also this: The Davenports are the only white people in this picture. Sorry, but I have been on this case for 10 years, and I believe that race is a very important factor here. The police department would never dream of engaging in this behavior with a black business owner on MLK.

There is also a sense in which a certain kind of white person, the country club type especially, just doesn't get how two white East Texas good-old boys, Freddy Davenport and his son Dale, could be down there hanging out and getting along so well with all those poor black people in a tough neighborhood. I would suggest that just as Robberson and the mayor haven't spent enough time on the streets in South Dallas, they haven't spent enough time in East Texas. Those are exactly the kind of white guys who can fit in well with black people in South Dallas.

What Robberson wrote about the Daveports is horrible. It's devastating. Now in the permanent and inescapable Googlesphere, there is a written record of a major American daily newspaper calling this family drug dealers. The Davenports own multiple businesses in East Texas. They sit on the boards of banks. They belong to a church. They have kids. These are honest decent people. Robberson's piece is a deliberate and malicious attempt to use the power of the press to maim them. It makes me sick.


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73 comments
rodneyd270
rodneyd270

They let white people gather and carry assault rifles and shotguns in public places such as stores and restaurants without sending the cops out in force, but when a few black people gather at a car wash in south Dallas they want to send in half of Dallas pd

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

LOL. Robberson smelled a little weed down there and now everyone that ever stepped foot onto the property is either a drug-mule or a cartel-kingpin.


TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

They have a point:

"The city also is authorized by law to step in when a property owner allows his property to be used for activities that do not conform with zoning or with the property’s specific use permit. If an open-air market (even a licit one) exists on a car wash site every Sunday, complete with a cellphone sign-up tent, barbecue sales, music and other stuff, then the property owner must have a specific use permit that allows such activity."

http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com

gm0622
gm0622

I read the Robberson opinion yesterday, smelled like someone wrapped a week old catfish in the D(a)MN. Probably needs to show up on-site and talk to the owners and the clientele and start thinking for himself.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Bush did a kitchen sink dump.  Somebody has to wade through that and see what's relevant.  

We need a volunteer.

(everyone takes one step back except . . . ).

You there, Private Schutze.  Yer it.  Grab your entrenching tool! 

Report to the records room.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

Lots of people have satchel bags.  The bags are not cheap.  It is what you get after you graduate from backpacks and book bags.  I doubt drug dealers use them unless transferring cash from Netherlands Antilles.

Catbird
Catbird

No dog in the hunt for me but it does seem strange that Robberson is going after the carwash itself and not the criminals who break the law or the police who don't enforce it. I thought this sort of stuff would clear up when Belo sold out...maybe not.

Tipster1908
Tipster1908

Jim's version of events passes the common sense test moreso than the DMN's version. If all these guys with bags drop them at the first whiff of a police presence, they are not going to be drug dealers for long. They are going to be corpses. Seriously, no drug dealer can afford to lose a bag's worth of inventory like that. They will hang on to that thing for dear life because it their lives literally are in the balance. 

As for the drug reports in the general area? I don't think anyone said the area was free of crime. What we said is that the car wash is a legitimate business. Robberson's original article very clearly stated that there isn't much car washing going on. If that's the case, how are the Davenports making money? 

I tend to think that this is all racism on the part of the DMN, the DCC, and the City. Surely a carwash can't be a good investment in a poor black neighborhood, right? So when our developer friends want us to get them a good deal on some land in the crummy part of town, the property owners should just roll over and be glad there's a buyer. Right? Wrong. There are a lot of car washes in prime locations around the city. There was one right across from West Village in Uptown for the longest time (it may still be there - it's near the Loon so I assume it's getting torn down too). There is one on Lemmon very close to Oak Lawn. There are several in North Oak Cliff within a few blocks of Bishop Arts. Either this is a genius real estate play, a good way for people to launder money, or the businesses just make a ton of money because it costs next to nothing to run them and people pay cash (maybe it's all three). 

xdarkridex
xdarkridex

Schutze, when you're on, you lift this little rag up from the blog-like doldrums it usually lives in.  This is a SOLID piece.  You actually did your legwork like, I dunno, a JOURNALIST, and got the facts here.  Extremely well done.  Don't give the bastards an inch on this.

marvin
marvin

The strong suggestion of the piece and an accompanying photograph was that Dale Davenport, an owner of the business, is a drug dealer.


The caption of "accompanying photograph" is:
"Dale Davenport photographed in front of his car wash, Jim's Car Wash, on November 30, 2004, after his business, located in the 2700 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in south Dallas, was first deemed a public nuisance. He posted this sign in an effort to discourage certain nefarious activities."


I don't see that as making him out to be a drug dealer.

pak152
pak152

excellent job Jim

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

The very, very good -- and angry -- Jim writing today.

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

You know where you can find drugs really easy in a parking spot and the po-po also doing nothing...The parking spot behind Melios on Greenville...so yep, all the hipsters and their babies who are heading to Trader Joes, trader Joes and HGSply for brunch are parking next to and walking right by open drug deals. You don't have to look hard, its usually 2-3 guys parked in the last row and cars come up, get out, a little handshake happens inside the vehicle then they keep going their way.


How about them apples


But what do they care, I mean a man was beaten to death out the front of Kush not too long ago a little drug dealing on the next block with a newly enlarged sidewalk takes all that away - right?

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Imagine if that place was "Kim's Korean Kimchee Karwash".

Man, then we'd have a riot on our hands.

ExCruceLeo
ExCruceLeo

Where's the drug dealer photo? He must have removed it

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

What kind of zany keystone cop bullshit is the temp (partial) barricading of somebodies private property, for a day, on a weekend?  So a bus is not impeded? What?  So the City blocks ingress/egress to an established business?  Was there a 10K run going by I didn't know about?

Ha!

I mean, what was supposed to be accomplished by that loopy police action?

Don't they have to show cause - more than the stated reason? to the landowner?  What about the civilian Police (oversight) commission? (do we have one?)

Maybe they should explain it to the Feds?  Or the our state's attorney general?

Somebody caused the ball to start rolling - who?   Why?

Because if the Davenports aren't the drug cartel that moron over at the Dallas Morning News says they are, and their car wash is not a hotbed of drug activity, it's time the taxpayer is awakened by the extraction of millions out of their ass.

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

As with the Sam's at Cityplace, this controversy could also be resolved by building a Waffle House.  I think we aren't being respectful enough of the healing powers of Waffle House and all that is smothered, covered, chunked, diced and capped.  I mean even FEMA utilizes the power of Waffle House.

mrpoizun
mrpoizun

@TheRuddSki So, you're saying the nearby drug-houses that the police ignore ARE properly zoned?

Tipster1908
Tipster1908

@TheRuddSki Funny how the city gets a lot more concerned about enforcement of its own rules when there is a prominent political donor who stands to make money from its doing so (Uber, all sorts of land grabs, etc). As for those of us commoners who'd just like to see some basic quality of life improvements that could be solved with a citation or two, we have to get to the back of the line.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@TheRuddSki Apparently the cops are enforcing the law arbitrarily, though.  We don't see them shutting down lemonade stands.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@gm0622

Really, this isn't anything that a sit down for conversation over a game of dominoes and a doobie wouldn't clear right up.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@gm0622

He can't (or won't) do that now.  He's already formed an opinion and verbalized.  In fact, unless I miss my guess, the 'ol Ed Board is circling the wagons as we speak.  They'll dig in.  And I think that's great.

Because those Stepford Wives NEVER take a stand until everyone has already agreed on the outcome and this one is open-ended.

Robberson drug them into a kill zone by lipping off.

Now I see Robberson is beginning to Moondance it back a little.  The Babes must see thin ice, which horrifies the Board.

But I think the DO should run a powerplay.  Eat 'em alive.  Put them and keep them on the defense and Davenport in the papers because that is the only way he is going to keep his business and his property.

What Robberson, and  now Bush, have accomplished is to reveal the method of attack the City is going to employ to conduct a taking.

The City has to prove Blight, as defined, before they can condemn (take) the property and convey it to another private person.

Mr. Bush's laundry list may prove "Blight".

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@bvckvs Not quite so slam dunk, since Davenport is potentially a "public figure" they would have to prove actual malice on DMN's part (rather than just being fucking stupid terrible reporters), which is a pretty high burden.


When "Sorry, we are just stupid" is a defense (and it is here) then DMN will probably skate.

marvin
marvin

@pak152  He claims the police say the exact opposite of what Schutze just reported, but he adds the clear CYA qualifier, "I only pulled what I could find quickly", so he can backpedal as necessary.

He includes two quotes from police reports as proof. "This area" seems kind of vague in the second quote.  It could mean that the carwash just happens to be in a high crime area, which is exactly the point Schutze is making:

“This carwash is a high crime area known for the sale and use of illegal narcotics.”

“This area is also a high drug and violent crime location in which individuals congregate at the location to use to traffic narcotics.”

JFPO
JFPO

That response was disgraceful.

roo_ster
roo_ster

What madness is this where folks wash their cars and hang out?

Mervis_Earl
Mervis_Earl

@BenS. I can't believe the guy didn't have enough sense to rotate his camera. Jeez dude.

doublecheese
doublecheese

@BenS. Looks like a good time.  People hanging out.  Families with their kids.  That's what a community ought to be like.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@BenS.

Looks like a festive day. Families not scared to bring the kids; lotta car cleaning going on; cruising to show off, which isn't illegal; and it looks like the guy chatting up the girl in front of the red car (at the end) is overcoming her negative body language, judging by her face.

Seriously, there's no nefarious activity there. What a crock to say otherwise.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@Montemalone

I've been mulling the combination of Kim's Korean Body Wash and "on our hands" all afternoon (slow day at work), but it's not happening. Maybe some video?

doublecheese
doublecheese

@holmantx I wonder what it must be like, as one of those cops, to realize as they are doing this that they are just goons for the city council.  

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

I can't believe that Dallas proper only has one Waffle House at 35 & Northwest Highway.  But the suburbs have Waffle Houses aplenty.  No wonder the suburbs have greater population and job growth. 

marvin
marvin

@JimSX @marvin I'm serious. Standing there with his arms crossed next to his sign, he looks like he's standing up to drug dealers. How many times has the DO used the same format for an underdog fighting back.

I'm not saying the DM story was fair, or that the Davenports aren't getting reamed by corrupt city politics.  I hope you keep fighting the city, on this and all the rest of Dallas' corruption and stupidity,  but to say Robberson suggested they're actual drug dealers is over the top.

BTW, I saw somebody in Dallas holding a Louisiana style funeral for the Trinity Toll Road on the local news last night. Couldn't tell where it was. Anybody know?

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

@JFPO The DMN was accused of lying and making things up by Jim.  How is providing backup for their editorials disgraceful?  Did they not use enough race-baiting or ad hominem attacks for your taste?

ghkyluhhje
ghkyluhhje

@Mervis_Earl Dude, agreed. Why the hell do phones even give you the option to shoot video that way?

BenS.
BenS.

@wcvemail @BenS. 


The police put up the barricades in that area, the sawhorses, to maintain traffic flow and order on Sundays. Otherwise things get clogged up really quickly. The video shows at least two families with small children, a pet dog and I can't see anyone drinking there.

mammym
mammym

@becoolerifyoudid If memory serves me right, there is a Waffle House close to Lakewood shopping center.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@becoolerifyoudid

Waffle House is one reason the weather's better in the 'burbs too.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@bvckvs @everlastingphelps I think we're on the same page -- I'm sympathetic to Davenport.  He would likely be a limited public figure, as a "business leader" and frankly as a result of his cooperation with Jim in publicising this issue.  (Cooperation isn't the same as collusion -- I just mean giving him interviews instead of "no comment.")


Actual malice isn't an unclimbable hill -- it's just steep.  If you could show something like an email from someone at the executive level of Belo telling him "write an article about this place being a drug emporium" or a showing of some sort of quid pro quo with an interested party, and you could get over that malice hurdle.  


Like I said, if it just comes down to DMN being shitty reporters, they probably skate.  Being a shitty reporter is still legal in America (despite Obama and Holder's attempts to criminalize reporting in general.)

JFPO
JFPO

Jim points out that the owners constantly cooperate with the police and often call the cops themselves. Jim never said the area was crime free. Tod's piece implies the Davenports turn a blind eye while profiting from drug sales, which is bullshit. Rudy's response was weak, vague and another attempt to mislead.

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