Setting aside the fact that our founding fathers were largely OK with owning humans and barring women from voting, the United States was founded on some pretty reasonable if not radical ideals. Civic life in this country is predicated on the concept that we don’t have to agree on everything to live together peacefully and freely.
And yet we live in a time when the very institution that is supposed to protect our rights and liberties — the government — has become the bludgeon by which religious zealots, homophobic hatemongers, and the majority of Southlakers regularly abuse their wealth and privilege to shit on everyday folks just trying to make it through the day without the luxury of generational wealth.
The future looks grim for Tarrant County following the recent takeover by Southlake Christian Nationalists who think the Golden Rule is to amass as much gold as possible. The movement that started over Critical Race Theory paranoia in the tony suburb recently installed a holier-than-thou Bible thumper as county judge. Tim O’Hare makes his living as a personal injury lawyer, and last we checked, “Blessed be the frivolous lawsuit” wasn’t a Bible verse. There are some great quotes on why a life spent accumulating blood money and wealth in general is anathema to enjoying eternal life, though.
Anyone who has thumbed through our magazine over the past year is well aware of O’Hare’s disdain for those who do not share his conspiracy theories and for Hispanics, whom he calls “less than desirable” people. Unfortunately for thin-skinned Timmy boy, the county seat is in Fort Worth, not Southlake, and locals haven’t forgotten the bullshit he spread about former Mayor Betsy Price leading up to March’s primaries.
Things aren’t looking better at the state level, where Gov. Greg Abbott won another four-year term even after telling Texans that the Uvalde school massacre “could have been worse” and failing to adequately upgrade the state’s electrical grid because somehow our rugged independence as Texans will save us from the next deadly winter storm. (Spoiler alert: It won’t.)
Arguably posing the greatest threat to our increasingly embattled pluralistic way of life is the U.S. Supreme Court. Once a bulwark against affronts by the immoral minority of white conservatives, it’s been packed with religious fanatics by the twice-impeached, soon-to-be-indicted racist rapist and former occupant of the White House who lost the popular vote in two consecutive presidential elections. Now the Moral Majority’s wet dream is our gross nightmare.
After the country’s alleged highest court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year, denying bodily autonomy to half the country, interracial and gay marriage, along with access to contraception, became the next likely targets of the religious right in black robes.
Those fears were not unfounded. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion with Roe’s June overturning, wrote that gay marriage and access to contraception should be reconsidered by the Supreme Court. His comments — plus the reality that constitutional rights could now be unceremoniously plucked by a court previously known for protecting and expanding rights — prompted national leaders to adopt and pass legislation protecting interracial and same-sex marriage. Texas senators John Cornyn and Ted “Cancun” Cruz joined 34 Republican asshats in voting against Respect for Marriage. The act that requires states to recognize legally performed marriages recently passed the Democrat-held House of Representatives and was signed into federal law by President Joe Biden.
This year hasn’t been a total wash. The midterms were a reminder that limp voter fraud conspiracies can’t replace honest campaigning and solid public policy research. The “red wave” that every mainstream media outlet predicted — because they’re vile, stupid, and thrive on the death of democracy — was more like a little red spritzy-spritz. Almost all of the former guy’s endorsed candidates ended up in the circular file along with many other red-hatted losers as Dems gained a senate seat during an election that historically and strongly favors the party not in the White House. Even though Democrat Deborah Peoples lost her bid for county judge, establishment Republicans like Steve Murrin, a prominent developer and the unofficial mayor of the Stockyards, went against the party line to stand against homophobic, xenophobic, racist Southlakers like O’Hare and his ilk.
Following the county judge-elect’s slanderous primary campaign against Price, Mayor Mattie Parker, who previously worked as Price’s chief of staff, effectively announced her departure from the Big Lie Party. O’Hare’s press releases that falsely portrayed Price as a Marxist baby killer were too offensive even for Parker and supporters of the former mayor who was never perfect but — unlike most Republican politicians — adhered to accepted norms of human decency.
By any measure, 2022 was a victory for Southlake and the broader Christian Nationalism movement that seeks to install a Christian caliphate here and across the country. It’s a growing and well-monied effort that enjoys staunch support from DA Sharen Wilson, Sheriff Bill Waybourn, DA-elect Phil Sorrells, and anyone who donated to O’Hare’s grift, er, “campaign.”
Any hope of successfully combating government malfeasance and the well-monied Christian Nationalism takeover of our county requires informed citizens, who understand how we got where we are. While not comprehensive, this mostly chronological look back pulls from our recent original reporting and summarizes the most consequential year yet for our readers.
County Corruption Thrived
Our readers began learning about the inept leadership at Tarrant County College (TCC) early this year. In April, as the college’s board placed Chancellor Eugene Giovannini on leave before eventually terminating him for mishandling the firing of TCC fundraising executive Kristen Bennett, several former employees told us horror stories of retaliation by campus administrators who promoted lackeys while disciplining or outright firing anyone who questioned TCC’s verifiably toxic work environment.
The February trial of former Justice of the Peace Jacquelyn Wright — who was found guilty of failing to properly file her homestead exemption — revealed an extensive effort by county judges to scoot tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of county dollars to greedy, unqualified visiting retired judges. Wright’s judge, we found, was assigned under the false title of senior judge and had no Oath of Office on file as required by Article 16 of the Texas Constitution.
Much of our subsequent research focused on Tarrant County judges who preside over criminal cases while not constitutionally or statutorily qualified to. Visiting retired judges, we found in our reporting, regularly refuse to take their two-part Oath of Office, which includes an anti-bribery statement and Oath of Office, before taking on an assignment. By skirting the law, these judges are able to double-dip by earning around $750 per day of assignment while pulling in retirement.
Judge David Evans, who oversees the Eighth Administrative Judicial Region that includes Tarrant County, falsely assigned at least two retired misdemeanor judges as senior judges, a step that requires notifying Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht in accordance with Chapter 75 of the State Government Code. Even though misdemeanor judges, based on our extensive investigations of court documents, routinely request and are given senior judge status, Hecht now maintains that only district judges, who oversee felony cases, can become senior judges.
His 180 may be an attempt to clean up years of botched cases by misdemeanor judges who failed to become a judicial officer yet continued presiding over cases anyway. The original language in our civil statutes that became Chapter 75 is clear that all judges must request an assignment from the chief justice to continue serving as judges following retirement. Hecht’s actions appear to be creating an entire class of judges, retired visiting misdemeanor judges, who rule with absolutely no authority.
Summer ‘Voter Fraud’ Frenzy
The Big Lie came to Cowtown this year, courtesy of Tarrant County Citizens for Election Integrity. In July, around 40 members of the willfully misinformed group began reviewing thousands of ballots from Tarrant County’s March 2020 GOP primary election. The biggest snark hunt in Texas was underway.
The snooping by election fraud swindlers prompted rare national attention on Tarrant County as the hosts of NPR’s popular show This American Life examined accusations against the county’s top elections administrator, Heider Garcia, who allegedly *puts on tinfoil hat* participated in voter fraud in Venezuela and the Philippines when he worked for Smartmatic, an election technology company. Those lies promoted by Faux News falsely allege Smartmatic machines switched votes to favor President Biden during the 2020 election despite any evidence. Smartmatic is suing Faux News for nearly $3 billion in damages, which makes the litigation humanity’s best hope for finally ridding us of the misinforming channel of choice for Southlakers and other myopic misanthropic morons.
“In the last few years in Texas, lots of election administrators quit because of accusations of fraud, obscene and racist emails, and threats,” This American Life said, “but there is another path. The official in Tarrant County is this singular, kind of remarkable figure. He is very effective. His name is Heider Garcia. If anyone can convince the elections deniers, it would be this guy.”
Heider’s strategy, the show said, is radical patience.
“His strategy is to go as far as humanly possible to address every suspicion,” NPR said. “He treats everything they say as worthy of an answer.”
Garcia apparently monitors Twitter and this trash portal called Telegram to see what right-wingers are saying about elections. When he hears a conspiracy theory, he dives deep to shovel away the b.s.
As comical as This American Life made Citizens for Election Integrity appear, the right-wing group with Southlake roots has and will likely continue to use political connections and voter fraud paranoia to churn up baseless criminal charges against Democrats and perceived political enemies.
In the weeks leading to Peoples’ narrow loss to O’Hare, Fort Worth police video footage surfaced of a rambling felon describing — in great (read: scripted) detail — his alleged work several years earlier falsifying mail-in ballots for Democrats. Among the names tied to the alleged voter harvesting fraud was Peoples.
Little of the conversation between felon Charles Jackson and Fort Worth police officer Jentry Cotten could be said to be credible, yet the video that was picked up by right-wing blogs and YouTubers possibly swayed the county election in favor of O’Hare. Based on our recent reporting, the election deniers with Citizens for Election Integrity are behind the stunt (“ Voter Fraud Frenzy,” Nov. 16).
Leaked internal emails between Tarrant County assistant district attorney Larry Moore and investigators with the state attorney general’s office reveal a concerted effort by AG Ken Paxton to compel our local DA to hand over a voter fraud case earlier this year. Although the two emails do not name Peoples, the timing of the emails suggests members of Citizens for Election Integrity were dangling the Charles Jackson video around in hopes of having the case criminally investigated, even as the footage lacked credibility.
Our DA’s office ultimately refused to bring the matter before a grand jury or allow the AG to independently prosecute the case. Paxton, a vocal supporter of the Big Lie, has made voter fraud a central focus of his office even as evidence of election rigging here and across the country remains infinitesimally small. Republicans just can’t stand that people are voting and that most votes are going blue. Instead of coming up with better ideas and becoming less racist and sexist, the GOP cries foul.
A confidential source who asked not to be named showed us a photo of Cotten smiling alongside Sheriff Waybourn, who refused to investigate the authenticity of the video yet failed to disclose to us that he knew Officer Cotten.
Next year may see more bogus Republican-backed voter fraud allegations targeting Dems. O’Hare has pledged to make investigating “voter fraud” a top priority for the county through the creation of an Election Integrity Officer.
“This position would be selected by a committee including the sheriff, the county judge, and a designated county commissioner,” O’Hare said. “The Election Integrity Officer will seek to find and uncover election fraud. Any election fraud discovered by the Election Integrity Officer would be reported to the sheriff and the district attorney and prosecuted as the DA sees fit.”
Tarrant County residents should be horrified that a pathological liar with a history of misusing political connections and the criminal justice system for self-serving aims will soon be able to unilaterally launch criminal investigations against perceived political enemies.
Last year, based on several conversations with well-connected Southlakers and our award-nominated investigation into Southlake, O’Hare allegedly orchestrated the unprecedented indictments of two Carroll school board members who remain under Class B misdemeanor charges for allegedly breaking the Texas Open Meetings Act. In mid- to late-2020, members Todd Carlton and Michelle Moore texted each other to discuss ways to heal a fractured community coming to terms with rampant and brazen racist acts on the part of students, parents, and school administrators. Rather than address the lingering issues, O’Hare used funds from a wacko PAC, Southlake Families, to peddle vapid Critical Race Theory conspiracies.
The DA’s investigation into the alleged open meetings violations, initiated by ADA Lloyd Whelchel and investigator Kyle Pisula, was undertaken unilaterally and without support by the Southlake police department (“ News Roundup,” Dec. 2021). Months after the alleged favor to O’Hare, DA Wilson, whose eight-year tenure has been marred by allegations of corruption and ineptitude, endorsed O’Hare.
“Tim O’Hare would make an outstanding County Judge for Tarrant County,” Wilson said publicly. “He is honest and respectful.”
Weird way to say “full of shit” and “racist,” but OK.
The summer months saw more than voter fraud antics. Hundreds braved near triple-digit temps in August to protest the Tarrant Appraisal District (TAD). Leading into 2022, few would have guessed that public uproar over TAD would surpass anger at the well-vilified Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) and its $1.2 billion waterfront resort, er, “flood control project.”
The Weekly has been steadily documenting attempts to sway lucrative contracts to political donors (“ Keeping Tabs on TAD,” Jan. 2021), abuse of taxpayer dollars as a means of hiding whistleblower complaints (“ Shining a Light on TAD,” June 2021), and most recently the coordinated attack by TAD staffers against local Realtor Chandler Crouch (“ Culture of Deception,” June 16).
Throughout the summer, due to our reporting and public statements by Crouch, the public learned that, the year before, TAD’s director of residential appraisal had complained about Crouch to the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration. Randy Armstrong alleged that Crouch, who volunteers to help property owners protest home valuations, rarely appeared in person to represent his clients and appraised homes at far lower values than the market rate for protest purposes.
Armstrong’s many critics believe he was simply annoyed at the extra workload Crouch’s volunteerism had created. By August, public outrage at Crouch’s mistreatment led hundreds to protest outside TAD headquarters in northeast Tarrant County. TAD’s five-member board voted that month to suspend Chief Appraiser Jeff Law for two weeks without pay for failing to intervene in Armstrong’s attempts to discredit Crouch last fall. To TAD’s critics, the board’s move was a limp attempt to feign concern that a government administrator used his position to retaliate against a private citizen for petty, purely personal reasons.
The only board member who appears to grasp the severity of TAD’s missteps is Rich DeOtte, who has publicly called for the DA’s office to look into possible nefarious acts committed by Armstrong and Law, specifically breaking official oppression laws that forbid public servants from using government resources to harm anyone (“ Send in the Goons,” Nov. 26).
The Winter of Aaron Dean’s Discontent
Supporters of justice for Atatiana Jefferson waited more than three years for the trial Aaron Dean, the former Fort Worth police officer who fatally shot the Black woman in her Southside home in 2019. The 12-member jury that did not include one Black person convicted Dean of manslaughter, a lesser charge than the murder sentence many hoped for.
The sentence of 11 years, 10 months, and 12 days was a symbolic recognition of the day Jefferson was fatally shot, Oct. 12. The choice of 11 years may have been a reference to the age of Zion Carr, Jefferson’s nephew, or an effort to ensure Dean was not given probation — by state law, defendants charged with manslaughter can be given probation for sentences of 10 years or less.
Over three days, prosecutors made an anemic case that Dean should be found guilty of murder before resting their case and allowing Dean’s defense team to try and convince jurors that Dean shot Jefferson in self-defense. Many were shocked that county prosecutors failed to humanize the young Black woman who aspired to become a physician.
“We waited for three years for the state to rush and rest their case in three days,” said community organizer Patrice Jones in a Facebook post.
Speaking to one of our reporters during the trial, Jones alleged that DA Wilson’s prosecutors and Judge George Gallagher badgered potential Black jurors who were ultimately cut from the jury.
Until Dean’s verdict, no police officer had ever been found guilty of murdering a Black female. Based on reporting by The Washington Post, police have fatally shot nearly 250 women since 2015, 89 of whom were killed in their homes. DA Wilson used the verdict and sentencing to whitesplain how cases of white police officers killing unarmed Black people has nothing to do with racism, even as research by numerous prominent nonprofits and institutions like Harvard University have consistently found Black people are three times more likely to die in a police encounter than whites.
“This trial wasn’t about politics, and it wasn’t about race,” the disgraced outgoing DA said in a public statement.
In November, four city councilmembers plus Mayor Mattie Parker voted down a proposed civilian oversight board. Council members Elizabeth Beck, Gyna Bivens, Chris Nettles, and Jared Williams voted for the measure that would have created an independent board to review and advise on police policies and procedures.
“This is the most watered-down police board [ordinance] in America,” Nettles said during the vote, “because we tried to come to some type of consensus, to some type of compromise, and even with a board, a snaggletooth board with no teeth, you still cannot support it?”
Nettles pledged to keep civilian oversight of Fort Worth police a priority for future city council considerations. The mandate for proposing civilian oversight came via recommendations by The Race and Culture Task Force that was formed following the 2016 arrest of Jacqueline Craig, the Black mother tackled and arrested by a Fort Worth cop and later awarded $150,000 by the city for her mistreatment.
Fort Worth’s police union, which is funded indirectly through taxpayers via police union dues, donates heavily in local elections to support public officials like Mayor Parker who toe the Blue Line. Fort Worth police’s Office of Internal Affairs was ignominiously awarded a Turkey Award for protecting cops who, in any other profession, would be on the receiving end of criminal charges or at least a civil lawsuit (“ Turkey Awards 2022,” Nov. 23).
This year ended with at least 10 deaths at the Tarrant County Jail. They all died under the watch of Sheriff Waybourn, who maintains close connections with anti-government militia groups and the right-wing Claremont Institute (“ Far-Right Local Sheriff Threatens Democracy,” July 20), where he is a “sheriff fellow.” The Claremont Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence was founded by John Eastman, the former Trump advisor recently referred by the January 6 Committee for prosecution by the justice department. Eastman allegedly violated federal laws that make impeding official proceedings of the United States government a crime and is widely considered a lead architect of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Tarrant County Jail has seen more than 40 deaths of largely Black and brown defendants who cannot afford to pay bond and so languish in our shithole jail. To death, apparently.
The one group that could begin putting an end to rampant police violence and political prosecutions — the local media — continues to fail to take their First Amendment mandate seriously. Nowhere outside the Weekly’s reporting will locals find any mention of the growing alliance between Tarrant County Republican officials and Christian Nationalists as they maintain a perverse desire to kill minorities and subjugate women and anyone else who does not conform to their white-supremacist-couched-in-religiosity bigotry.
And because of their dereliction, the third-largest county in Texas is becoming a real-life Gilead.
This article has been updated to correct a reference to John Eastman’s title: The Claremont Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence was founded by John Eastman.
This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not necessarily the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. He will gently edit it for factuality and clarity.