A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Local News

Leading Off (10/1/20)

| 3 hours ago

Woman Goes for Ice Cream, Gets Shot in the Face, and Gets Put on Hold. On September 6, a Dallas woman went on an ice cream run to the CVS near Trinity Groves. When she walked back to her car, the man parked beside her shot her and then drove off. The woman called 911 twice: the first time she heard silence on the line; the second time she was put on hold. She ended up driving herself home so that her fiancé could take her to the hospital. DPD has acknowledged issues with the 911 call center, which currently has only 69 of its usual 90 call taker positions filled. The call center’s goal is to answer 911 calls in less than 10 seconds. In August, that was true 95 percent of the time. In September, only 83 percent of calls were answered that fast. Officials said that in addition to causing recruitment and retention issues for the department, the pandemic also caused the call center to split employees between two locations to allow for physical distancing. However, the 911 operators are supposed to be moved back to one location today.

American Airlines Will Start Furloughs and Layoffs for 19,000 Employees. That amounts to about 16 percent of the company’s workforce. CEO Doug Parker had hoped that federal aid would come through before the Payroll Support Program of the CARES Act expired today, but as of last night, no agreement had been reached in Congress. The airline has already received more than $4 billion in grants and $7 billion in loans, amounting to more than $300,000 per employee. Parker has told Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin that if a deal for aid is reached soon, he’ll reverse course and reinstate the impacted employees.

Coronavirus Cases Continue to Rise, and a New Treatment Is Being Tested Locally. Dallas County saw 249 new confirmed cases and two deaths yesterday. “The fall can lead to a good situation with the weather cooling and more opportunities to space out outdoors,” said County Judge Clay Jenkins. “However, over the last two weeks, increased capacities at retail establishments and a letting down of the guard at functions at home, along with some outbreaks at schools (although those numbers have been manageable), and a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 positive cases in people 18-22, both in college and not in college, has led to the stop of our improvement. These increases now threaten to push us back into the sort of numbers that we saw in August if we don’t all work together to make smart decisions.” Meanwhile, researchers at Baylor Scott & White will be the first in the world to administer remdesivir through a nebulizer. Previously, the antiviral drug was only available via injection. The blind study, which will be administered at emergency rooms over a period of five consecutive days, will be conducted at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, Baylor Scott & White Medical Center at Irving, and Baylor Scott & White Medical Center at College Station. “It’s the Wayne Gretzky model of COVID,” Robert Gottlieb, a cardiologist and principal investigator in Baylor’s treatment trials, told the DMN. “If you don’t take a shot, generally you don’t score.”

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Local News

My Book, The Accommodation, Is Coming Out Again. I Wonder Why.

| 18 hours ago

Last week Deep Vellum Publishing Company, a small distinguished nonprofit Dallas publisher, announced it will re-publish my 1987 book, The Accommodation, about the racial history of Dallas. I have been thinking about it all week, ever since I found out.

First of all, the re-publishing of the book has precious little to do with me. Years ago I conveyed the rights to the book to Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. There’s a whole personal back-story there about why I did that and why he and I had a falling out and why he sat on the rights for so long. (Ed. Note: Jim explained this peculiarity to us on our EarBurner podcast, back in the early months of the pandemic. Listen here.)

But you know what? This week when I was pondering, I decided his and my personal stories about this are not all that interesting anymore. Commissioner Price and I are two old guys who should get over it. I hope somewhere in this new adventure a moment will arrive for us to shake hands again. But much more interesting things are in play right now than our personal feud – more important things to talk about.

I was inspired to write my book by one specific moment in my life. On the evening of August 20, 1984, when it was still 97 degrees outside, I sat in the over-air-conditioned Dallas Convention Center listening to the late W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. He was delivering a typically flouncy long-winded invocation to the Republican National Convention that was about to nominate Ronald Reagan to his second term as president.

Expressed entirely in cowardly euphemisms and dog-whistles, Criswell’s message was that Dallas was a White Jesus town, a city that had never taken the boot off the neck of the Black man, had never allowed riots and uprisings like those that had shredded the rusting decadent metropolises of the northeast. The path to salvation for the rest of the nation, he said, was for everybody to be more like Dallas, which meant implicitly that some weak-sister cities might need to hike up their trousers and put the boot back on the neck.

I was appalled. And I don’t mean the riots back up where I had come from six years earlier had not been terrible. They did deep lasting damage. What appalled me was Criswell’s proposition that we go backward, that we reverse course and return to … what?

What? That was the question. What was the past here? Where would Criswell’s road back take us? What kind of town awaited us behind that deeply shadowed bend in the road?

To cut to the chase, I spent long evenings over the course of a couple of years researching that question in what is now called the Dallas History and Archives Division of the Dallas Public Library. A team of expert librarian-scholars helped me overcome some of my own dearth of scholarly training as I pursued this singular quest.

By the way, if you want a more comprehensive look at the history of Dallas, you should read Darwin Payne’s book published in 2000, “Big D: Triumphs and Troubles of an American Supercity in the 20th Century.” If you want a keen appraisal of what the city’s all about right now, go to Jamie Thompson’s new book, “Standoff: Race, Policing, and a Deadly Assault That Gripped a Nation.”

My book had a narrow focus. If the nation did what Criswell had urged, if we went backwards on race, where would we wind up?

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Local News

Leading Off (9/30/20)

| 23 hours ago

Coronavirus Cases Skyrocket; Let’s Hope They’re Backlogged. Yesterday, while you were stressing over the future of our nation, Dallas County announced 789 new coronavirus cases. That’s the most in months. Of those, two-thirds came from the state’s reporting lab. And it’s the last day of the month. “Keep in mind that this is the next to the last day of the month of September and we have no way of knowing whether these cases were from the last two weeks or from early September,” Jenkins said in a written statement. Our seven day rolling average is up to 307, up from about 240 the week before. Labor Day was about three weeks ago, so let’s hope this was a reporting problem and not a jump in cases like we saw during Memorial Day. I’ve seen a lot of loosened behavior out in public, so let’s wear the masks and stay away from indoor settings as much as possible.

Jean Family Not Invited to Be Like Bo Day. An invitation to Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson’s Be Like Bo Day proclamation press conference never made it to the Jean family. September 29 should’ve been Botham Jean’s 29th birthday; he was killed two years ago by a Dallas police officer who entered his apartment thinking it was her own and believed Jean to be an intruder. Johnson’s office told NBC 5 that attendance was limited due to the pandemic and that Jean’s pastor had been notified and was in attendance. The Jean family happened to be in Dallas this week, reflecting on the work done by Botham’s eponymous foundation and celebrating his birthday. Here is a quote from Allison Jean, Botham’s mother: “I don’t know what you want to call it but I see it as gross disrespect. I hate to see people use my son’s name, just for the publicity, just for the optics — that disrespects his family.”

Shelley Luther Makes the Runoff. Luther, who rose to prominence for violating a public health order during the height of the pandemic, earned 32 percent of the vote. She’ll face fellow Republican Drew Springer in the runoff for state Sen. Pat Fallon’s seat, which he vacated to run for congress.

Carpenter Park Groundbreaking is Today. The 5.6-acre park should take about 18 months to build. It’ll be near Live Oak and Pacific and will house the first basketball court in downtown Dallas. And Robert Irwin’s landmark Portal Park Piece (Slice) sculpture will return to its home. 

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Nature & Environment

Shingle Mountain May Not Be Long for this World, After All

| 2 days ago

The city manager has apparently selected a vendor to remove Shingle Mountain, pending City Council approval. Councilman Tennell Atkins, who represents the southern Dallas district that houses the 70,000-ton pile of shingles, sent an email on Tuesday afternoon announcing that City Manager T.C. Broadnax is “recommending the lowest responsible bidder.” At $450,000, it’s about a quarter what the Council thought it would cost to haul away. It is typical for the lowest responsible bid to get the nod from the city manager, per a spokesperson.

The pile of shingles has been there for about three years, blowing tiny shards of fiberglass around Marsha Jackson’s adjacent property.

“They have told us so many times that it will be removed,” says Jackson, who says she now suffers respiratory ailments and rashes because of the particles that get blown around her home. “I try to be excited, but I can’t see it.”

Atkins says the City Council will vote on the matter on October 13. There is no timeline yet for removing the dump, which has been there since January of 2018. Atkins had said it would cost $2.1 million to haul it away. It’s not clear why this bid is so comparatively low; it might bypass the nearby city dump and its tipping fees altogether. We’ve asked the city for more information. Previously, the city had wanted the landowner to pitch in to help with removal.

Jackson in July sued the city to remove the illegal shingle dump and rezone the land so that other industrial uses can’t go in next to her home or nearby the other 22 that are in her neighborhood. City Council and staff have been careful in what they’ve said regarding the matter since the lawsuit was filed. Jackson says she hasn’t been contacted by any city officials and was unaware of the bid until former Dallas Morning News columnist Robert Wilonsky tagged her in a Facebook post.

In unveiling the budget in mid-August, Broadnax said there was no line item for its removal, but “I know we are committed to resolving that issue both in court and, once that is completed, to determine how in fact we go about cleaning up that particular nuisance in our community.”

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Mike Wilson Resigns as Editor of the Dallas Morning News

| 2 days ago

Mike Wilson, who has served as editor of the Dallas Morning News for almost six years, told the staff in an email today that he is resigning at the end of the year. His letter notes a desire to “write, edit, lead, teach, learn,” and is “having conversations about where that might be.” His departure comes as some of the newsroom seeks to unionize.

Wilson says he’s handing newsroom operations over to managing editor Keith Campbell as reporters and editors “need and deserve fully engaged leaders.” In the meantime, he’ll help with the transition process and finish out a few projects with Grant Moise, the paper’s publisher. It’s not clear what the plans are for a permanent replacement. In his own note to staff, Moise writes that “we will continue to operate under this structure for the foreseeable future.”

Wilson was the first outside editor hire for the company in more than 30 years, coming from tours at FiveThirtyEight, the Tampa Bay Times, and the Miami Herald. He followed longtime editor Bob Mong, who retired in 2015 after 14 years leading the newsroom. Wilson led the paper’s digital-first strategy, implementing policies that required stories to be published online before they ran in the print edition.

He was also the first editor to oversee the paper’s paywall and digital subscription model, which now has about 40,000 digital-only subscribers. Getting that number up will surely be a priority for whoever comes after him.

The News has finished as a Pulitzer finalist in three of the past five years. In 2017, the paper’s coverage of the downtown Dallas police ambush was a finalist for breaking news. The next year, columnist Sharon Grigsby was a finalist for her series on sexual assaults at Baylor University that dug into how the school’s leadership failed the victims. The most recent Pulitzer nod was for photojournalist Tom Fox, who bravely photographed a gunman who fired his rifle outside the Earle Cabell Federal Building last year.

Upon his hiring, Wilson’s bonafides centered on his editing of narrative nonfiction and his eye for talent. And, indeed, the paper in recent years has lost many reporters to outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and ProPublica, among others. The paper recently published Mark Lamster’s deeply reported piece on the Joppa neighborhood, which could very well be the last long-term editorial project to publish under Wilson’s tenure. The Newspiece on his departure also notes “more than 400 awards for journalistic excellence.”

In a text, Wilson says he’s “feeling great about the decision and my time at DMN” and would “like my note to the staff to do the talking.” The letters staff received this morning are after the jump.

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Local News

Mark Cuban Working to Help Delonte West; He’s Now in Rehab

| 2 days ago

Photos and sightings of former Mavs (and Celtics and Cavs and Texas Legends) guard Delonte West have popped up over the past couple of years, in Houston and other cities — on the street, apparently homeless, usually in some level of distress (unsurprisingly). The first I remember was maybe a couple of years ago, and he was clearly off Central, somewhere north of 635. I went looking but couldn’t find him. Another one turned up a few days ago, again in Dallas, and apparently Mavs owner Mark Cuban went looking for him, too.

He found him.

TMZ first reported Cuban convinced West to meet and and ESPN’s Tim MacMahon confirmed that Cuban picked him up and put him in a hotel while he works with West’s family on next steps. I hope he is able to get back up on his feet.

UPDATE: The Athletic’s Shams Charania just reported that West reunited with his mother in Dallas yesterday and he has checked into rehab in Florida.

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Local News

I Almost Predicted Exactly When Uber Would (Partially) Pull Out of Deep Ellum

| 2 days ago

Late last night/early this morning, I saw via Twitter that Uber was going to sublease 117,000 square feet of its office space at The Epic development in Deep Ellum, leaving it with just two floors of the building (around 50K sf). Which, I suppose, wouldn’t be the biggest deal, if Uber hadn’t already been planning to build out a second tower — Epic II — to serve as its regional hub. This story says it still will and plans a 2022 move-in date, but [wide eyes emoji].

ANYWAY, I say all this to say I jokingly almost nailed this exact scenario a year ago (the date says November 2019, but given magazine lead times I was writing it basically right now).

September 7, 2020
Uber officially canceled plans to move into the larger 22-story tower at The Epic, an announcement that has been rumored for months. “Would I call it a belt tightening? No,” said new Uber spokeswoman Tamara Katz. “We felt like a scaled-back office was more in keeping with our roots. Lean and mean, right? We pride ourselves on being a company that is able to quickly react to any given situation and this is no different. We still love being in Deep Ellum, and I think, if I may, this move is very much in line with our neighborhood’s rock-and-roll past.” She declined to elaborate. “I think it speaks for itself. But I can tell you that we have 50 very happy employees. Almost 50. I just saw a few of them kicking a ball back and forth under the highway if you want to ask them yourself.”   

More TK.

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How the Death Sentence Was Commuted for the Killer of a Dallas Police Officer

| 2 days ago

On October 9, 2007, Juan Lizcano was convicted by a jury and sentenced to death for the capital murder of 28-year-old Dallas police officer Brian Jackson during a domestic violence call. But earlier this month, after serving nearly 13 years on death row, Lizcano received a new sentence: life in prison without parole.

Haynes and Boone partners Stephanie Sivinski and Debbie McComas, with associate Jason Jordan, had been working as pro bono habeas counsel on Lizcano’s appeal since 2012, challenging the constitutionality of his death sentence on the grounds of intellectual disability (he had IQ scores as low as 48).

After a series of federal and state habeas petitions, they caught a break in 2017, when the U.S. Supreme Court in Moore v. Texas invalidated the state’s former ad hoc methods for determining intellectual disability. On September 16, 2020, after reconsidering Lizcano’s appeal in light of the new ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals removed Lizcano from death row, determining he was ineligible for execution due to his intellectual disability.

The facts of the case aren’t pretty. According to the original account of events from the Court of Criminal Appeals, Lizcano and a friend, Jose Fernandez, went to a Dallas dance club on the evening of November 13, 2005. They had a few beers and left a few hours later. On the drive home, Lizcano called his girlfriend, Marta Cruz, and told her that if he came home and found her with another person, he would kill them both.

Lizcano stopped by his uncle’s apartment, where he lived, and took his uncle’s revolver. He then drove to Cruz’s house. At around 2 a.m., he knocked on the door. When Cruz let him in, Lizcano pointed the gun at her head and then fired a warning shot into the ceiling. Lizcano told Cruz the next bullet was for her. He left a few minutes later, and Cruz immediately called the police.

A police officer showed up but was unable to find Lizcano on the property. After the officer left, Lizcano showed back up and started to kick in the front door. Cruz called 911 again, this time while hiding in the closet. When police arrived, they saw Lizcano run into an alley behind the house. Four officers scrambled for cover as Lizcano shot at them from behind a tree.

Officer Brian Jackson took an AR-15 rifle from his vehicle and took a position at the front of the house. When Lizcano ran around to the front, officers said they could hear one shot from Lizcano’s revolver followed by three shots from Officer Jackson’s rifle. The Chief Medical Examiner later determined that Lizcano’s single shot had traveled through Officer Jackson’s right arm and into his heart, bypassing his Kevlar vest and killing him within seconds.

That account, though tragic, only tells part of the story. Last week, I called Sivinski and McComas to find out more. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

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Local News

Leading Off (9/29/20)

| 2 days ago

Stars Lose. From the Tampa Bay Times: “We’re going to be Stanley Cup champs forever,” Victor Hedman said after the 2-0 win in Game 6 at Edmonton’s Rogers Place. “It’s going to be in the history. Our kids, our grandkids, if they look at the Stanley Cup, they’re going to see our names.” The bandwagon hit a wall that looks a whole lot like a 6-foot-6 Swede. I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt and was thrown from the vehicle. I need a hug. And a body cast.

COVID Update. Yesterday Dallas County reported 197 additional cases and one death. “County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement that people need to continue taking precautions against the virus as its downward trend has stalled. ‘Our numbers remain flat but our progress has stopped and we may begin to see a tick up,’ he said.” Collin County reported 233 cases and one death.

‘Undead Bandit’ Sentenced. This happened Friday. And it was just a sentencing. But I felt it deserved mention. Because “Undead Bandit” is a damn cool nom de robbery.

SEC Accuses Cedar Hill Man of $1.1 Million Scam. In a complaint filed yesterday, the commission called Clifton Curtis Sneed Jr. a “recidivist securities law violator.” They got a name for people like Sneed. That name is called “recidivism.” Not a pretty name, is it?

Remember Botham Jean. Today would have been his 29th birthday. Mayor Eric Johnson has proclaimed it #BeLikeBo Day.

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Local News

Programming Note: Tomorrow, Hear From Legislators About Police Reform

| 3 days ago

Each year, we try to pop into the Belo Mansion for the annual daylong symposium organized by Unlocking DOORS, the Dallas-based reentry advocacy nonprofit that helps people get on their feet after they are released from prison. This year, it feels even more relevant as calls for police reform grow louder. Even the city of Dallas included funding for a reentry program of its own in next year’s budget.

There is always something interesting at these symposiums, showing the machinations that power our criminal justice system. Like in 2017, when a panel between Chief U. Reneé Hall, then-DA Faith Johnson, then-Sheriff Lupe Valdez, and Public Defender Lynn Pride Richardson got a little testy when Richardson noted the more than 4-to-1 discrepancy between investigators in the district attorney’s office to investigators in the public defender’s office . That year, public defenders took on 45,000 cases with only 116 attorneys and 17 investigators compared to the 81 investigators that worked along with the county’s prosecutors.

It has also been a chance to hear policymakers have frank discussions about bail reform, the shuttering of jails, and ways to help people who have served their time and are eager to get back into the community. This year’s edition takes place tomorrow, September 29, and you already know where this is going. The coronavirus spiked the possibility of meeting in person, so the event will be held online from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. This year, it’s free for you to watch from wherever you are.

I’m curious about tomorrow’s legislative panel. WFAA’s Jason Whitely will moderate a chat between Bryan Collier, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Quitman, who sits on the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice; and state Reps. Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto, and James White, R-Hillister, both of whom serve on the Texas House Committee on Corrections.

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Neiman Marcus CEO Shows Off His Mansion, Really Steps in It

| 3 days ago

Geoffroy van Raemdonck has a great name. The CEO of Neiman’s also has a great house. He and his husband, Alvise Orsini, share an Italianate-style Lakewood pad that’s on the tax rolls for almost $2.3 million. Nothing wrong with that. If the CEO of Neiman’s lived in a $250,000 ranch in Garland, then we’d have a problem. What’s wrong here is that Neiman’s is just emerging from bankruptcy. People have been laid off and taken pay cuts. In that context, it’s not wise to invite PaperCity into your house for a photo shoot, which is what van Raemdonck did. Looks great. But totally tone deaf. And the New York Post is just loving it:

One guest bathroom, adorned with a dreamscape mural and “silver and mirrored cabinets from the 1930s,” is described as “the most glamorous guest loo ever.” Outside, near the pool and pool house, is a chicken coop so elaborate, the author describes it as “more Versailles than farmhouse.”

Van Raemdonck and Orsini are shown in the glossy spread lounging atop a “custom sofa . . . upholstered in silk velvet.” Above them are two prints from Warhol’s “Reigning Queens” series.

Neiman staffers were flabbergasted.

“He either doesn’t care or he’s tone-deaf,” one employee griped to The Post. “Everyone is wondering why [he] agreed to show off the house while health care, bankruptcy and layoffs are the main topics for Neiman Marcus.”

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