By David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer
It was a tense time for a meeting of candidates for Dallas County District Attorney on Sept. 17. Monday Night Politics, a political forum regularly held by the Dallas Examiner at the African American Museum at Fair Park, hosted the Republican and Democratic nominees facing off for election in November.
It was agreed and emphasized that no current investigations would be discussed, but the biggest issue in the room was obvious: the recent killing of Botham Jean by an off-duty Dallas police officer was on the mind of everyone in the room.
Incumbent Faith Johnson, a Republican who took the office on an appointment by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, previously held an Ace-in-the-hole on the issue of police violence against minorities. She had just come off the successful conviction of Balch Springs officer Roy Oliver, gaining a rare murder conviction after the shooting of a 15-year-old.
“For the first time in history – for 45 years – a police officer was convicted of murder – not manslaughter – right here in Dallas,” Johnson reminded the audience, later adding that the last time an officer was convicted in the 70s, he only ended up serving three months.
But the latest case making headlines has opened the door for Democrat John Creuzot to challenge the treatment of police officers in such cases.
“I believe a police officer who has shot and killed someone should be treated the same way you or I would if we had shot and killed someone,” Creuzot said.
He then pointed to policies which have given officers 72 hours to file reports, an opportunity to review video evidence and consult with an attorney before issuing their version of events. These policies have been challenged, but in the latest case Creuzot said, “It looks like we’re going back to that.” He also suggested he would have gotten more than a 15-year sentence in the Oliver case.
Besides the overriding theme of police overreach and unfairness in dealing with minorities, it was also brought up by the audience that a white man recently drove a truck into a news station in downtown Dallas and “didn’t even get tased.”
“I guess you call that ‘police discretion’,” Creuzot quipped in response. “That’s about all I can tell you.”
Johnson said she would not address the particulars of that case, not wanting to taint an ongoing investigation. But in regards to police tactics, she noted a separation between the DAs office and the police department, stating, “They got their policy, and I can’t address that.”
In her closing remarks, Johnson reminded the audience that she had opened 15 satellite offices to make the DAs office more accessible to the public. She has begun a homeless diversion program, and had attended more than 900 community events as a DA to be accessible herself. She had also organized and expunction expo to help low-level offenders to get their records cleared in order to qualify for employment.
“Over 300-and-something people have actually had their arrest records expunged,” Johnson said. “And back in 2007, a law was passed to say that if you have a not guilty, no bill, if you have a dismissed, pardon; then your case, your arrest, can be expunged. See, people didn’t even know that. It was a law on the books, and we brought that to the people.”
She then reiterated her commitment to holding police accountable for shooting unarmed Black citizens.
Creuzot ended his presentation by describing to the audience what he calls, “the trick.”
“We all know that this is the last year for straight party voting, OK?,” Creuzot said. “The Republican legislature passed that law, and the governor who put her into office signed the bill into law. And guess why? So we can’t keep electing ourselves in Dallas County and Harris County and the big counties. That’s a trick.”
Reading a Republican statement from Johnson’s swearing in, John Creuzot laid out the case for Johnson’s complicity in a plan to remove Democrats from power in Texas.
“Judge Johnson will spread our message – the Republican message – and ladies and gentleman I’m privileged to work with Judge Johnson for the next several years,” Creuzot recited. “Sounds like they got a plan to get the Democrats and the folks that you’ve been working for in office, out of office.”
The DA election will be held on the Nov. 6 ballot, with early voting beginning on Oct. 22 and running until Nov. 2.