A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Local News

A Story of Two Deaths at the Collin County Jail

| 26 mins ago

Marcia Riley heard her 22-year-old son’s voice above a commotion of knocks and police commands. Marcus Elliott was on the phone in an apartment bathroom in some town in Texas that his mother had never heard of. He had moved to Plano to put some distance between himself and the life he was leading in Atlanta. A U.S. Marshal had called Riley to tell her they had federal warrants to arrest her son and demanded he surrender to the cops who were outside his door.

Riley tried to guide and support him through the incident. Run-ins with police in Georgia had piled up. On at least one occasion she co-signed to help him make bond. She was proud that Marcus had earned his GED while serving time in county jail back home. He was making an effort to fix his life while he moved between agencies and courts and jails. She thought about her son, who weighed no more than 130 pounds, up against what sounded like dozens of police officers. “I could hear extreme fear in his voice, a tone I have never heard before,” Riley later wrote in a newspaper essay. She convinced Elliott to give himself up. “I assured my son that he would be safe.”

Her son’s life was in the hands of law enforcement 800 miles away from her. Officers drove Elliott to the Collin County Jail. Jailers there placed Elliott on suicide watch as soon as he was booked in on June 28, 2007. Officers at the scene reported Elliott threatened to take his own life throughout their encounter with him. Detention staff that day had already sent a 45-year-old inmate to a hospital after he was found unconscious; the man later died from suicide. Back in Atlanta, a fog of anxiety and confusion settled over Riley as she dialed the jail’s main phone line repeatedly. Jail staff told her Elliott could not be reached. She finally talked to him the next morning. “He was eager to get back to Atlanta, serve his time, turn his life around, and have a future,” Riley wrote of the conversation, their last.

The next day, Elliott was killed. In a struggle that lasted nearly 20 minutes, detention officers tried to force Elliott into a restraint bed. A jail nurse reported to officers they found Elliott trying to asphyxiate himself.  In a custodial death report, officers claimed Elliott began to kick and swing at detention staff. Local news media and the sheriff’s office reported his death as a suicide. In reality, Elliott died after jailers strapped him into the restraint bed, according to the Collin County Medical Examiner’s Office, which ruled Elliott’s death a homicide.

Fourteen years later, Marvin Scott III would be arrested for a small amount of marijuana outside the Allen Premium Outlets. He, too, would die in custody at the Collin County Jail while being restrained. Like Elliott’s, the medical examiner would rule his death a homicide. 

Scott was 12 years old when Elliott was killed. Their lives were not mirror images. The circumstances that brought them into the same jail over a decade apart were worlds away, but their lives ended in similar fashions. 

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Local News

High Levels of Lead Discovered in Soil at Shingle Mountain Site

| 2 hours ago

Residents of the southern Dallas neighborhood where the six-story industrial dump known as Shingle Mountain once stood are calling on the city to pay for further pollutant testing after an environmental survey found high levels of lead in the soil at the site.

In June, as part of a lawsuit against the company that formerly operated the site, the city took over the 4.3 acres of land where 100,000 tons of roofing materials had piled up. Shingle Mountain, a towering danger to public health and a monument to the years of terrible public policy that put environmental hazards like this in neglected neighborhoods, had been cleaned up. Neighbors and activists called for a park to be put in its place. City Council members patted themselves on the back for taking long overdue steps to “right a wrong,” although at the time the city declined to reveal the contents of an environmental assessment it had commissioned of the site.

“They made that press release [about acquiring the property],” says Marsha Jackson, who lives next to the site and has spent years pushing City Hall to take action. “So why didn’t they make the press release that the property was full of lead?”

The environmental assessment, quietly published online this summer, only recently came to the attention of Jackson, who co-chairs the neighborhood association Neighbors United/Vecinos Unidos. According to the report, conducted by the firm Modern Geosciences, soil samples taken at the former site of Shingle Mountain showed amounts of lead “above expected background levels.” Other screened-for pollutants were not detected in the soil or groundwater samples above “residential criteria.”

Four soil samples showed between 1,220 and 1,450 parts per million of lead–more than three times the 400 ppm residential cleanup standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency. There is “no safe level of lead exposure in children,” who can suffer from serious developmental issues caused by exposure, according to the CDC. The discovery of lead contamination near a West Dallas smelter in the 1980s accompanied the smelter’s closure and years of Superfund cleanup. Contamination was still present decades later.

“We have children here,” says Jackson, who said the city had been silent about the results of the environmental assessment and its discovery of high lead levels in the soil. “This is our neighborhood. This is our community. Anything that happens over here they should let us know.”

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The Nuttiness of That QAnon Convention in Dallas

| 5 hours ago

A few things you need to know to properly enjoy this 20-minute video:

Over the Memorial Day weekend, something called For God & Country Patriot Roundup took up space here in town at the Omni and Eddie Deen’s Ranch. News coverage of the event was spotty, primarily because they wouldn’t allow in people working for traditional media. Allen West was there; he said he doesn’t know what QAnon is. Michael Flynn was there; he said he doesn’t know what QAnon is. But the thing was a QAnon rally.

Andrew Callaghan is a nontraditional journalist who took a lot of mushrooms when he was younger. He has a YouTube show called Channel 5 With Andrew Callaghan.

OK, ready? Last week Channel 5 posted this report from the Dallas QAnon rally. It’s worth your time.

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Local News

Leading Off (08/02/2021)

| 11 hours ago

Mask Mandate in Place at Dallas County Courthouses Starting Today. That goes for George Allen, Frank Crowley, and Henry Wade Juvenile Justice Center, on order from Administrative District Judge Maricela Moore.

Dallas Fire-Rescue Employee Arrested for Faking COVID. Why did William Carter allegedly say that he, his wife, and his daughter all contracted COVID? To get time off (which he used to go to a waterpark resort in Round Rock, so I mean, dream a little bigger) and, according to him, “Greed, I guess.” He was arrested Friday. I want to be madder at this than I actually am.

Luka Doncic and Slovenian National Team Play Germany Tonight. He made it through his toughest game yet, against Spain, and now he’s 16-0 with the Slovenian senior squad. The game tonight is at 8 p.m. If everything breaks right, Slovenia will face the United States in the gold medal game. Who will I be rooting for? Well, I have already been referring to Slovenia as “we” around the house, so it’s pretty straightforward, I think. Semi-related: NBA free agency starts today, so hopefully by the time you get to the office, the Mavs will have made a move or two. At this point, I’ll be happy if they just keep Tim Hardaway Jr.

It Was Hot as Heck Yesterday and Then It Rained (And Hailed in Some Places). My son and I went to play tennis around 11 a.m. and we were both so sweaty I looked like I had jumped in the nearby lake. Like, so throughly wet I didn’t even look wet. So when we got home, I left the windows open. I didn’t think it would rain and, when it did, I totally forgot I had left the windows down, because I spent the afternoon napping and watching Ted Lasso and reading a Bud Shrake novel and napping a little more. I had to go out last night and somehow the seats were only a little wet. So, to answer the question I posed in the subhead of this post: I guess sometimes I win. 

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Local News

West Dallas Rises Up Against the GAF Shingle Manufacturer

| 3 days ago

It’s time for one of the largest polluters in Dallas to renew its operating permit and its neighbors have had enough. On Thursday night, more than 42 West Dallas community members and advocates spoke out against GAF, the asphalt shingle manufacturer on Singleton that has spewed chemicals into the neighborhood since the 1940s.

With the help of state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, West Dallas 1—a coalition of community organizers—successfully requested a hearing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to challenge GAF’s permit renewal, which happens once every five years.

At the beginning of the hearing’s informal discussion period, GAF spokesman Tommy Richardson announced that the plant’s Title V permit would be identical to its current one. Under the federal 1990 Clean Air Act, major industrial operators must obtain a Title V permit in order to operate. Among other things, it dictates the amount of emissions a plant can produce.

“We’re here today renewing the Title V permit with no changes; it’s a standard renewal. And it’s required every five years,” he said.

For many West Dallas residents, a “standard renewal” is unacceptable. Despite the constraints of the EPA’s permit, they argue that GAF is still polluting the neighborhood. The plant has yet to install a sulfur dioxide scrubber, which would filter out much of the putrid gas. Stephanie Champion, an attorney with Legal Aid of Northwest Texas who is representing West Dallas 1, believes the permit violates both the Clean Air Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In her prepared remarks, Champion argued that the neighborhood is disproportionately populated by people of color and that allowing the plant to operate there is discriminatory. Legal Aid is asking the TCEQ to deny the permit.

Located on Singleton Boulevard about four miles west of downtown, GAF’s plant is within a quarter mile of community centers, churches, daycares, schools, and both public and private housing. Neighbor Esther Villarreal’s family has “changed the way [they] run about town and enjoy the public facilities such as the Dallas West Branch Library,” she says. “We no longer attend programs in the morning, when I have heard from my neighbors and experienced myself the strong noxious odors coming from the plant. We now attend the library quickly, in and out. Short trips. We do not linger.”

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Politics & Government

Texas Redistricting Could Be Bad News for Fair Representation in Dallas

| 3 days ago

The question of who gets counted in population estimates remains of critical importance as a messy redistricting process looms ahead for state lawmakers in Austin right now — and those who will likely return to Austin sooner or later.

A GOP push to get a citizenship question included on documents for the 2020 Census stalled out last year. That’s good for Dallas, which would lose significant representation if legislative maps were drawn using population numbers that discount a large number of the people who live here, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.

Legislative districts are now drawn based on total population, including children and non-citizens. Many Republicans, who will once again steer the redistricting process in Texas, have in recent years instead gotten behind the idea of determining representation by “citizen voting-age populations,” meaning only adults over the age of 18. This would disadvantage Latino communities and Texas’ large urban areas, which tend to be younger and bluer than more sparsely populated parts of the state.

Says the Brennan Center:

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Local News

Leading Off (7/30/21)

| 3 days ago

Methodist Requires Vaccinations. Baylor Scott & White earlier this week became the first major North Texas employer to require its employees to be vaccinated. Methodist Health System is now doing the same, mandating that its 10,000 employees get the jab. It’s not a surprise we’re seeing healthcare organizations make the requirement; I’m curious as to which other Dallas-area employers take the plunge and when.

Gov. Greg Abbott Again Limits Localities. The governor rewrote his executive order yesterday, which now bars any local government or school district from requiring mask wearing. This is his weird “personal responsibility” kick that’s being echoed among his colleagues. It also bars any private entity that receives any sort of state government funding from requiring vaccines, which makes the entry above this one pretty interesting.

SWAT Cop Who Punched Man Also Shot Protesters in the Eye. WFAA reports that the off-duty cop who was caught on video punching a man during a brawl is SWAT Ofc. Melvin Williams. He was working security at Off the Cuff in Deep Ellum when the fight broke out. A guy approached him, and the officer slammed him into a pole then began punching him in the face. Williams is also the officer who is under investigation for shooting two protesters in the eye during last summer’s protests. One of those, Brandon Saez, had to have his eye removed. The police department is commending his colleagues for intervening when he was punching the man, but the attorney for the other victims questioned why he was allowed to be working in the first place.

The Heat Will Be ‘Oppressive’ This Weekend. Don’t look for any relief from the high temperatures this weekend. Highs are in the upper 90s; it’ll be bright and sunny and muggy, too. 

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Local News

Mysterious Far North Dallas Compound Is a Case of Zillow Gone Wild

| 4 days ago

It looks like a normal enough house from the outside. Maybe a little big when compared to other properties in its Far North Dallas neighborhood. It gets stranger the farther you scroll down the listing, which this week caught the attention of Zillow Gone Wild, an Instagram account chronicling eye-popping real estate listings around the country.

Zero beds, one bath. Square feet: 5,768. Listing price: $989,000. In a residential neighborhood where most of the homes range between 1,200 and 2,500 square feet, respectively, with listings in the range of $350,000.

You look at the photos of the interior—of large fluorescent-lit spaces that call to mind dull corporate offices, chemical laboratories, and county jails—and only feel more confused. What exactly is this facility doing here, looking from the outside like every other generic two-story house in suburban Dallas?

The description on the Zillow listing doesn’t exactly clear things up:

A property unlike any other! With walls, flooring, and ceiling made of concrete, this property can serve as the perfect storage spot for large wine collections, art collections, multiple cars, as well as serving as the ultimate safe house. The building is connected to two electrical grids and also features a natural gas generator that has is powered by two diesel fuel tanks in the event of a natural gas failure, making the chance of power loss a very rare. With office space as well as warehouse space and large outdoor area, there are many ways this property can be utilized.

I couldn’t get the property’s real estate agent to pick up the phone. The owner, who runs an outfit that leases commercial space in the Dallas area, didn’t return a voicemail.

But the owner’s listing offering to lease the building sheds a little light on the situation, calling it a “Former AT&T Data Center House.” Tax records show AT&T owned the property until 2011. The “for lease” listing also says the property can “only be used as a Data House,” so you may have to temper those dreams of stashing your wine collection or multiple cars here.

I asked AT&T about it. The company says:

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Local News

As Dallas’ COVID Vaccinations Stall, a Push to Convince the ‘Moveable Middle’

| 4 days ago

A stagnant vaccination rate and the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19 are putting anything resembling an “end” to the pandemic further and further out of reach. COVID cases and hospitalizations are again ticking up in North Texas. According to UT Southwestern’s most recent forecasting, hospital volume has doubled over the past two weeks and is up 230 percent over the past month. This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance that everyone, including people who have already been vaccinated, should wear masks indoors in places with a high amount of community spread. That applies to Dallas. (Following rules set by Gov. Greg Abbott, there are no government-imposed mask mandates in Texas.)

The vast majority of serious illnesses and deaths from COVID-19 are now among unvaccinated people. Getting the jab remains the best way to prevent the spread of the virus, and to protect yourself and others. Only about 52 percent of Dallas County residents over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated; children younger than that are not yet permitted to receive the vaccine, making them particularly vulnerable to infection.

That’s why health and government officials are increasingly asking themselves the question: How do we convince people to go get the jab? Dallas County has held pop-up clinics. Mayor Eric Johnson has raffled off Cowboys tickets and airline flights to people who get vaccinated. UT Southwestern has put out a guide with talking points to help convince your patients or your friends and family members that getting the vaccine is the safe and responsible thing to do.

Steve Miff, CEO of the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation, told D CEO this week that area businesses and employers will be key. “Employers are going to put mandates, create meaningful and strong incentives, or penalties for the employees,” he said. “That’s likely the biggest bump that we’ll get in vaccinations.”

Sure enough, Baylor Scott & White said Wednesday that it was requiring all of its 40,000 full-time workers to get vaccinated.

Private sector businesses have been slower to adopt such measures. Others may follow with similar incentives, but regardless, many of Dallas’ employers are already playing a role in pushing the shot. The Dallas Regional Chamber, the area’s largest chamber of commerce, earlier this year launched a $1 million pro-vaccination campaign. As early as January, the chamber began developing an initiative with the Boston Consulting Group.

“We [wanted to] put together a program that would help this community learn how to get vaccinated so that we would get the economy back to life, and really help the small businesses, many of them restaurants and dry cleaners and other places that require face-to-face interaction,” says Dale Petroskey, the chamber’s president and CEO. “When you’re a sole proprietor, your livelihood and your business are one and the same. If your business goes down, basically your life goes down.”

According to the chamber, the pandemic drove small business revenue in Dallas down by 31 percent, and about one in three small businesses in North Texas have been forced to close their doors. While a vaccination campaign may seem out of the typical purview of a chamber of commerce, Dallas businesses have skin in the game when it comes to ending the pandemic. There is a high cost to North Texas’ low vaccination rate.

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Leading Off

Leading Off (7/29/21)

| 4 days ago

COVID. Dallas hospitals are preparing for another surge of hospitalized patients, while Baylor Scott & White Health is now requiring all of its employees to get vaccinated. (Yes, your employer can do that.) Cases are shooting back up. Not good. If you’ve got any tips on convincing that anti-vax friend of yours to do the right thing, please share. I’ve tried challenging mine to a heads-up match of the classic 2004 first-person shooter Halo 2; winner would call the “shot.” But no dice. I think he’s chicken.

Dallas Police Officer On Leave Over Video. An officer who was filmed punching a man on the ground in Deep Ellum is being investigated and may face a criminal inquiry. Channel 8 says the officer, who has not been named, “already has two pending use of force investigations against him.”

Shoulder Injury Could Keep Dak Prescott Out for Couple Weeks. “Couple” in this case does seem to mean only “two,” and the team didn’t seem too concerned about the seriousness of an apparent strain in the Cowboys quarterback’s throwing arm. Still, nobody wants to see Garrett Gilbert starting for the Dallas Cowboys except for Garrett Gilbert.

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