An Advocate for the Sexually Abused Demands Answers from Prestonwood Baptist Church

Categories: Cover Story

Dylan Hollingsworth
Amy Smith, an advocate for the sexually abused, wants Prestonwood Baptist Church to open up about a case involving a former minister there.

The letter was anonymous, just like other warnings that came before it. In late January, it arrived in the mailboxes of advocates who work on behalf of Christian sex-abuse victims. For 26 pages, it offered a rambling defense of a place that shouldn't need one — Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Plano mega-church with 37,000 members, three campuses, decades of mostly good publicity and a celebrity pastor named Jack Graham.

But for the last several years, the church has come under scrutiny from a small, vocal group of Christian critics for its handling of child sexual abuse. None of the critics has been more effective than Amy Smith, the daughter of a former Prestonwood deacon. Five years ago, Smith alerted a church in Mississippi that a pastor on its staff had been quietly accused of child molestation at Prestonwood decades before.

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Across the Calatrava, David Jensen Learns Just How Dirty a Fight with Dallas City Hall Can Get

Mark Graham
David Jensen outside his West Dallas property, next to the dotted line where it will likely be taken for a street widening, though the city won't tell him as much.
The city calls its plan for street improvements in West Dallas "The Three-Hole Punch." But for David Jensen, who owns a warehouse on those streets, it's a sucker punch.

Three years ago Jensen, a 62-year-old Harley-riding semi-retired fine-art handler, started seeing plans for a major rebuilding of the streets all around his small warehouse at Herbert and Bedford streets, four blocks west of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. He lives in the 52-year-old structure and had planned on spending his golden years there. The new street maps caught his eye.

"Ever since I started seeing these plans," he says, "I have been asking people to keep me in the loop."

Nobody kept him in the loop. There was no loop. Even though the public process prescribed by law for the closing and realignment of streets has never been launched, Jensen already has a bureaucratic knife in his back -- a shiv with no prints.

That's how City Hall rolls.

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After a Teen's Overdose, the Hunt for Someone to Hold Responsible: Her Heroin Dealer

Categories: Cover Story

Dylan Hollingswoth
Suzanne Seward with a photo of her daughter, Cassidy.

Rebecca Graves, a detective with the Grapevine police, was driving back to the station one day in 2012 when she heard the call from dispatch: Possible overdose off Holly Street, officer assistance requested. Graves, an eight-year veteran of the force, usually worked violent crimes. But Holly was just a few blocks away, so she steered her cruiser in that direction.

The victim, an 18-year-old woman named Cassidy Seward, was already in the back of an ambulance. Paramedics had found her in the bathroom, the shower still running, her body turning blue. They'd loaded her onto the stretcher and, after Graves arrived, continued trying to revive her. Her 21-year-old sister Samantha was standing outside, weeping into the phone. Their mother, Suzanne, was on the other end.

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Self-Driving Cars, Robotic Medicine and Big, Big Data. Welcome to Tomorrow, Texas.

Categories: Cover Story

Matt Chase

A healthy lung lives in a bottle at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. It's the rather extraordinary brainchild of Dr. Joan Nichols, who accomplished the bioengineering feat without any grants because everyone doubted it could be done.

Nichols is the associate director of research at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where she leads a 15-person team experimenting on a living lung created from human tissue. They used lungs that were from a pair of children who died of trauma and unsuitable for transplant. Nichols' team stripped cells from one lung, leaving behind a scaffolding of the lung's collagen and elastin. Then they reseeded it with cells salvaged from the other lung and immersed it in a nutrient solution.

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The Wheels Keep Spinning for the Last of Dallas' Bike Messengers

Categories: Cover Story

Can Turkyilmaz
Bike courier Christina Jones

In the elevator of a sleek Dallas office building indistinguishable from any other downtown or uptown, an elderly businesswoman with a head of teased blond hair stares at Christina Jones. Dressed in jeans, with her hair pulled back in a no-frills ponytail and a bicycle helmet in hand, Jones looks like an athlete who took a wrong turn into the stuffy corporate building. "Are y'all on bikes?" the woman asks. Jones has been riding around in the misty cold since 8 a.m., first commuting to get her morning coffee and then making 13 stops in a three-hour stretch. The rides started relatively short, a mile or less, but long elevator trips, searches for the right employee for delivery or pickup, and even locking and unlocking her bike, soak up time. By 1 p.m. she still hasn't eaten lunch.

"You're crazy," the woman in the elevator says, before paying Jones what sounds like a compliment: At least the cycling is keeping her fit. Jones thanks her and says that she looks trim, too. The woman says nothing, so Jones repeats herself. The woman still says nothing.

"I have a health issue," the businesswoman finally responds, coldly, breaking an awkward silence as the elevator doors open.

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

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

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

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

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

perrydebate_121114_AP_Paul Sancya.jpg
Paul Sancya/AP
The defining moment for presidential candidate Rick Perry. Oops.

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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