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Making Dallas Even Better

Texas Forensic Science Commission Recommends Throwing Out Bite-Mark Evidence

On Thursday a Texas Forensic Science Commission panel recommended that evidence based upon bite marks not be admissible in court. The full commission is expected to approve the moratorium, as soon as today:

Bite-mark evidence has been used in U.S. courts for decades, most often to identify suspects in murders, sexual assaults and child abuse through marks on the flesh of victims.

But techniques to determine the source of marks are unreliable, and human flesh is not a good source to record the marks, studies presented to the panel showed. In some studies, experts were often divided on whether they were seeing human bite marks, let alone matching them to a specific individual.

“This commission’s findings are incredibly significant because no other agency or scientific body has ever opined on the admissibility of bite mark analysis,” said Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation for the Innocence Project, which sought the review.

But don’t expect the Dallas County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit to reevaluate a host of cases of those sent to prison on this type of evidence. As the Morning News reported, even though a man named Steven Chaney was freed last fall after just such evidence was determined to have been faulty, there’s no easy way to determine who else might have been unfairly convicted on these grounds:

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We Can All Agree Gas Drilling Under Lewisville Lake Is a Bad Idea, Yes?

Dallas Water Utilities has joined the town of Highland Village and a slew of environmental groups in protesting the potential sale of a gas lease that would allow drilling near and underneath Lewisville Lake. The cities of Lewisville and Denton are also considering making their own formal protests.

The Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t officially oppose the lease, which is set to be auctioned off by the federal Bureau of Land Management on April 20. But, DMN reports:

A 2013 presentation by corps engineer Anita Branch brought up human-induced earthquakes, dangers of fracking fluid migrating through underground faults and the possibility of water contamination. She noted that gas drilling wasn’t factored into the design of the dams.

Branch’s presentation at a professional conference recommended extensive geological testing in drilling areas and close monitoring. The PowerPoint presentation said the proposals weren’t officially endorsed by the corps.

The corp has started researching gas drilling and dams but results haven’t been completed. There little certainty about what – if any – risks are posed by gas drilling near dams or levees.

So it looks like there’s a consensus that the risk posed to Lewisville Lake, a major source of drinking water in North Texas, isn’t worth what would be gained by permitting the drilling.

Let’s hope the BLM comes around to seeing it the same way.

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Leading Off (2/12/16)

Another Porn Convention Targets Dallas. Adultcon — likely jealous of the free publicity that competing adult expo Exxxotica has been getting from the Dallas City Council and more than willing to take its own settlement cash from a lawsuit if their request is likewise rejected — inquired on Thursday about available dates for an event at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. Odds that the council soon reverses course on this sex-filled can of worms it’s opened?

Southwest Airlines to Pay Record Profit Sharing. Due largely to a drop in fuel costs, the carrier posted $2.2 billion in net income for 2015. That’s resulted in a record $620 million available for its profit sharing program. Each eligible employee will receive 15.6 percent of his or her annual salary —  eight weeks’ pay — as a bonus. Sagging oil prices sure aren’t all bad for the Dallas economy.

High-Speed Police Chase From Rockwall to Waco. At times the pursuit topped 100 mph, and it only ended when the driver crashed into a median guardrail.

Plano Cops Rescue Kid From Fire. Officers Russel Harris and Mark Jones saved the 5-year-old boy from the second story of a burning home.

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Dallas City Council Bans Exxxotica From Using Convention Center

Today’s title fight at the horseshoe — over the mayor’s proposal to ban the Exxxotica sex show from returning to the city-owned Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center — unsurprisingly centered on the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment vs. the desire not to contribute to the exploitation of women and girls.

The measure was approved, by a vote of 8-7. Those in favor were Adam McGough, Carolyn Arnold, Casey Thomas, Erik Wilson, Jennifer Staubach Gates, Mayor Mike Rawlings, Rickey Callahan, and Tiffinni Young. Against it were Adam Medrano, Lee Kleinman, Mark Clayton, Monica Alonzo, Philip Kingston, Sandy Greyson, and Scott Griggs.

Rawlings began the council’s debate by explaining that he proposed the resolution as part of his (self-described) duties as “chief brand officer” and said that he doesn’t believe the event is good for Dallas’ reputation.

He drew parallels between this potential legal fight and past fights the city has accepted even when it knew it was likely to be sued, as with denying gas drilling in a park or the (short-lived) plastic-bag ban. (Though, it should be noted, neither of those disputes centered on constitutional matters.)

Rawlings’ case was essentially that denying Exxxotica the use of the convention center is no different than restrictions the city is allowed to put on such things as the size and placement of billboards. There are many such decisions where the city has a right to determine to what length the freedom of speech extends.

“I read online that there’s a place [in the Exxxotica event] called the Dungeon, where women are tied up and whipped,” Rawlings said, his voice breaking with emotion. “There’s where it crossed the line for me.”

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Leading Off (2/10/16)

Son of Local Man Finishes Third in New Hampshire Primary. As of late last night, Carrollton resident Rafael Cruz’s son Ted was just behind John Kasich, good enough for third place. Trump and Sanders both won by big margins.

Rams Owner Buys Waggoner Ranch. The famous, massive ranch was on the market for $725 million, though it’s not clear how much L.A. Rams owner Stan Kroenke actually paid. In addition to a football team that will playing in a nice, new stadium in Southern California, Kroenke owns 11 other ranches in North America.

Man Pleads Guilty to Killing Teenager Who Was Battling Cancer. Yep. Tyler Wiley, 20, from Desoto, admitted shooting 15-year-old Ryan Lara in 2014 outside the boy’s Duncanville home in what police believe was an attempted robbery. Lara had been fighting Lymphoma. Three others are charged with murder and awaiting trial.

Dance Teacher Accused of Molesting Students. Vann Gilbert, who calls himself “the Doctor of Dance,” was arrested yesterday after a 90-minute standoff with the Dallas SWAT team. He’s charged with two cases of indecency with a child, stemming from an accusations that go back nearly 20 years.

Read Some Michael Brick. Earlier this week I posted about the death of a friend of mine, an incredible writer who graduated from R.L. Turner. I miss him. Yesterday, the New York Times posted a collection of some of Brick’s work. You should really take the time to read a few stories.

Mark Cuban Gives Us Good Reason to Weep For the Future of the Republic

Today on his blog, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban opined about the presidential race. He begins:

There is a mantra I repeat all the time: “If the information is important it will find me” . We don’t go find the news. It finds us.  The majority of presidential election voters don’t turn on the evening news or open a newspaper or even tune to cable news network to learn about the candidates and decide on who they will vote for it.  They probably can’t name all the candidates running for POTUS.  I’m not sure if they care.

What they trust are their social media news feeds.  Whats on their instagram.  Whats mentioned on snapchat stories.  What’s in their FB feed.

He’s right. So many of us live in a virtual echo chamber we’ve fashioned for ourselves that it’s little wonder the brashest voices tend to win out.

Cuban suggests that politicians looking to capture the youth vote would be smarter to eschew courting traditional influencers and to pursue instead the endorsement of the Internet-famous, like this kid:

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The Lesson South Oak Cliff High Just Taught All DISD Students

Yes, there’s a story about it on the front page of today’s metro section. Sure, the incident was widely covered on local TV stations. But I’m not quite sure it has sunk in yet just what a potentially city-changing event has been unfolding over the past couple of months in South Oak Cliff.

It began with the sad fact that South Oak Cliff High School is in terrible shape. Students describe falling ceiling tiles, leaky classrooms, malfunctioning HVAC, decrepit locker rooms, and empty library shelves. The district set aside $13 million to address some of these issues in the upcoming $1.6 billion bond program, but that’s a drop in the bucket when compared with the $40 million it is estimated to take to make South Oak Cliff High School look like, you know, a real school. So the students walked out. Last December, 250 of them demonstrated in front of their school demanding that the district figure out how to provide a place where they can learn that doesn’t communicate to them on a daily basis that they have already been written-off by the world.

And the district responded.

Now trustees plan to double the amount of money they will spend on fixing South Oak Cliff High School to $25 million. It’s still short of the $40 million the school needs, but that’s a huge concession. Students staged a collective action, and they forced the hand of the district, which will now double the amount of money it will spend on fixing South Oak Cliff High School.

I believe that’s major, and here’s why.

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Poll: Should Dallas Ban a Porn Convention?

I’ll be surprised if this isn’t a landslide result. On one side of the issue that the Dallas City Council will consider at Wednesday’s meeting are Mayor Mike Rawlings and billionaire Ray Hunt, who believe there’s an opportunity to block the return of the Exxxotica sex show to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

On the other, there’s city councilmen Philip Kingston and Lee Kleinman (who often disagree on other decisions), as well as future buddy-comedy co-stars Mike Hashimoto and Zac Crain, plus (probably) the United States Supreme Court and most of the Founding Fathers (not John Adams, who was a bit of a prude, but definitely Ben “Early to Bed, Early to Rise” Franklin.)

What do you think?

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It May Cost More to Remove the Dallas Wave Than to Fix It

I just happened to spend my morning hanging out at a meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board (always a good time, let me tell you), and got to sit in on the first public briefing on the Dallas Wave since the January 20 city council meeting. If your short term memory needs refreshing, the January 20 meeting was when the city council found out that they had 5 hours to respond to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers request to finally figure out how to fix the whitewater feature on the Trinity, which has been closed since it opened in 2011.

There wasn’t much new revealed in the meeting that hasn’t been batted around to death. One of the most eyebrow-raising revelations was that most of the people on the parks board have never been briefed on the Dallas Wave, despite the fact that a power point presentation seemed to suggest that city staff spent much of 2015 trying to figure out what on earth to do with the thing. According to city staff, the city is looking at two options for fixing the wave problem. The first is to lengthen the bypass channel in order to decrease the grade, making it possible to navigate upstream. The second is to simply take the white water feature out altogether.

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Poll: Does Dallas Need to Pay Down Debt Before Fixing Roads?

UPDATE: The City Council has reportedly agreed that there will be a 2017 bond program, because “deferred maintenance is not an option.” But it looks like it may well be a smaller bond, in the $200 million to $500 million range, than the $1 billion initially discussed.

We learned last week that several members of the Dallas City Council are pushing to delay what had been discussed as a possible $1 billion bond election in 2017. The argument for doing so is based upon concerns that the city has substantial debt obligations already, as well as uncertainty over how shortfalls in the police and fire pension fund might affect future operations.

But with so many roads across Dallas pockmarked with potholes, opponents of a postponement say there are too many vital infrastructure needs now that would prove even costlier if further delayed. What do you think?

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Leading Off (2/3/15)

Cyclist Finds Skull in Plano. Police are investigating what appears to be a skull and human bones found in a creek behind an elementary school yesterday afternoon. The family of at least one missing woman has been notified, though police say it’s too early to connect the remains to anyone.

Fight Over Phone Leads to Fatal Shooting. Police say a 21-year-old man confessed to shooting 30-year-old Jamal Deshaylen Berry in the chest after an argument over a phone. Berry was found shot in the street outside a rec center in East Oak Cliff yesterday morning.

Whataburger Robbers Sentenced to 115 Years. Two men who were convicted of robbing four different Whataburgers and three different Jack-in-Box locations in 2014 were sentenced to more than a century each — 1384 months, specifically — in prison for the crimes.

Local Man Returns Home After Son Wins Iowa Caucus. Rafael Cruz was spotted in an Iowa airport yesterday, heading back to Texas. He said he wouldn’t be spending as much time campaigning for his son in New Hampshire because “There are not as many evangelicals.”

Why Yesterday Was Such an Important Day for Dallas History

As Tim mentions in Leading Off, the Dallas Landmark Commission voted in favor of pursuing protection for a number of important historic sites and structures yesterday, choosing preservation over lazy private interests in each case. The decision to move a 19th century home in the Cedars, rather than bulldoze it for a parking lot, and to move towards designating the Meadows Building on Central Expressway as a historic landmark, thus protecting it from its current owner’s planned demolition of a wing, demonstrates a rare and welcomed willingness from a city board to stand up to private developers in the name of the public’s interest. And the move to protect Big Spring also showed that the commission is willing to step in on behalf of Dallas’ dwindling natural resource, even in a case where the chief threat to the preservation of that natural resource is the city itself.

Mark Lamster runs through all of this in a column, and I don’t have much to add to his thoughts, though it is worth highlighting a few of them:

If the Meadows isn’t a landmark, than nothing is. The commission’s unanimous vote in favor of designation was a heartening indication of this reality, and a welcome validation of its own responsibility. A landmarks commission that cannot protect a building like the Meadows is not worth its name, and serves no purpose.

Yesterday, Dallas demonstrated that it has a Landmark Commission with a purpose. That should be an encouraging source of optimism. Perhaps we are transitioning into a new kind of Dallas, a city that bucks the character cliches of its ensconced business-first civic mentality that has historically devalued not just history and nature, but the public oversight of municipal government to boot.

Leading Off (2/2/16)

Joseph Randle Gambled on Sports. The former Cowboys running back was arrested Monday on a speeding warrant (making that his fourth arrest in 17 months), and the DMN is reporting that part of the reason the Cowboys released him last year was because he was betting on sports (though not, apparently, Cowboys games).

Dallas Landmark Commission Votes To Protect Big Spring. After so much bad news recently about city contractors bungling around in the Trinity Forest, it’s nice to hear this. The Landmark Commission has voted to protect Big Spring, one of the last artesian springs in North Texas. Surely the Plan Commission and the City Council will now do the right thing and approve the vote.

Meadows Building Might Get City Protection. Speaking of the Landmark Commission, it also voted yesterday to begin the lengthy process of giving the building on Greenville Avenue a historic designation (much to the new owner’s chagrin).

Dallas City Council To Discuss Bond Package. The Council is holding a retreat today. One of the topics they’ll discuss: putting off a $1 billion bond package till 2018. The mayor says he is concerned about the city’s financial stability. So enjoy your potholes, people.

Dallas May Wait Even Longer to Repair Its Streets

As the DMN notes, at a retreat next week the Dallas City Council will discuss the possibility of postponing until 2018 a $1 billion bond program initially planned to go before voters in 2017. The reason is that Mayor Mike Rawlings and some other council members want the city to pay down some of its outstanding debt before taking on any more:

As things stand, $235 million out of Dallas’ $3 billion budget will go toward debt service this fiscal year alone .

“That’s money that could be going toward other services,” said council member Lee Kleinman, who has advocated that the city pay for repairs only when it can afford to do so. “That’s money that could go toward streets.”

“We’re trying as a council to bring our credit card spending down,” Rawlings said.

Any delay could be a disappointment to residents eager to get repaired many streets that are now in a near-post-apocalyptic state. Councilman Philip Kingston sounds ready to serve as their champion on the horseshoe:

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Leading Off (1/29/16)

Dallas Schoolchildren Required to Play. The DISD board voted Thursday that all district elementary schools must give students 20 minutes of recess each day for the rest of this school year, increasing that to at least 30 minutes daily next year. Recess also can’t be withheld as a form of punishment in disciplinary matters. Trustee Dan Micciche, who brought the proposal to the board, cited studies indicating recess improves social and emotional health. Considering the gorgeous weather we’re expected to have today, I plan to make the same argument to Wick this afternoon.

Arlington Woman Awarded Millions For Awful Book. I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, unless you count Buzzfeed’s abridged, illustrated version. But millions have bought author E.L. James’ book that began as fan fiction published through a website co-founded by Arlington woman Jennifer Pedroza. A jury last year found that Pedroza’s partner had cheated her out of her rightful share of royalties from the work, and on Thursday a judge awarded the Fort Worth schoolteacher $10.4 million in royalties plus $888,643 in pre-judgment interest, as well as $1.7 million in attorney’s fees. So Fifty Shades has made so much money that a woman who didn’t even write the thing, and is splitting her royalty share with the other partners who worked to publish it, still looks to make $11.5 million? Jeez, you people like your S&M.

Dallas Police Chief Doesn’t Need Your Resume. Testifying as part of a civil suit filed against the city, David Brown explained the process by which he decided whom to promote to the rank of major within the department. His “intricate vetting process” has “little need for resumes, job interviews, detailed personnel histories or opinions outside of his command staff.”

Kennedale Smells Like Old Rotted Fish. Parts of Arlington too. Residents there are blaming recent changes at a landfill run by the city of Fort Worth. If I were better acquainted with Kennedale, I’d insert a cutting punchline here. But for all I know it was previously a veritable Garden of Eden, redolent of lilac and baby powder.