by Jim Schutze
The Dallas Morning News on its editorial page last week repeated again a flagrant and malicious lie about Dallas City Council member and mayoral candidate Scott Griggs. The lie is a window on how the old-guard leadership in the city really operates and the depths to which it is willing to sink to preserve influence and power.
Their influence and power are built on bribes, prison terms and people under the bus, but the old-guard leaders probably are sincere in their belief that everybody else operates the same way they do. That’s how corrupt, unprincipled people think.
The lie, which the paper apparently intends to repeat at least once a week until the May 4 mayoral election, is that Dallas police at one point wanted to bring felony charges against Griggs for an attack the newspaper dishonestly and repeatedly alleges Griggs made on a female city staff member in 2015.
That simply is not true. The police did not want to bring charges. The newspaper knows what it says is not true. The newspaper lies. Repeatedly. Here is how The Dallas Morning News put it in last week’s version:
Police investigated council member Scott Griggs for an encounter in 2015 with then-assistant city secretary, now city secretary, Bilierae Johnson, whose fingers he allegedly threatened to break. Police called the incident a felony — coercion of a public official — and referred it to the district attorney. A grand jury reviewed the circumstances and declined to indict Griggs. Johnson remained haunted by the incident months after it happened. Later, this newspaper turned up information that two other city workers had complained about Griggs screaming at them, one of whom said he called her lazy and a liar. – Dallas Morning News
The truth is that former Dallas police Chief David Brown, who was never enthusiastic about the accusation in the first place, ultimately declined to recommend charges of any kind after the principle witness and alleged victim signed a sworn affidavit saying it didn’t happen. If months later the Morning News was able to get her to say she was still haunted, it was probably because they were still haunting her.
This whole thing came straight out of the kind of corrupt, dishonest, quasi-fraudulent behavior that for decades has been the hallmark of the old leadership championed by the Morning News editorial page. The case in point here was the old guard’s biggest, longest-running fraud ever, its ultimately failed 20-year battle to get an unneeded new expressway built practically on top of the Trinity River through downtown.
Every time the Trinity toll road project hit the wall again, failed to make its numbers or flunked another exam, the Dallas Citizens Council-types, acting through their handpicked puppet mayors and the Morning News, came up with yet another form of window dressing. In 2015, Mayor Mike Rawlings announced he had devised a special “dream team” that was going to fix everything wrong with the toll road plan. They didn’t. It died. Thank goodness.
“These allegations, as described, do not sound like crimes, so it will appear weird for DPD to investigate them and weird to refer them to the grand jury.”— Chief Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers
The “dream team” was a rehash of all the same sold-out so-called consultants who had been blowing smoke and hanging curtains in front of the project for years, trying to argue that the expressway wasn’t an expressway at all but a park. They were all kids’ birthday party magicians with Ivy League credentials.
In order to get his dream team funded in time, Rawlings had to meet certain deadlines, but he and his staff had already blown those deadlines. Griggs found out one day that people in the city secretary’s office were in the process of faking up documentation to make it look as if the deadlines had been met. Their intent was to publicly post notice of an upcoming meeting after the legal deadline for posting had expired.
Griggs rushed from his council office in one part of City Hall to the city secretary’s office in another and demanded to know what was going on. By general agreement, an argument ensued.
Weeks later, then City Attorney Warren Ernst claimed Griggs had told then-Assistant City Secretary Johnson he would “break your fucking fingers” to stop her from officially posting a City Council meeting to consider hiring the mayor’s dream team. Ernst said he had conducted his own criminal investigation and had determined that Griggs had committed an obscure felony called “official coercion,” a serious offense, Ernst said, which he intended to refer to the police department and/or a grand jury.
The law on which Ernst hung his hat had been invoked only a handful of times in Texas history, once against then-Gov. Rick Perry. After the Griggs case was over, the Perry case went to the Texas Supreme Court, where the law was ruled unconstitutional.
Subsequently released documents have shown that while he was piecing together his case against Griggs, Ernst was keeping Mayor Rawlings abreast of developments on an almost hourly basis. But soon after Ernst made his big announcement, his own top assistant authored a memo pouring cold water. The assistant wrote, “(The Dallas Police Department) investigates only crimes and refers some serious crimes to the grand jury. These allegations, as described, do not sound like crimes, so it will appear weird for DPD to investigate them and weird to refer them to the grand jury.”
Later, after I wrote about that memo, the top assistant who had penned it contacted me and tried to walk it back, saying the memo wasn’t really what he meant to say. I take the memo for the memo.
The police chief also declined to portray what had happened between Griggs and the secretary’s staff as a crime. So now we had Ernst’s own top assistant and the chief of police declining to find the “break your fucking fingers” story credible. But then Ernst and the mayor had an even bigger problem.
Assistant City Secretary Johnson, the person alleged to have been threatened, who the Morning News claims was still haunted months later, signed a sworn affidavit saying Griggs had not threatened her. So, wait. That was it, right? The victim said it didn’t happen. It was over.
No. Ernst penned a new memo expressing an entirely wackadoodle legal theory to the effect that Bilierae Johnson did not have to feel threatened in order for her to have been threatened in fact. She could have been threatened and not realized how serious the threat was, like, “OK, go ahead and break a few fingers, I got extras.”
It was at that point that former Chief Brown told Ernst that, if Ernst stopped investigating, Brown would dump the whole thing in the lap of then-District Attorney Susan Hawk with no specific recommendation for action. Clearly none of the accusation against Griggs had ever possessed a single scintilla of merit. By taking the matter to the DA, Chief Brown was offshoring it out of City Hall, where there was no chance of an honest outcome.
Had it gone to any normal district attorney, the charges would have been tossed at that point and never would even have been presented to a grand jury. But Hawk at the time was in and out of orbit, AWOL from office on drug benders and serial rehab stays. When she was sober enough to show up in the office, she was being walked on a leash by political consultant Mari Woodlief, with whom Hawk was living. Woodlief, who represents Morning News candidates and campaigns, lied serially to the media about where her roommate was.
In the midst of this ugliness, with the case balancing in the hands of a drug addict and a political hack, an assistant district attorney made what in retrospect looks like the right decision. She sent the matter to a grand jury. The grand jury tossed it, declining to indict Griggs.
This is the case The Dallas Morning News intends to tell you about at least once a week on its editorial page between now and the election in May, with clear intent to make Griggs look like a vicious, woman-attacking, finger-breaking, F-word-spewing thug. The characterization is so far from Griggs’ well-known very controlled genteel persona, it would be laughable if it were not so viciously dishonest.
That’s the window. The deliberate dishonesty about what happened that day four years ago in the city secretary’s office is one thing and bad enough. But it needs to be put together with a larger pattern. We also saw last week that yet another poor black ex-City Council member, a vote-pawn of the establishment, probably is headed to the federal penitentiary for taking bribes. And I do not mean to diminish the personal individual responsibility of people who choose of their own free will to abuse the public trust.
But please see what the window shows. The Citizens Council/Morning Newsoligarchy has for decades relied on the votes of corrupt, impoverished African-American council members to promote and defend scams like the Trinity River toll road, the fake suspension bridges over the Trinity River and, much worse, a litany of dirty real estate development deals. When the bribe-takers get caught, the old guard peels them off and tosses them away like used Kleenex.
Only a certain morality could accuse an honest, innocent man of attacking a woman, of committing a felony that could ruin his career, his family, his life, and do it because he disagreed about a toll road. We’re talking about an old, entrenched, ruthless arrogance. That’s the real window.