Former Hutchins Mayor Artis Johnson Is Clear of Criminal Charges, but Their Damage Lingers

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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.

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Anita Connally Got Dallas ISD to Crack Down on Sports Corruption, and Then She Got Fired

Categories: Cover Story

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Sebron Snyder
"I didn't wait for Brett Shipp," Anita Conally says.

One night in early March, Anita Connally was at home in Waxahachie, watching the 10 o'clock news, when a story struck her cold. Troy Causey, a standout basketball player at Wilmer-Hutchins High School, had been beaten to death in front of his house in Southeast Oak Cliff. Motive was anyone's guess; his attackers – a neighbor had spotted three – had disappeared into an alley while Causey's blood pooled on Cinnamon Oaks Drive.

There was no escaping the stupid tragedy of it: a young man, barely 18, his life snuffed out before it could really begin. Connally, a mother and grandmother herself, felt a surge of maternal sorrow as Causey's mother, Tammy Simpson, appeared on the TV screen, grieving for her son and pleading for his killers to be brought to justice. But then the mom made a passing reference to Causey's enrolling at Wilmer-Hutchins to play basketball, and Connally's sorrow quickly yielded to professional instinct.

"When I got to work the next day," Connally says, "I didn't wait for Brett Shipp." (Shipp is a WFAA reporter known for feasting on high school sports malfeasance.) "I was already on it."

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The Last 911 Call: A Mentally Ill Dallas Man and the Cops Who Saved Him, Until They Didn't

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Mark Graham
David Harrison, far left, stayed close with his brother, Jason, from when he was a boy (left) until the day he was shot dead by police. Now he wants answers.

The sanctuary of St. Paul United Methodist Church, a red-brick anachronism surrounded by the skyward steel and concrete of downtown Dallas, is small and tight — not nearly big enough to accommodate the swarm of people that poured into the city's oldest black church on a warm Monday night in August. Grieving family members and community activists milled in entryways and spilled from pews into aisles, their eyes fixed on the chancel, where the city's police chief and the county's district attorney and sheriff stood at a table, looking down and out onto the crowd about to boil over.

Nine days earlier, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, had shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who'd organized that night's town hall meeting, maintained that his office had planned the event months before, but the timing was auspicious for many of the people assembled there, who hoped to talk about their own sons and brothers.

Watkins grabbed the microphone and walked to the platform's edge. "We're not Missouri," he said.

David Harrison sat up front that night. Tall and broad-shouldered, with a pockmarked face, a trim goatee and glasses, 44-year-old Harrison had never been much of an activist. But ever since one day a couple of months prior — the "game-changer," as he called it — he hadn't been able to concentrate on his job at a construction company. He played the events of 11:23 to 11:26 a.m. June 14 in his mind, then rewound them and played them again, trying to make sense of what happened. But he couldn't. The man police described in their incident report wasn't the brother he'd known for 38 years. His brother was gentle, nonthreatening. How did he do what they said he had?

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Jail Visits, Deion Sanders, Frisco and Vaginal Mesh: Updates from 2014 Stories

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Justin Renteria
The news just keeps rolling on, and not every story has a neat ending. Sometimes it pays to stop and take a look back to see what's happened with stories we reported during the year. That time is the day after Christmas, when all the new newsmakers are sneaking in an extra day off. So here are Amy Silverstein's updates from 2014.

Dallas Senator Tries To Keep In-Person Visitation at Jails
Next year people will be able to skip the lines at the Lew Sterrett Jail and talk to their loved ones from home, through a video chatting software. The catch is that it's going to cost $10 for a 20-minute visit, and the company installing the software, Securus, really wants to eliminate in-person visits to push everyone to pay that fee. At least five other counties in Texas have already eliminated in-person visits after they installed Securus' software.

When the Dallas County Commissioners voted to approve the video visitation contract with Securus in November, they promised verbally that Dallas would be the exception and keep in-person visits just as they are. But the written contract says otherwise, vaguely suggesting that Dallas County will have to restrict its in-person visits so that Securus can make back its money. The final decision on jail visitation is ultimately up to the Dallas County Sheriff's Office, whose spokesman never returned our messages inquiring about video visitation.


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Adios, Mofo: We're Gonna Miss You, Rick Perry, and Your Great Hair

Categories: Cover Story

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Paul Sancya/AP
The defining moment for presidential candidate Rick Perry. Oops.
BY DIANNA WRAY

The hair has been the great constant.

For the past 14 years, the state of Texas has been run by the guy with the best head of hair in professional politics. Now we are reaching the end of an era. Come January 20, Governor Rick Perry will leave office after serving the longest gubernatorial term in the state's history, roughly 5,110 days. Whether he follows through on his threat to go into quiet California-Dreamin' retirement or takes the more likely path and tries another quixotic run at the White House, one thing is certain: We're going to miss that gorgeous dome of hair and the strange and wondrous mind beneath it.

Perry has been many things to us in Texas -- an Aggie, a Sam Rayburn-inspired Democrat, a state legislator, a more-conservative-than-your-most-conservative-relative Republican, agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor and governor -- but he has also been something infinitely more priceless. Dear Lord, even when his policies have been the stuff of nightmares, Perry has been entertaining.

We could talk about how Perry consolidated power to turn the relatively weak governor's office into a concentration of political strength never before seen in Texas. We could ruminate on the alleged Texas Miracle that he takes so much credit for and point out that despite all those jobs, Texas actually isn't all that remarkable where the economy is concerned.

We could mention the Texas Enterprise Fund, the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas and the many questions regarding the finances and management of such Perry-established entities. There's his reluctance to tap into the Rainy Day Fund while he's happily accepted brutal cuts to the education budget. Heck, we could go on for ages about the poverty rates as well as the children and poor who don't receive health care. We could discuss Perry's refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a decision that has left thousands uninsured, although the federal government would have footed the bill until 2016 and covered about 90 percent of the expansion costs for a number of years after that. And we could go into the corporations to which Perry has given so many tax breaks, but that's not what this is about.

It's been a long, strange trip, and it's coming to an end. Yes, after 14 years, Perry is finally leaving office, and now we can't help waxing sentimental. The corn dogs. The guns. The strange political optics. The habit of opening his mouth and saying things that don't make much sense before showing the world his pearly whites -- evidence that Perry has no idea he's once again "stepped in it."

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Captive Audience: Counties and Private Businesses Cash in on Video Visits at Jails

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Justin Renteria
Kristina Leisey's former fiance sits in jail in Hopkins County on a drug-possession charge, his link to the world outside a telephone and frequent calls to her. "He's trying to call every day, sometimes two or three times a day," Leisey says. "He doesn't understand how much it adds up after awhile."

The jail telephones are operated by Securus, a Dallas-based corporation that is a major player on the tech side of the for-profit prison industry. The company is popular with county and state governments for its ability to raise money through jail phone calls. It's not popular with the people who actually take the calls, the families and friends of inmates, who find their bank accounts taking hits from a system that is expensive and confusing to use.

To receive the calls, Leisey must deposit money into a prepaid account through Securus. Calls last 15 minutes each, at the flat rate of $4.95. Yet the calls often get dropped before the 15 minutes are up, Leisey says, and $4.95 is deducted from her account regardless. She has tried to call Securus to tell them about the problem, but the telecommunications giant never seems to answer its own phones. "I can never get through to them, ever," she says. The last time she called, she put her cell on speaker as she did her laundry. After 23 minutes, she gave up.

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How the Low T Industry Is Cashing in on Dubious, and Perhaps Dangerous, Science

Categories: Cover Story

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Illustration by Jeff Drew
Sellers of testosterone therapy play -- some say prey -- on men's insecurities.
Alex Truman didn't think something was wrong until he returned to the gym. Before fathering his two kids, he worked out regularly and even made an early career of exercise. He had two degrees in health and fitness and ran gyms on the East Coast before he moved to Dallas and got into sales. Lean and square-jawed, he knew his body. But in his late 30s, it was betraying him. At 37, he was taking cholesterol medicine. "I didn't have an awful diet," he says, "but I liked beer, I liked pizza." He yearned to feel better.

He headed back to the weights and machines where he'd spent much of his 20s. He'd lift and lift, but something was different. Back in the day, all his effort would produce tangible results: bigger, defined muscles in his arms and legs, more strength and less fat. Now, results like that eluded him. "I'd go five to six days a week," Truman says, "and not see any progress." He'd go running and wear out easily. "It was really pissing me off because I had it before."

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The Rise and Fall of the Biggest Illegal Sports-Betting Ring in Dallas History

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BY SEAN CHAFFIN
One morning in 2011, just after sunrise, a swarm of federal agents rolled quietly down a neatly manicured cul-de-sac in Southlake, the city police's SWAT alongside them. They gathered outside the home of their target, a $750,000 spread with five bedrooms, five bathrooms and a swimming pool, all sitting on a tree-lined half-acre lot in perhaps Dallas' most idyllic suburb. Around 7, they knocked on the door, and waited.

There was no made-for-TV chaos, no upturned tables or scattering underlings. After a brief wait, the man they were there for, 57-year-old Albert Sidney Reed, approached the door, sleep still in his eyes. He was in his underwear.

Reed's teenage son looking on, police calmly handcuffed their target, and black-clad SWAT officers shuffled inside to sweep the 5,250-square foot house. When the all clear was given several minutes later, Reed was un-cuffed and allowed to dress. He sat in a chair inside for four hours as investigators sifted through his belongings, looking for proof of what they already knew.

About an hour into the search, another IRS agent stumbled across a satchel in Reed's SUV and shuffled through its contents: printouts of wagers, collection notes, business expenses, printouts of how much his betting operation profited during football season, even notes from a big meeting upper-level owners in the organization had recently conducted. Later, he made sure to introduce himself to the satchel's owner.

"I'm Special Agent Mark Parsons with the Internal Revenue Service," he said. "We're investigating the Global International Corporation bookmaking operation, and you and I are going to get to know each other pretty well over the next six months. You can make it good on yourself -- or hard on yourself."


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A Trip to California for Legal Medical Marijuana Brings Relief to Kids from CannaMoms

Categories: Cover Story

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Brian Stauffer

BY ANGELICA LEICHT
Houston Press

The last we'd heard from Renee Petro, the Florida pot advocate whose story was highlighted in our recent feature on medical marijuana refugees, the pint-sized parent was still fighting to obtain cannabis for her son, Branden, a FIRES sufferer.

Branden's debilitating seizures were spiraling out of control, and like the other parents in our story, Renee found herself caught between conflicting state laws and ideologies on medical marijuana. Traditional treatments weren't working for Branden, and in Florida -- much like Texas -- when it came to matters of medical marijuana, her hands were tied.

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Medical Marijuana's Promise of Relief Lures Desperate Parents and Patients to Flee Texas

Categories: Cover Story

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Brian Stauffer
(Editor's note: This week's cover story comes courtesy of our sister paper, the Houston Press. Visit here for more stories by reporter Angelica Leicht.)

BY ANGELICA LEICHT

Sitting cross-legged on the floor in her apartment outside of Houston, Faith's mother looks over at the toddler repeatedly as she talks. There are no physical indicators that signal the start of a seizure, but Faith's mother can tell one is on its way.

Everything about raising Faith involves watching and waiting, and today is no different.

Suddenly, Faith's mom jumps up, her words stalling mid-sentence, and makes her way to the mat where the chocolate-haired child is lying. She plops down next to her daughter, gives her moon face and chubby-cherub limbs a once-over, and places a hand across her tiny chest, feeling for any sign of what's to come.

It's an unnerving ritual, the watching and waiting, but Faith's mom can feel what is happening in her own bones. She knows that Faith is about to seize.

Slowly, the toddler's eyes begin to flicker. The gut-wrenching convulsions quickly follow, working their way up her tiny body, while the anxiety that has worn premature lines across her mom's forehead works its way into sheer terror.

Fear fills the room, and she yells out to no one in particular.

"It's a seizure," she says. "Faith is having a seizure."

Seizures are nothing new to the family -- they've been happening since Faith, now 2, was about 4 months old -- but they are terrifying just the same. There is no respite from the epilepsy for the child, and modern mainstream medicine has no solutions for the young family.

Until recently, Faith's parents, who have asked that we not use any of their family's names, would call 911 and take her to the emergency room, where doctors would give her antiseizure drugs. The drugs didn't work -- they never worked -- yet the doctors would try anyway.

With the fear of what's to come -- Dravet Syndrome only worsens as children grow -- Faith's parents have decided to go an alternative route. They're ready to break the law for their daughter, and this means getting their hands on some cannabis oil.

Treating medical patients -- children or others -- with cannabis is illegal in Texas, and they could lose custody of their daughter for it, despite the clinical evidence of the drug's efficacy. But Faith could lose her life if they don't get a handle on these seizures.

Losing Faith is an unfathomable thought.


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