Here’s a running list of my best Dallas Morning News stories

I started at The Dallas Morning News in February 2015. I started on the cops beat, covering the Dallas Police Department, and then in February 2016 I was moved (promoted?) to the Dallas County beat. Since then, I’ve been covering county government, the jail, Parkland Memorial Hospital — North Texas’ largest public hospital — Dallas’ juvenile detention facilities and other interesting stuff that my editor or I have come across.

It’s been tough to find the time to keep this website updated. Here are some stories I’ve done in Dallas that I’m particularly proud of:

Profiles

How Police Chief David Brown’s entire life prepared him for the Dallas shootings

This story was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize, as it was included among The Dallas Morning News’ entry for the breaking news category.

‘Too controversial’ for Fox, Dallas’ Tomi Lahren may be Facebook’s most loved and hated woman

Before the trial of his life, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price isn’t worried


After Orlando, a Dallas drag queen looks out on her changed world

Features

Compassionate use: When the one drug that can protect your child could put you in jail

In rural Dallas County, a clash over the role of government

‘Goodbye to the girl I used to be’

In Baton Rouge, Dallas officers soldier on to honor brothers in blue

Victim in Garland terror attack tormented by belief FBI knew of ISIS plot

Investigative

The suburbs are booming, but their uninsured increasingly burden Dallas County taxpayers

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins interfered in major deal on behalf of local firms, colleagues allege

A taxing problem: Dallas property taxes squeeze middle class while wealthy, businesses reap advantages

Unsupervised boys at Dallas County juvenile detention engaged in sex acts

Commentary

Why US Politics Keeps My Grandma, a Holocaust Survivor, Up at Night

I lost any sense of journalistic detachment when Patti Stevens mentioned me in her suicide note

What I learned from getting kicked out of a police gathering in Baton Rouge

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Small businesses get a lift from bank program

This article was published on July 20, 2011 in The Times-Picayune.  

As a 10-year-old, Malcolm Gibson of New Orleans knew he wanted to be a mortician.

gibson.money.jpg

After being impressed at his grandfather’s funeral by the mortician’s ability to transform the body of someone who looked deathly ill to the way he remembered his grandfather in the best of health, Gibson knew that he would one day help families in much the same way.

“Seeing my poppa look so good helped me cope — it made me feel like he was in a better place,” Gibson said.

So after high school, Gibson went on to mortician school and later founded Professional Funeral Services, a funeral home located in the 7th Ward. He became known for his commitment to families, and his business flourished. But for many years, despite steadily rising revenues, Gibson was still operating deep in the red.

“I knew how to care for families and help them through the grieving process, but I couldn’t organize my business in a way that was sustainable,” said Gibson, now 41. “I’m a funeral director by nature, not an entrepreneur.”
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The Blunt Knife: Telling it like it is, James Carville sees his 60 Tulane students as a vehicle for change and long-lasting legacy

This article was published in The Tulane Hullabaloo on June 7, 2011.

Ted Jackson, The Times-Picayune

With a loud thump, James Carville plops his Nike sneakers up on his desk, leans back in his armchair, and rests his head in clasped hands. Clad in jeans and a black T-shirt, the 66-year-old CNN political pundit appears relaxed and content. His casual manner belies the hectic schedule that has just whisked him from Washington to New Orleans, where he’ll give a lecture tonight and eat dinner with his family, before flying out tomorrow to New York. This free hour between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. each Tuesday evening  —  just before he teaches his political science class at Tulane University — is one he cherishes all week. For this sole hour, he gets to hang out with a few of his students, his personal assistant, his teaching assistant, and the week’s guest speaker, who, in the class’s three-year history, has been anyone from prominent Republican Newt Gingrich to liberal columnist Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine. As they casually dissect the politics of the day, Carville’s grating Southern drawl, authoritative and commanding, collides in the air with the 20-year-olds’ high-pitched admiring laughter.

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WTUL’s Senior Voice Hosts Longest-Running Reggae Show in US

sheppard

After watching the music industry evolve from transistor radios to mp3s, this 62-year-old reggae DJ fears the internet

This story was published on April 18, 2011 in Offbeat Magazine. 

The coffee shop on the corner of Carrolton and Oak Street, in Uptown New Orleans, is a century old, tall and white, with towering ceilings that bear the faded symbols of its days long ago as the neighborhood bank. It is mid-morning when the locals begin to file in, in droves, snaking their way to the long, narrow counter, as they have been doing for years, decades, even.

On one Saturday in November 2005, however, as the surrounding city was still staggering from Hurricane Katrina and everything seemed upside-down—businesses shut down, homes empty, knee-high grass where the streetcar used to run—the still-brewing coffee wasn’t the only welcome constant in the customers’ lives. Up on the overlooking balcony loft, Shepard Samuels, a round 57-year-old man with frizzy sideburns and long stringy brown hair parted down the middle, stood at a turntable, and spoke into a microphone, his deep, trembling, Southern voice familiar to listeners across the city, from the Ninth Ward to the Garden District to Metairie. The crew of college kids scurrying around him with technical equipment was broadcasting his words, as they slowly and deliberately trickled out, live on FM radio.
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Tulane-sponsored Debate League helps students overcome adversity

 As director’s teaching position ends, debate program’s future appears uncertain

This story was published on April 15, 2011 in The Tulane Hullabaloo. 

Sweating just a little in his pressed peach-colored shirt and striped tie, 14-year-old Malik Tropez faced the packed Lavin-Bernick Center conference room and argued his position that rap music causes more harm than good.

Peppered with personal anecdotes and data on rap’s correlation with adolescent crime, violence and promiscuity, Malik’s argument was compelling. In fact, if it weren’t for a few shaky words and mispronunciations, you might have never known that this confident young man had long battled a speech impediment and fear of public speaking.

Tulanes debate program has helped Malik Tropez,a 14-year-old at Lafayette Charter School, battle a speech impediment and crippling fear of public speaking.

“Now, I feel like I have something to say that matters,” said Malik, who has been debating competitively for two years. “Adults listen to me now.”

But Malik’s story, an unlikely metamorphosis from shy, inarticulate and apathetic to presenting coherent arguments on important issues, is emblematic of the Tulane Debate League’s impact on the 200 New Orleans public school students it serves. Since Tulane English postdoctorate fellow Ryan McBride launched the program in 2009, more than 150 Tulane students have coached children at six underperforming middle schools around the city in competitive debate.

“Once these kids catch a glimpse of their own potential, they are unstoppable,” McBride said. “They see what they are capable of, and they go for the intellectual challenge.”

The league held its largest debate tournament Saturday in the Lavin-Bernick Center, drawing 19 teams from eight schools. Approximately 50 Tulane students were the judges and coaches for the competitions, wherein one team had to prove a statement and the opposing team had to refute it. The judges determine the winning team to be the one that best laid out its argument beyond a reasonable doubt on topics ranging from free speech to drilling moratoriums. Read more of this post

On his grind

How this student entrepreneur went from food stamps to CEO 

Jude Collins sees every moment as an opportunity.

It is a calm, sunny Saturday afternoon in New Orleans when Jude Collins, 21, picks me up in his black Mercedes-Benz SUV.  All around us on Broadway Street, the Tulane student community is slowly waking up, hungover and lazy. But Jude is on a mission.

Jude is so productive that it’s as though time passes differently for him. Judging from the $100,000-company he runs, full Tulane business school courseload work he excels in, and family he takes care of, you would think Jude Collins had more than just 24 hours in each day.

“The early bird gets the worm,” he says in his gravelly Southern drawl. Like the leather interior of his car, Jude is looking immaculate—today he’s wearing a crisp Polo T-shirt, dark designer jeans, and squeaky-white Jordan sneakers. “I had to get on up out of the library ‘cause shit needs to be done right now. Man, you don’t even understand how platinum we about to go.” Read more of this post

“It’s Miss Grace to you, shorty”

Longtime Bruff worker Miss Grace serves Tulane students their daily omelets—along with a side of prayer, encouragement and scolding

It is icy cold and scarcely past dawn when, with three loud thumps, the car doors slam shut, sending echoes reverberating across the empty McAlister drive.

In a few hours, this flawless-paved street lined with manicured trees and idyllic shrubs will be teeming with chaos—students and professors walking, running, biking past each other in a flurry—but for now, Grace Bridges, 64, along with her 40-year-old daughter and 24-year-old grandson, cherish the silence as they trudge toward the looming brick building in the middle of Tulane’s campus, readying for their day’s work ahead of serving food to Tulane students.

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Squatters: Living alternatively and redefining freedom

This was the lead story published in The Hullabaloo on January 22, 2011.

Some names have been kept anonymous to protect sources, as squatting is an illegal practice.


Aside from the occasional police visit and pooping in a bucket, Laura, a 23-year-old Tulane alumna, is living the dream.

Squatting in an abandoned house in the Eighth Ward, Laura and her four roommates spend their free time playing music or creating art, as well as foraging for usable metal, tires, tools and furniture in New Orleans junkyards to fix up their newfound home.

“It’s like constant camping,” Laura said.

“Most people may not associate freedom with forgoing electricity and running water, but that is exactly how Laura’s daily life makes her feel — free.

“It’s fun getting on without all the luxuries other people think they need,” Laura said, smiling. “Every day is an adventure, and everyone here is awesome. They are all the most thoughtful, generous and life-embracing people I’ve ever met.”

But a few blocks away, an empty lot with tall, singed grass bears a stark reminder of the dangers of living this way: A tragic fire killed eight squatters — all between 17 and 23 years old — in an abandoned warehouse on Dec. 28, while they were burned trash to keep warm amid freezing temperatures.

The fire thrust the largely underground world of New Orleans squatters into the spotlight, bringing new media and police attention to the network of dwellers in abandoned buildings. Read more of this post

Mexican author Carlos Fuentes on Catholicism, marijuana, globalization, and love

FuentesThis article was published on April 16, 2010 in The Hullabaloo.

Mexican author Carlos Fuentes came to speak at Tulane April 12. As the fourth speaker in the English department’s annual Great Writers Series, sponsored by the Creative Writing Fund, Fuentes spoke to an estimated crowd of 1,000 at McAlister Auditorium.

Famous for his magic realism style, Fuentes is one of the most widely acclaimed writers in the Spanish-speaking world. He is also known as a prominent social commentator and an international diplomat for Mexico.

Fuentes’ speech touched on a variety of topics, from education to death to creative writing to social justice, all connected through his theme of alphabetical order. Read more of this post