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

Former sex trafficking victim shines light on dark underworld of Super Bowl

This story was published on NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Feb. 1, 2013.

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Amid the parties and fun of Super Bowl 2013, authorities say, there is a dark underworld of girls and women being forced into the sex trade. Sitting in the festive lobby of a New Orleans hotel, festooned with San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens decorations, Clemmie Greenlee, a former victim of sex trafficking from Nashville, recalled being brought to cities around the South to prostitute for those attending such large-scale events.

For Greenlee’s pimps, the influx of people provided a massive money-making opportunity.

“When they come to these kinds of events, the first thing you’re told is how many you’re gonna perform a day,” she said Friday. “You’ve got to go through 25 men a day, or you’re going through 50 of them. When they give you that number, you better make that number.”

Having been abducted and gang-raped by her captors at age 12, Greenlee said, she was one of about eight girls controlled by a ring of pimps, men who injected them with heroin and, at times, kept them handcuffed to beds. For trying to run away, she was once stabbed in the back.

Now 53, Greenlee works at Eden House in Uptown New Orleans, the first shelter for sex-trafficking victims in Louisiana; the center opened in October 2012.

“If you don’t make that number (of sex customers), you’re going to dearly, dearly, severely pay for it,” Greenlee said. “I mean with beatings, I mean with over and over rapings. With just straight torture. The worst torture they put on you is when they make you watch the other girl get tortured because of your mistake.”

Sex and Super Bowls

In the past year, authorities in Louisiana have been working to raise awareness about the rampant sex trafficking that has historically accompanied the Super Bowl. While there is a widespread perception that human trafficking is a problem only in foreign countries, data from the U.S. Department of Justice show the average American prostitute begins working between the ages of 12 and 14.

Established in 2006, the Louisiana Human Trafficking Task Force, comprised of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, plus faith-based and nongovernmental organizations, has been meeting regularly to try to increase trafficking arrests and rescue the victims.

As a tourist destination, New Orleans attracts sex workers year-round, said Bryan Cox, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in New Orleans. But many of those young women are not here by choice. So, in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, both outreach and undercover efforts have ramped up.

Those efforts have paid off to some degree already. As of Thursday, at least eight men had been booked with sex trafficking and five female victims had been rescued from their clutches, Cox said, noting that such cases are investigated jointly by the New Orleans Police Department, State Police, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, among others.

Two of the women, ages 21 and 24, were brought to Covenant House, a homeless shelter for young people at the edge of the French Quarter, according to executive director James Kelly. After taking a shower and spending the night, however, the women left without accepting the services Kelly and others were trying to offer them.

“We believe they went back to turning tricks,” Kelly said. “We did our best to try to care for them and try to get them to stay, but they were 21 and 24, and there was no way we could force them to stay, and neither could the FBI.”

You’ve got to go through 25 men a day, or you’re going through 50 of them.” — Clemmie Greenlee

Such behavior is common, Greenlee said, noting that she had repeatedly returned to her captors after stays in the hospital or jail, mainly out of fear. She said many times, the women are brainwashed; they believe they have no other options, no future to pursue.

“They’re terrified,” she said. “You can say you’re going to save us, you can say we don’t have to worry about the pimps no more. We already know what power they have shown us. So either you come back to them, or you find out two days later they either got your grandmother or they just broke your little baby’s arm.

“There’s no such thing as we want to go back to these guys,” she said. “We do not feel that no one — not even the law — can protect us, and we do not want to die. I’d rather live in that misery and pain than to die.”

Messages on bars of soap

Aside from police sting operations, advocacy groups and local police agencies have been trying to combat the problem by handing out pamphlets to local hotel concierges, bartenders and club bouncers, asking them to be on the lookout for women who appear fearful and show signs of being controlled by the men they’re with. One of the signs a woman is being trafficked is that she is not allowed to speak for herself, advocates say.

Some groups have been handing out to hotels bars of soap that have a sex trafficking hotline phone number on them, hoping that women who are desperate to escape will see the number on the soap bar and take a chance on a phone call that could save them. Other groups have been providing strip clubs with posters that urge people to call in tips.

For Greenlee, her chance at a turnaround came from a similar help card in Nashville. Having run away from her captors in her 30s, she said, they did not chase after her because she had “aged out.” Living in an abandoned house in Nashville, shooting heroin with other junkies and prostituting herself, she had lost all hope of a normal life.

But one woman, a former sex worker who knew Greenlee and had graduated from Magdalene House, a safe house program in Nashville — the philosophy of which Eden House was based on — visited Greenlee almost weekly. She would leave little cards with the Magdalene House telephone number on them. But having given up, Greenlee shunned the woman and her cards.

After about five months of cards piling up, one day Greenlee woke up and realized she needed to take the chance. She was 42 years old. “I went to the phone and I pulled out some of them 99 pieces of paper that girl had left.

“The one thing I had in my head was, ‘If I learn how to live and heal, I can get back and get those girls. I can go back and tell people what they do to us,'” she said. “I’m not ashamed of what done happened to me. I don’t care if I never get a husband. It just don’t make no sense that we had to go through this.”

“It’s not as easy as saying, ‘Call this number, escape,'” said Kara Van De Carr, executive director of Eden House. “But women who have hit rock bottom and realize they’re going to die in that lifestyle will try anything to get out.”

Authorities urge those who suspect trafficking to contact local police or the Department of Homeland Security at 1.866.347.2423. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center also staffs a toll-free 24-hour hotline at 888-373-7888.

New Orleans street dance party ends in shooting that leaves one man dead, one hospitalized

This story was published on NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Jan. 26, 2013.Image

A weekly street dance party dubbed “Conti Saturday” ended in violence Saturday night when one man was shot in the head and died at the scene. Another man was shot in the neck.

As they have every week for the past few months, about 150 people gathered Saturday night for the party in the 1800 block of Conti Street, partygoers said. A DJ spun rap and bounce music from a pick-up truck carrying subwoofers. At least one NOPD police car blocked off the street, witnesses said.

Suddenly, around 8:40 p.m., a man in a black hooded sweatshirt walked up to a 21-year-old man standing by the DJ. No words were exchanged between the two men before the man in the hooded sweatshirt pulled a gun from his waistband and fired a shot at close range into the victim’s head, witnesses said.

“He fell to the ground, but he was still (alive), so the gunman stood over him and shot him four more times in the chest,” said a 21-year-old woman who was dancing near the victim at the time. She requested anonymity because the shooter remains at large. “We were so close we saw the fire come out of the gun.”

The partygoers scattered instantly, she said. “We just kept running,” the woman said. “I was like, ‘Where are my friends? I got to get the f— out of here.'”

Seconds later, a second man was shot in the neck down the block, closer to the intersection of Conti and North Derbigny streets, witnesses said. That victim was transported to a local hospital, police said. His condition was not known late Saturday.

The murder victim’s body lay next to the DJ’s pick-up truck as police arrived and began investigating.

Family members at the crime scene identified him as Shaquille Cooper. His cousin, who was at the party, said he did not appear to be fighting with anyone.

“He seemed like he was enjoying himself,” said Cooper’s cousin, noting he would come to “Conti Saturday” nearly every week. “He felt comfortable around here.”

Cooper’s aunt said he would be missed by his family — especially his 2-year-old son, to whom he was a good father. “We love him.”

Police ask anyone with information on this shooting to contact NOPD Homicide Section at 504.658.5300 or Crimestoppers at 504.822.1111.

Roommate’s estranged boyfriend confesses to beating, strangling NY woman to death, NOPD says

This story was published on NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Jan. 15, 2013. Screen Shot 2013-02-06 at 8.00.09 AM

A 39-year-old man confessed on Tuesday to beating and strangling his ex-girlfriend’s roommate to death late Sunday, police said. Authorities found Henry Dolliole in Jefferson Parish and brought him to NOPD headquarters where he admitted to brutally killing 26-year-old Lauren Tanski, said officer Garry Flot, a spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department.

Dolliole was booked into the Orleans Parish jail around 9:50 p.m. on a charge of first-degree murder, records show. Dolliole’s rap sheet includes several drug arrests, and in July 1992, he was booked with attempted first-degree murder and armed robbery. Those charges were later dropped.

Henry-Dolliole.jpg Henry Dolliole, 39, confessed on Tuesday to beating and strangling his ex-girlfriend’s roommate to death late Sunday night. Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office

Tanski was found beaten and strangled to death inside of her 7th Ward home in the 2000 block of Urquhart on Monday morning. The victim, who loved writing and photography, had moved from Albany, NY, to New Orleans in October.

According to co-workers of Tanski’s, Dolliole is the ex-boyfriend of Tanski’s roommate, Samantha Placek, 32. Both women worked as waitresses at the Corner Oyster House in the French Quarter. Employees there said Dolliole had made threats against Placek just hours before Tanski was killed.

“He was clearly crazy and always seemed like he was on something, but I just can’t believe something this horrible happened to her,” Tanski’s co-worker Andrew Santiago, 25, said.

Santiago said Tanski had moved into Placek’s apartment on Urquhart Street a couple of months ago, and that while Dolliole had never made threats against Tanski, she was unhappy in her living situation and had been planning to move out of the house on Monday.

According to Tanski’s close friend Raechelle Gonzalez, 21, a couple hours after Dolliole stormed the bar threatening Placek, around 8 p.m., Tanski finished up work and told her co-workers she was going home for the evening.

Gonzalez said she exchanged texts with her from around 8:30 p.m. until 10 p.m. After that, she never heard back from her friend. “I assumed she had just turned in for the night, or that maybe she wasn’t paying attention to her phone,” Gonzalez said.

Shortly before midnight, Tanski’s lifeless body was found by Placek and a third roommate, who had just returned home, according to Santiago. Tanski had been beaten and strangled, and was dead on the scene, authorities said.

“She was so was excited to be here and so excited to explore New Orleans,” Gonzalez later said of her lost friend. “We moved down here together to get a fresh start and enjoy the city. Now, she’ll never get the chance. She was the most wonderful person, just a really great friend.”

According to Tanski’s father, Leonard Tanski, his daughter was a creative free spirit who loved photography and writing. She attended college at SUNY Cobleskill in Albany but later transferred and finished up a liberal arts degree at a university in Virginia.

“She had just come home for Christmas, we just dropped her off at the airport a couple weeks ago,” said a shaken Leonard Tanski when reached by phone at his Albany home on Monday.

“You always see it on the news, but it’s always someone else’s kid, never yours. Now it’s happened to ours and we just can’t understand how this could happen. It’s too awful,” he said.

Police work to break ‘us vs. them’ mindset

This story was published on page A1 of The Advocate on July 29, 2012. It was the sixth part in the paper’s series ‘A Community at Risk’ which looks at why Baton Rouge is one of the nation’s most violent cities. This story examines the role law enforcement plays in the crime rate and how the community’s distrust of police hampers murder investigations. 

Fear of retaliation, distrust of police widespread

BY ROBERT STEWART AND NAOMI MARTIN

Gertrude Cobb still does not know who shot and killed her son more than two years ago.

David Cobb, 16, was shot during a party at a BREC park on Woodpecker Street on March 27, 2010. A fight broke out and bullets started flying, one of which hit Cobb in his spine. He later died in a hospital.

The party had attracted hundreds of people over several hours, Gertrude Cobb said. Despite the potential for eyewitnesses, the case has gone cold in the Baton Rouge Police Department’s file.

“There were too many people out there not to know what happened,” Cobb said, her voice breaking.

The silence surrounding David Cobb’s slaying illustrates a struggle common to many homicide investigations in Baton Rouge. Police say they need the public’s help in finding murder suspects, but the public, for various reasons, won’t always cooperate. Read more of this post

Baton Rouge women’s peaceful reststop in Aurora turns into setting of horror

This story was published as a sidebar to the A1 story on July 24 which covered President Obama’s visit to one of the shooting victims from Baton Rouge. 

As Elizabeth Sumrall pored over a map a month ago in Seattle, planning her cross-country road trip home to Baton Rouge, she decided Aurora, Colo., would be a more peaceful place than nearby Denver for her and her best friend to spend the night.

“I heard the parking was terrible in Denver,” Sumrall said Sunday.

So last week, Sumrall, 23, and her best friend, Bonnie Kate Pourciau, 18, embarked on their road trip to Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore.

After arriving at their Aurora hotel Thursday, their plans took a fateful turn when the women decided to go see the midnight screening of the latest Batman movie. Read more of this post

President Obama visits Baton Rouge shooting victim in Colorado

This story was published on page A1 of The Advocate on July 24, 2012.  Here is the sidebar that details how the two Baton Rouge women ended up in Aurora on that fateful night. 

After a long day of surgery followed by visits from doctors, detectives and journalists, shooting victim Bonnie Kate Pourciau, of Baton Rouge, was recovering Sunday in her Colorado hospital bed when an unexpected visitor popped his head around her door.

It was President Barack Obama.

“Can I come in?” he asked her.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, there’s the president!’ ” Pourciau said. “It was really cool. I felt so honored. I got to shake his hand and give him a hug. He was very friendly.”

While standing next to Pourciau’s hospital bed, Obama told her the hardest part of his job is visiting Americans who have been wounded, both in wars and in tragedies.

The president had just come from visiting others who were in worse shape than Pourciau, she said.

“It has been traumatic. I still haven’t begun to process all that happened,” Pourciau said of the shooting. “And thinking about everything, it’s a terrible, terrible, awful thing, but God is holding us and he has us in control and we’re gonna be okay.”

Obama told Pourciau she was an inspiration to him and he loved seeing her smile. He told her she was going to bounce back.

“It was so special to be encouraged by him like that,” she said.

Pourciau, 18, was shot in the knee early Friday during one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. Read more of this post

Juvenile fugitives caught — police baffled by Jetson director’s claimed ‘chase’

This story was published in The Advocate on July 9, 2012. 

Authorities found and arrested two juvenile fugitives late Saturday, hours after the facility’s director was placed on administrative leave for engaging in a chase “on his own,” said a spokeswoman Sunday.

Director Daron Brown

The administrator left law enforcement agencies from Baton Rouge to New Orleans confused Sunday after he claimed to have chased an SUV Friday night thought to be carrying two juvenile escapees. Some authorities, however, questioned whether the two-hour, high-speed pursuit even happened.

“Everything was unfounded,” said State Police spokesman Sgt. Len Marie. “We had units set up all over the interstate ready to intercept this vehicle as it came through, but it never came through. We don’t even know for a fact that this guy was ever actually involved in a chase.” Read more of this post

Jurors moved by horrific 911 tape

This story was published in The Advocate on May 21, 2012. 

Prosecutors played a tape recording Saturday of the horrific 911 call that ended with the screams of Patricia Aldridge being shot 13 times by an AK-47, while multiple jurors burst into tears and the defendant, Derrick Gordy, leaned back in his chair and stared straight ahead.

The five-minute tape, recorded on Sept. 30, 2009, started with Aldridge calmly telling the dispatcher that four black male assailants had threatened her son’s life outside their South Sunderland Avenue home. A few minutes later, Aldridge could be heard goading the subjects.

“C’mon, try to hit me … uh huh … c’mon … here they come, here they come,” Aldridge said just before the call suddenly erupted into chilling screams and a barrage of gunfire that lasted between 10 and 30 seconds.

“Ma’am? Ma’am?” the dispatcher asked.

“I’m dead,” Aldridge said, before the sounds of gunfire took over the recording. Read more of this post

Police arrest man during rapper’s trial accused of tweeting threats to DA

This story was published on page A1 of The Advocate on May 9, 2012. 

East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies arrested a 21-year-old man Monday for threatening on Twitter to shoot District Attorney Hillar Moore III outside the trial of rapper Torence “Lil Boosie” Hatch, authorities said.

Deputies said they found Dedrick Deandre Green, 14004 Longvue Drive, Baker, sitting in the courtroom Monday afternoon, watching Hatch’s first-degree murder trial.

Green was booked into Parish Prison on felony counts of public intimidation and terrorizing, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

“I got a sniper rifle for Hillar Moore when he walk out the courthouse,” Green posted on Twitter at about 3:40 p.m. Saturday, the affidavit says. Read more of this post