Price’s threatening remarks are also well-known on the commissioners’ court. Last year, County Judge Lee Jackson snapped the microphone off—something Fox says he did often when Price started screaming at someone—when Price protested fellow Commissioner Chris Semos’ motion to approve an innocuous resolution honoring a group of war veterans. Price was angry that none of the veterans who had come to accept the honor were minorities. At one point, Price turned angrily to Semos and told him to take the resolution “and stick it up your ass.”
Price also has a documented history of making his point with guns. In 1972, long before the run-in with officer Robert Bernal, Price was arrested for attempted murder after he allegedly pulled a .22 caliber pistol from his car and shot a man in the right shoulder and the left index finger in a dispute over a woman. Although Price turned himself in immediately after the incident, telling police that he had hidden the pistol along a freeway, he now claims that the gun belonged to the other man and discharged accidentally. Price says he was no-billed by a grand jury. But those incidents, however disturbing, pale in comparison to what at least four women, three African-Americans and an Anglo, say they have experienced at Price’s hands. Three of them accuse Price of rape. The fourth says she begged her way out of a similar fate. One of the four, Price’s former girlfriend, claims she was frequently beaten by him. Price denies the allegations.
None of these women has ever gone to the police to report any of these incidents, and no charge of sexual assault has ever been filed against Price. None of the women would allow her name to be used for this story. All four say they fear coming forward, either because they are afraid of retribution from Price or because the publicity would mean terrible consequences for their careers and home lives.
One woman who says she was raped by Price is a former employee in Price’s office who still works for the county. She says the incident occurred at Price’s home on his birthday last April. Price had held a fundraiser the night before at the downtown Windows club, and the next day, she says, after the campaign contributions collected had been recorded in a ledger, Price asked her to bring him the money, which was about $4,000 in checks and cash.
The woman did not want to go. “He had touched me once in his office,” she says. “He had come up behind me, and he rubbed me on my behind. He said, ‘You know you like that.’ And I just said, ‘You have a problem,’ and I walked out.”
Still, the woman says, she felt obligated to do what Price asked of her. He had given her the job, she says, as a favor to her father, who was an old high school classmate of Betty Culbreath. When she got to his house, though, she left her car engine running so she would have an excuse not to linger.
Price insisted she come into the house. She agreed, but within two minutes, she says, he grabbed her from behind, put her in a chokehold, tore off her stockings, and pulled down her underwear. He entered her from behind, she says, and she never saw his face during the attack. “He’s an animal,” she says, “and he didn’t even sound the same. His voice got really deep and strange. It was like a demon or something.”
No more than 20 minutes later, the woman says, she was back in her car. “I was so shocked that I didn’t think to go to the hospital. I just went home. And I remember my parents sitting in the den, and I had been crying on the way home, and they asked me what was wrong. I didn’t say anything. I took off all my clothes and just threw them in the corner and got in bed.”
To these allegations, Price responds: “That’s an unequivocal lie. And I’ll take a polygraph if you give her one.”
The woman has since told her boyfriend, her parents, Judge Brashear, and one other county official about the attack. Brashear, an admitted critic of Price, says he had trouble believing a particular physical aspect of the woman’s story, and told her so. “I did not make an evaluation of whether or not the charge was correct,” he says. “I was going to leave that to the DA’s office. She said to me that she wanted to press charges but was afraid to.”
Price also has a documented history of making his point with guns.
The other county official says he advised the woman not to press charges because “I thought she was just a little, bitty person and could be really hurt, and when it came down to it, it was her word against his.”
Price’s accuser also told Culbreath about the incident, she says, in June. Her work was suffering, and Price had begun criticizing and belittling her in front of everyone. When she revealed to Culbreath what had happened, she says, the administrative assistant took action immediately. “She said that I obviously needed to leave the office,” the woman recalls. “She said she’d find me another job in the county.”
Which she did. Culbreath, however, says she did so strictly because of the woman’s poor job performance, not because she believed the story about the rape. “I did not believe it, and I don’t believe it,” says Culbreath, who maintains that the rape story came up only after she cited the woman for eight mistakes on the job. “I wrote her up in June, and that’s when this bullshit came up,” Culbreath says. “If that was the truth, why was there nothing said?"
At least one county official, however, says Culbreath specifically described the woman’s transfer as being necessary because of “advances made by John.” Culbreath denies saying that.
A second woman describes a violent, prolonged relationship with Price. When she was approached for this story, she agreed to talk about her relationship with Price, but only on the grounds that her name not be used because she now has a good job and is happily married.
She says her entire relationship with Price was abusive and that over the course of several years, he struck her repeatedly and often forced her to have sex against her will. Often, she says, he would pin her to the bed and beat her on her thighs and buttocks until she cried. One time, she says, he left such a serious bruise on her thigh that she canceled a doctor’s appointment to avoid being asked questions about it.
“Looking back I realize how stupid I was because I talk to women all the time who take the abuse, and before I went out with John, I never understood it,” she says. “Now I do. He never did anything where he disfigured me, but he was physically abusive and then very apologetic. He can snap like that.”
“I don’t even believe you’re asking me about shit like that,” Price says when asked about the woman’s story. “It’s so damn wild. The stuff is wild. I mean, it’s wild.”
Fifteen years ago, while Price was separated but not yet divorced, he doggedly pursued an Anglo woman he met at work. Though she spurned his advances for months, his repeated requests for a date finally wore her down. “He was a very charming man,” she says. “Very nice. Very friendly. And I was trying to be the unbiased, unprejudiced person trying to get to know blacks more.”
They saw each other once, she said. She invited him to her apartment, which she shared with her two children, for a glass of wine. But to her shock, as soon as he came into her apartment, he accosted her. “He did rape me, and it did happen,” she says. “I would not have allowed it at all—I would have somehow gotten out of the apartment if my two kids were not asleep in the apartment. I was concerned about what would happen to them.”
Although she was outraged, she did not go to the police, she says, because her children and her mother would have been shocked and upset to learn that she had even invited a black man into her home.
When she was contacted for this story, the woman said her anger had long since dissipated, and if she were to come forward now it would only “disrupt my life at a time when I really don’t need it.” Still, she added, “I’m having trouble with myself for not coming forward ... Here I am in a position to do something.”
When asked to respond, Price says. “You know I don’t drink, that’s No. 1. I mean, you know, give me a break.” Pressed to answer yes or no to the question of rape, he says, “Give me a break.” Asked again, he says, “I don’t even know why you’re asking me anything.”
Another woman, another former employee of Price’s, says he came to her apartment one night when she was still working for him to return some money that he had borrowed to buy tickets for a political function.
Price asked to see her apartment and, thinking nothing of it, she showed him around. When they got to the bedroom, she says, he grabbed her and pushed her on the bed, pinning her down. He began groping her, but she twisted away from him and ran into the bathroom and locked the door. When she realized that he wasn’t going to leave her apartment, she came out of the bathroom and tried to act as though nothing had happened. This time, she says, Price pinned her to the kitchen floor. The whole time he was on top of her, she says, he was like a man possessed. “His eyes were red, and his face was all contorted,” she says. “He had a gravelly voice that wasn’t natural at all—it was real scary ... I started crying, and I was pleading and begging and pleading, and he finally let me go. When he got up and went to leave, he laughed it off. He said, ‘Hey, you know I was just kidding.’”
The woman doesn’t believe that Price was kidding. “I don’t think he likes women,” she says. “I don’t think he likes women at all.” The woman says she never considered going to the authorities about the incident. She did decide to leave her job, though, and she is now successfully employed elsewhere. She says any woman would be a fool to pursue criminal charges against Price.
“John Wiley Price can get any number of credible witnesses to say, ‘Why does this man have to rape this woman? He has plenty of women throwing themselves at him,'” she says. “And it would be true. He knows that.”
Again, Price has little to say about the woman’s story. “I’ve done nothing like that,” he says.
Sexual assault is a very serious charge, one that has not been formally lodged against Price and might never be. At this point, no one is willing to discuss it on the record. But the people who work around Price at the commissioners’ court are starting to hear about the allegations. In fact, one county official was recently informed, on a confidential, FYI basis—in case legal action was ever taken—that Price had, on several occasions, cornered other women employees (“literally upon being introduced”) in a stairway or elevator and fondled them.
• • •
Zan Holmes, Price’s pastor at St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in South Dallas, is dressed impeccably, as usual. He peers through his rimless spectacles soberly, hands folded in his lap, and admits that he has been worried about John Wiley Price this past year.
It’s not his church-going that’s the problem, Holmes says. Price has always been one of the “early risers” at St. Luke’s, attending the 3 a.m. service and traditionally being the first to arrive. He grabs a collection basket when the ushers need a hand; he gives up his seat when he sees that women or elderly people have to stand; he clothes the needy; he aids the sick.
Bu outside the church—out there in the world that Price finds so unjust—he has not found himself to be so charitable. He has been impatient and inconsolable. He has done things that Holmes could not understand, like putting a gun to an off-duty police officer’s head. As a result, people who have always supported him—people in Holmes’ parish—are starting to feel uncomfortable. “A lot of his friends don’t like to see him do some of these things because they don’t want to lose him over what they consider to be a minor issue,” Holmes says carefully. “John is a smart, bright, capable person who has the energy to go along with that. And they don’t want to see that wasted because of something minor like breaking a windshield wiper. And who say to him, ‘Let other people do that if it becomes necessary. We need to save you for major battles.’” But Price does not seem inclined, if the last 12 months are any indication, to save himself.
Holmes likes to think that his friend’s eruptive, erratic behavior stems from a struggle he may be having to develop a personal theology and philosophy of life. Meaning, Holmes says, “his understanding of God and life—and his purpose in the midst of that. Martin Luther King Jr. had [that understanding]. Malcolm X was developing it when he died.”
If Price doesn’t find it soon, Holmes concedes, it may be too late. Not for Congress, which the popular press loves to speculate about. Not for a state senate seat or statewide office.
At this point, after such a volatile year, John Wiley Price’s own campaign treasurer, Holmes, is deeply worried about something far more mundane than Congress.
“I think a major concern is the commissioners’ court,” Holmes says. “I think there are people who realize how vulnerable that position is. And he has the ability to function extremely well in that position and do a lot of good.”
He pauses and sighs, in spite of himself. “That always gets lost in this other stuff.”