Dallas County Pays Mom $350K Over Constable Who Declined to Chase Her Sons' Murderer

When Naim Rasool Muhammad went on trial this spring for killing his two young sons -- an act for which he was sentenced to death -- local news outlets focused mainly on the brutality of the crime, and understandably so.

Muhammad kidnapped 5-year-old Naim and 3-year-old Elijah in August as their mother walked them to Naim's first day of kindergarten. He took the boys to a creek, where he ordered them to get into the water and "play like y'all swimming," then held their heads under until they drowned. Muhammad told the court he was scared that the boys' mother, Kametra Sampson, would take the boys away from him.

Hanging over that narrative, however, is a big "what if." Sampson, too, had been forced into Muhammed's car, but she jumped out at a red light after spotting a uniformed Dallas County constable. She explained the situation and pleaded for help.

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Payday Lenders Are Using Texas Prosecutors to Collect Their Bad Debts

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The payday lending industry in Texas has managed to wrap its tentacles around just about every level of government there is, repeatedly killing any move toward meaningful regulation on the part of the state Legislature, skirting rules set up by municipalities, Dallas included, aimed at curbing its worst abuses, and, now, getting county prosecutors -- the people Texans elect to lock up thieves and murderers and rapists and such -- to carry water debt-collection notices for it.

The practice was uncovered over the summer by the Texas Observer's Forrest Wilder, who has established himself as the bard of payday lending coverage in the state.

Here's how Wilder explains the situation.

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Dallas County Now Has Its Very Own Bulletproof, "Mine-Protected" Military SUV

Dallas County
Soon to be outfitted with Dallas County Sheriff's Office livery.
Now that the war in Iraq is officially over and the one in Afghanistan winding down, the Department of Defense found itself facing a conundrum. It had just spent billions of dollars buying heavily armored personnel carriers designed to stand up to insurgent attacks only to find that it had run out of wars to use them in.

The initial plan was to shove the vehicles, called MRAPS (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) into a warehouse and let them collect dust. That changed when someone decided that, having served so admirably overseas, it would be only just to bring the MRAPs stateside and deploy them in the domestic war on crime.

And so, for the past couple of months, news reports have been popping up announcing that places like Murfreesboro, Tennessee and Ohio State University have been receiving their very own military-grade armored SUVs.

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Collin County's Kenneth Maun is the Only Thing Standing Between the NTTA and Your Car

NTTA, meet Collin County Tax Assessor-Collector Kenneth Maun, aka your worst nightmare.
The North Texas Tollway Authority has had trouble in recent years of actually making drivers pay to use its roads. Hence the tens of millions of dollars in unpaid tolls and fees it says it's owed, hence its infamous list of the most egregious offenders, hence the lawsuits it began filing a few months ago.

The agency has had a much easier time navigating the Texas Legislature, where it persuaded lawmakers to ease its debt-collection efforts by giving it the power to impound the cars and block the vehicle registrations of unrepentant scofflaws. It's found equally compliant partners in Tarrant, Denton, and Dallas counties, where commissioners voted yesterday to allow NTTA's registration blocks.

With the taste of victory fresh, who knows what the agency might push for next? Garnishment of paychecks? Debtor's prison? Secretive NTTA black sites? The slope could get quite slippery.

See also: NTTA Will Soon Have the Power to Block Vehicle Registrations and Impound Cars

To do any of that, however, the NTTA will first have to reckon with Collin County Tax Assessor-Collector Kenneth Maun, who has established himself as the best friend of toll scofflaws since the agency did away with toll-booth arms.

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Dallas County Is Turning Its "White Only" Water Fountain Into a Multimedia Art Installation

Dallas County
Dallas County had long since forgotten what the metal plate above the water fountain in the Records Building was meant to conceal when, in 2003, it fell off. Even then, you had to be looking for it to notice the faded remnants of the "White Only" sign on the marble wall, or you did until commissioners marked the spot with a commemorative plaque over the objections of some black leaders.

The sign is still visible today, a way "to remind us of this unpleasant portion of our history," as it's phrased on the plaque. And now, since there can never be too much reminding, the county plans to turn the water fountain itself into a multimedia art installation documenting the fight for equality.

The plan isn't actually new. Artist Lauren Woods first pitched it to commissioners way back in 2005, envisioning a functioning water fountain that, when a thirsty passerby stopped for a drink, would project a 45-second montage of scenes from the civil rights struggle onto the wall above.

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Craig Watkins, Master of Literary Technique, Is Misquoting Twain and Comparing Local Courts to North Korea's

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District Attorney Craig Watkins has escaped from the contempt-of-court allegations that have dogged him for six months like Charlie Brown's personal rain cloud. A specially appointed judge -- a Republican from Wichita Falls who is far removed from Dallas County political intrigue -- ruled that the hearing at which he refused to testify, like the one he feigned sickness to skip, never should have happened. The Dallas Morning News details why here.

With that, the absurd legal cloud hovering over Watkins and his prosecution of Al Hill III for mortgage fraud seemed to dissipate. Except it wasn't a storm cloud; it was, in Watkins' words, a "tornado of injustice" (more on that in a second), and the absurdity is far from over.

The Morning News reported this afternoon that a Dallas appeals court judge rejected one of Watkins' key filings because it was submitted to the wrong court.

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As the Obama Administration Sues Texas Over Voter ID, Craig Watkins and Clay Jenkins Take to MSNBC

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and District Attorney Craig Watkins during an appearance Wednesday on MSNBC
Update at 11:43 a.m.: Attorney General Eric Holder officially has Dallas County's back:

Original post: On Tuesday, Dallas County Commissioners voted 3-2 to join Congressman Marc Veasey in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Texas' voter ID law. The decision, County Judge Clay Jenkins argued, was a necessary step toward protecting the voting rights of the estimated 220,000 Dallas County voters who lack an approved, state-issued ID, like a driver's license or concealed handgun permit.

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Richard Lee Barrett, Thrice Convicted of DWI, Drank and Got Behind the Wheel at Least 34 Times. His Probation Officers Did Nothing.

There's no argument that Richard Lee Barrett has a drinking problem. When Grand Prairie police picked him up for drunken driving in July 2007, he already had one DWI offense on his record. A second conviction brought with it a year-long probation, which he proceeded to violate after three days by drinking and driving once again.

The punishment for his third DWI conviction, a felony under Texas law, was somewhat harsher. He spent 10 days in jail, then enrolled in District Judge Tracy Holmes' strict DWI program to kick off his 10-year probation. He did well enough in the program, but his sobriety was short-lived after being discharged into the general probation system.

Over the course of about 18 months, the court-ordered ignition-locking device on his car detected alcohol in Barrett's system 34 times. The number might have been higher, but on at least one occasion, he drove a car that wasn't equipped with an alcohol-monitoring device. He also began taking hydrocodone.

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District Attorney Craig Watkins' Epic Quest to Use a Former Drug Dealer's Porsche Boxter

Rudolf Stricker
The car the district attorney wants to use is like this, except not in Germany.
District Attorney Craig Watkins' office wants a Porsche. They just won't say why.

"I can't ... give you a comment for the article," Watkins' spokesperson Debbie Denmon said when asked about item No. 15 on tomorrow's Dallas County Commissioners Court agenda:

Authorizing the acceptance of a 2001 Porsche Boxter for use by Investigators in the District Attorney's Office

Disclosing how the 12-year-old sports car, which belonged to a convicted steroids dealer, might be put to use might jeopardize future criminal investigations, Denmon suggested. So let's go back to the tape.

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Craig Watkins Says He's the Victim of a "Political Lynching" in Noose-Inspired Fundraising Pitch

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District Attorney Craig Watkins' reelection campaign has been considerably more difficult than expected, owing to the accusations that he prosecuted Hunt family scion Al Hill III for mortgage fraud at the behest of a wealthy political benefactor. The embarrassing parade of hearings and contempt charges, followed by more hearings and, most likely, more contempt charges, is enough to sour the opinion of even reliable Democrats.

The process is out of Watkins' control, but, rather than stand idly by while the hearings inevitably exhaust themselves, he's taking the lemons he's been handed, squeezing out the juice, stirring in sugar, water, and ice and hawking lemonade.

That's trickier than it sounds. First, you have to find a properly juicy lemon. In this case it was comments made by Bob Hinton, the special prosecutor in Watkins' contempt case, who remarked that "the DA has a core interest here to try to get Craig Watkins' head out of a noose."

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