Dylan Hollingsworth Former Hutchins Mayor Artis Johnson
The legal event called criminal indictment is a familiar theme in the news of any given day: It's the step where a grand jury formally accuses a person of a crime and thereby launches the process that will lead either to a trial or a plea of guilty in some kind of bargain. But what is it like to be indicted? What is it like to be indicted if you believe you are innocent?
This cavernous place with shades drawn against the winter sun is the living room of Artis Johnson, 64-year-old former mayor of Hutchins, a hamlet on the southern cuff of Dallas County. His house, small and tidy, reflects the masculine tastes of its bachelor owner. On the wall directly in front of me is a flat-screen television, just above a desk carrying a computer and various cable TV boxes. Behind me is a small cast-iron wood stove, the source of heat on this cold slate-gray afternoon.
Johnson sits on a sofa to my left, a solid man in a black three-piece suit. I am here to talk with him about his indictment last March on charges of criminal conspiracy and abuse of official capacity. The original charges returned by a grand jury were for felony offenses, eventually knocked down to misdemeanors. At the end of last year, in the waning hours of Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins' tenure in office, all charges against Johnson and nine other Hutchins city employees were dropped.
I have no idea what the truth was or is about the other employees. I never believed the charges against Johnson — a two-bit opinion on my part except that I am familiar with the political context. At one point Johnson was at the center of the "Inland Port" controversy about a huge and star-crossed shipping and warehousing project that I have followed closely for the better part of a decade. We'll come back to that.More »