Sunday, October 12, 2014

                    MOMENTS OF LUCIDITY

                                              Big Gold Caddy

There may be a warrant out for my arrest. Or a BOLO (Don’t you just love that sexy cop talk? I owe it all to Rizzoli and Isles.)
If I’m jailed over this little episode, Sherry had better come and bail me out. After all, it was her fault. Well, sort of.
She told me to follow her and then she didn’t wait for me. Or maybe I couldn’t catch up with her. Anyway, whose fault is it that I wound up in the middle of a mobile home community parked in front of some stranger’s house?
We met at a restaurant off Teasley Lane for dinner. Then we planned to caravan to her house in Robson Ranch to watch a movie on her maxi-screen TV.
“I’m going to take a back way home,” she said. “You won’t get lost if you follow me. Oh, and I’m going to stop at the Kroger for gas on the way.”
So I followed her to the supermarket and waited to one side while she gassed up. A gaggle of drivers queued up behind me, and I finally realized they thought I was in line for the pumps. Imagine their chagrin when Sherry pulled away and I nosed my car behind her back bumper to make the turn back onto Teasley. It’s a wonder they didn’t all follow. We’d have looked like a funeral procession until people started running out of gas.
She pulled out. Then a car sped by. Then a big old honking truck stopped on the side of the street, blocking my view. I finally made it onto the roadway and got behind her gold Cadillac as she made her way back up the street. We drove a few blocks that way, her heading steadily uptown and me wondering exactly where this back way was taking us.
Then she made a left turn and I let a car go by and then hot-pedaled it after her. This was a strange way to get to the Ranch, I thought, but I followed dutifully behind the big gold sedan.
I looked around me. We appeared to be traversing the winding streets of a mobile home park. That ditsy woman, I thought. She’s gotten us lost!
Finally the Caddy pulled over to the curb. I pulled in behind and waited for her to walk back to my window to explain how she’d made a bad turn. I couldn’t wait to see how she tried to get out of this one. She is never wrong, you see. In all our years of friendship she has never admitted to erring.
“I thought I was wrong once,” she likes to say. “But I was mistaken.”
OK. She never said that. I made it up. But still, I know an attitude when I see one.
The big gold car sat there in front of that mobile home a bit. She was taking her time with the excuses, I thought. Finally, the driver’s door opened. Then the passenger door opened. Then the back passenger door. Three strangers got out and stared at me!
I sat there stunned, trying to figure out what they had done with Sherry. Then I realized that the Cadillac crest was not on the trunk of the car. Not only did they kidnap my friend, they changed her car into a Lincoln, I thought.
They stared and I stared. Then I simply put the Infinity in gear and pulled out from the curb. I drove sedately away, ignoring their puzzled looks and the woman’s hurried grab for her cell phone. I could see her lips moving as she read my license plate number to the dispatcher. I imagined I heard sirens in the distance.
I drove all the way to the front of the, yes, mobile home community, before I slowed. Then I dialed Sherry’s number. She was laughing so hard I could barely understand her.
“I was sitting in the left-turn lane back there at the light when I saw you go by,” she giggled. Then I saw that you were following that big gold sedan, and I figured it might be hours before you noticed it wasn’t me, depending on whether they were going to Oklahoma City.”
Anyone could have made a mistake like that. I hadn’t even had anything to drink, officer, well…except for that one tiny margarita. And no matter what that family says, I was not casing their place for a burglary.

If they put my picture on the wall in the post office, I hope they at least photo shop away the laugh lines around my eyes.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

                                         Tracy Murphree, Donna Fielder, Christine Metcalf
                                          (Tracy is in the book and Christine is my daughter)

I am completing a book about the Roanoke murder of Susan Bailey by her 17-year-old daughter, Jennifer, her 13-year-old son, David, and 16-year-old Paul, Jennifer's boyfriend. I need a book title and am having trouble. So I'm having a title contest for my Facebook and other friends. Here is the synopsis of the book. Come up with a title and let me know. The winner will get a free book when they are published and a credit in the book for the name. Good luck!

                                                     ABOUT THE BOOK

Roanoke Police Detective Brian Peterson checked on the meat he was smoking on his barbecue cooker and then resumed his comfortable seat on his patio. It was a rare Saturday when he didn’t get called out to investigate a crime, and the weather was good for a late September day in Texas.
“This has been such a beautiful day,” he told his wife, Ivy. “It would be just my luck to catch a homicide.”
“Don’t jinx it,” Ivy said. “Don’t talk about it. You know that will jinx a day without a callout.”
But the jinx was in – had been for days. Before that night in 2008 was over, Peterson would be called to a house of horrors to find poisoned pudding, a bathtub set up for an electrocution, a baseball bat on a bed, a butcher knife in a bloody tub, a hank of chopped-off hair and a mother stabbed to death by her own teen-aged children.
A subsequent investigation revealed a pact among a seventeen-year-old girl, her thirteen-year-old brother, her sixteen-year-old boyfriend and his other girlfriend, fourteen, to kill their parents, steal their money, cars and credit cards and flee to Canada.
They were dead serious about it.
Jennifer Bailey, her little brother David, and her boyfriend Paul Henson swarmed Susan Bailey that night when she got home from work and stabbed her twenty-six times. They left her bloody body in the upstairs hallway and fled in her car.
Merrilee White’s mother awoke earlier that week in her Fort Worth, Texas, home to find her daughter standing over her with a raised butcher knife. She was able to call 911 and convince her daughter to drop the knife. Merrilee was in Fort Worth juvenile custody when the rest of the sorry story played out. She was hysterical because she had planned to go with the others and she didn’t want to be left behind. Both Jennifer and Merrilee were dating Paul Henson, who claimed that each girl was dating one of his two personalities, so he really wasn’t cheating on either one of them. They bought that. He even convinced them that they should all have sex together.
Paul stole his father’s pistol and planned to use it on his parents but didn’t get the chance. With him waiting to shoot them at home, they unknowingly decided to take in a movie after work that night. When they didn’t return he gave up and went to Jennifer’s house to help her and her little brother kill their mom.
Susan Bailey, 43, was the unlucky one. She and her daughter disagreed about Paul. Susan thought her daughter should not date him. Jennifer thought she was in love and hated her mother for trying to keep them apart. On September 25, 2008, they took turns stabbing her and slashing her throat and left her lying in an upstairs hallway on a carpet soggy with her blood.
Then the three began the long drive to Canada with no real plan and not much money. They made it as far as Yankton, South Dakota. There, an alert police officer spotted a car full of teens pulled up to a closed gasoline station after the city curfew. They were trying to steal gas. They were broke. Their stories didn’t make much sense. The car was registered to Susan Bailey. He took them to the station and called Roanoke, Texas, police. Did they know anything about these kids or the woman the car was registered to?
They did. On the preceding Tuesday, Paul’s father reported him as a runaway and believed he might be at Jennifer’s house. Officers didn’t find him there, but they found his packed bags and driver’s license. They returned later that day when Susan found a loaded magazine for a pistol. They searched again but didn’t find the gun.
On Friday Susan’s mother called from Minnesota to report she couldn’t reach her daughter and she was worried. Susan had not gone into work that day, she said. An officer went to the house but no one answered the door and the car was gone. He returned on Saturday but again no one appeared to be home.
When Roanoke officers heard the news from South Dakota that her children and another boy had been detained in Susan’s car, they knew something was terribly wrong. They entered the house through a window and found the teens’ awful handiwork.
This is the story of four disturbed teens who played Dungeons and Dragons, who claimed to practice Wicca and read a demonic bible, who listened to a type of music that encouraged bloodletting and suicide; the story of a mother who worked two jobs to care for her children and was too busy and exhausted to realize what was really going on in her house. It is the story of several police officers who would not rest until they achieved justice for Susan Bailey. It is a cautionary tale for busy parents everywhere who might want to take a harder look at what their children are up to.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

                          NO MORE GORE

I have been remiss in blogging, I admit it. Retirement, especially with a book to write, has that effect on me. But I promise to do better, and today I need to vent, so my first blog in months is a rant.

Did you see Criminal Minds last night?

I watched the first 15 minutes of it. Then I gave up and swore never to tune in again. It's been one of my favorite shows for years. The cast is great. I love all those folks and root for them to win. The past couple of years, however, it has gotten harder and harder to watch. The writers are obsessed with body parts. Body parts not attached to bodies. And weird perps. Not just killer weird but gross weird.

Now I'm a former police reporter who writes true-crime books. I have seen people ejected from cars in bloody traffic accidents. I have seen (parts of) people hit by trains. I have seen crime scene photos that sicken the mind, not to mention the stomach. But I can't take any more of Criminal Minds.

I gave it up last season when a deranged woman planted her sick daughter and used a wood chipper to turn men into fertilizer for her little one-girl garden. But last night was the opener for this season and I thought maybe the writers had run out of gore.

Nope. People in Bakersfield started finding random legs. Then we see a nice guy who is leaving the legs displayed. Caught too early in the show to be the real villain, he explains that, oh no, he doesn't kill people, he just buys the limbs from another guy who tortures and kills them. And off we go to a scene where the pretty girl is tied down and the real villain is sharpening his knife.

Off went my TV. Not gonna do that anymore. I can't root for my fed friends on Criminal Minds when they are dealing with limb loppers or wood chippers or any of that sickening sludge they are substituting for drama.

And I wonder, if I can't take it, are those people who used to throw up when I mentioned "skin slippage" still watching?
What do you think?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

                   MOMENTS OF LUCIDITY

                The Real Story From a Real Victim

A few years ago District Attorney Paul Johnson fired four lawyers after the county lost a federal lawsuit filed by a woman who was upset by a thoughtless comment by one of those lawyers. She claimed discrimination despite his apologizing both in writing and face-to-face with the district attorney in the room. Despite the fact that he was disciplined for the comment.
On Friday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that, saying there was no factual basis for the suit. The county wins. Paul Johnson is celebrating. Meanwhile, the four he fired remain with besmirched reputations. One of those four is Ryan Calvert. He lost a job he loved because he was the brother-in-law of the man who made the thoughtless comment. Below, please read every word of what he has to say about how that callous action by a boss worried about the political repercussions affected his life.

Leadership requires courage.  Merriam-Webster’s defines courage as “moral strength to persevere and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”  In its simplest terms, courage is doing the right thing for the right reasons, even when it’s hard.  Leadership also requires loyalty: a belief in, and support of those who serve with you when they are in the right. 
A District Attorney must be a leader; someone who has the courage to do what is right even if doing so brings risk.  That quality is central to the role of the District Attorney.  It inspires others and allows them to perform their often difficult jobs with the knowledge that their elected DA is in their corner. 
I served as a felony prosecutor under Paul Johnson from the time he took office in January of 2007 until June of 2012 when he fired me, my sister Susan, her husband Cary, and John Rentz following a judgment in a lawsuit against Denton County by another prosecutor; A judgment that has now been dismissed entirely because, as Paul Johnson well-knew, the case lacked any factual basis from the beginning.      
In the nearly six years I served under Paul Johnson, I never received anything but praise from him and his first assistant, Jamie Beck.  My performance evaluations were stellar and I was never disciplined.  This is true of the time before the lawsuit, at the time of the lawsuit, and after the lawsuit was filed.  In fact, the only conversation I ever had with Johnson or Beck regarding my involvement in the lawsuit was to be told that I had done nothing wrong and “not to worry about it”. 
In addition, the policy in Paul Johnson’s office is that nobody talks to the media except Jamie Beck (including, incidentally, Paul Johnson).  So while the Plaintiff, herself a prosecutor in Paul Johnson’s office, was free to go on television and in the newspaper with her lawyer, and cast aspersions upon me and my family, I could not respond.  For three years, I refrained from defending myself because I believed that eventually, I would have the opportunity to do so.  In the end, I did not.     
When the lawsuit went to trial in 2012, I was not given a day in court.  I did not get to testify.  Paul Johnson knew that everything alleged about me in the lawsuit was untrue.  In fact, through pretrial discovery, Johnson knew that the Plaintiff herself had acknowledged under oath that what she said about me in the lawsuit never happened.
Three days after that trial, despite his glowing praise and his personal knowledge that I had never done anything wrong, Johnson fired me.  He did so because, in that moment, he felt it was politically expedient. 
I wasn’t there the day I was fired.  I had jury duty in Tarrant County.  It fell to my sister, who, herself, had just been fired along with her husband, to tell me that I was fired from a job to which I had given so much of myself.  As I write this on February 1, 2014, I still have never heard a word from Paul Johnson, despite having been in his presence on occasions since. 
Which brings me back to courage and loyalty.  Paul Johnson knew I was right.  He knew I had done nothing wrong.  He knew the Plaintiff herself acknowledged her claims about me were not true.  For three years after the lawsuit was filed, Paul Johnson was quite happy to have me in the DA’s Office representing him every day, and trying cases on his behalf.  But after the civil trial in which I was not allowed to participate, having me there became hard.  So he abandoned me in the most public way possible and allowed me to be branded a racist when he knew I was not, because he felt he stood to gain from doing so.  That speaks loudly and clearly as to who Paul Johnson is as a man, and who he is not, as a leader. 

Interestingly, on Paul Johnson’s re-election website, he has listed ten cases under the heading “Keeping the Community Safe”.  Of all the cases prosecuted in Denton County, he has chosen those ten to tout as achievements of his administration; as reasons why he should be re-elected.  Three of those cases (Barton, Logan, Gower), were tried by me.  So now, nearly two years after publicly abandoning me for political gain, Paul Johnson has no problem taking credit for things that I achieved while there.  Because today, doing so is politically expedient.  Again, that speaks volumes about who Paul Johnson is as a man, and who he is not as a leader. 
Now, over four years after it began, the lawsuit has been thrown out in its entirety by the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.  In making its ruling, the Court said that the Plaintiff had “no factual support” for allegations she made against me in the case, and no basis for any legal claim against Denton County whatsoever. 
That baseless lawsuit cost the taxpayers of Denton County upwards of $300,000.  It also cost me my job, along with three others, despite the fact that I had done nothing wrong.  The initial trial of that lawsuit, in which I was not given an opportunity to participate, had enormous consequences for me and for my family.  Yet Paul Johnson, the person who was at the center of that trial, had no consequences. 
And what of the person who filed the lawsuit in the first place?  What of the person who sued me in Federal Court based on claims she later admitted never happened?  She remains in Paul Johnson’s office and has been promoted several times since.  Will there be any accountability for her actions?  Will she have to repay the taxpayers the costs of bringing a lawsuit based, in large part, on things that were not true?      
I grew up in Denton County.  My family still lives there.  So while I have no desire to work as a prosecutor in Denton County again, I care about the people that make up that community.  The people of Denton County deserve a leader in a position as important as District Attorney.  They deserve someone who will do the right things for the right reasons, even when doing so is difficult.  Because that’s what courage is.  And courage is not too much to ask from someone charged with protecting the community.  But courage is something with which Paul Johnson is not familiar. 

Ryan Calvert 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

                        Moments of Lucidity

     I have Chicken Dance Elbow.
     My daughter told me not to talk about it, but I feel that full disclosure is the right thing to do.
She was been staying with at the time and she already had hung a few of those sentiment signs around the house. You know the ones: “No matter where I serve my guests, they always like my kitchen best,” and “Live, laugh, love.” Like that.
     Hers say “Remember, as far as the rest of the world knows, we’re a normal family,” and,  “What happens in the house stays in the house.”
     But I told her that if I kept this to myself you would all lose faith in me. She just rolled her eyes.
     It happened one night when I was surfing the web. You know how that goes – you start out Googling for a sour cream enchilada recipe and up pop dozens of possibilities from the definition of sour grapes to the location of the nearest store that sells crème de cacao. And when you click on that one you get all kinds of interesting liquors you never tried before but want to experiment with right then. So you drive to a liquor store and come home with a box full of pretty bottles holding liquids in jewel colors that just beg to be sipped. And the next thing you know, you’re doing the chicken dance.
     That is not what happened to me.
     No, really.
     I happened across the clip quite innocently as I was looking at movie trailers on my computer. The catchy music started, and some cartoon chickens began the dance. Now, nobody doesn’t do the chicken dance when the music plays. You can’t help yourself. It’s like trying not to dance when Brave Combo is playing. You can’t not dance when Brave Combo is playing anything. And if it’s the chicken dance, well…
     Of course you know the steps. Everyone knows the steps because there actually are no steps. It’s all in the arms and the hips. Da ta da ta da ta da…. Put your hands in the air in front of you and form beaks with your thumbs and fingers. Open and close your beaks four times. Da ta da ta da ta da…. Hook your fingers under your armpits and flap your wings four times. Da ta da ta da ta da…. Bend your knees and wiggle your tail feathers four times. And finish with a clap, clap, clap, clap. Then you dance around in a circle until you get dizzy and then you start over. It was the wing flapping that got me.
     I was sitting at my desk in my home office at the time and the chair has wooden arms. So when I flapped, I cracked my left elbow on the left arm of the chair. Sounded kind of like da ta da ta da ta da…. “# **&!”
     Christi came running in from the living room to see what all the “#**&”ing was about. I explained amid moans and curses and rubbing my elbow.
     “You cracked your elbow while doing the chicken dance while sitting in a desk chair,” she said.
     “Nobody ever did anything that stupid,” she muttered under her breath as she stalked out of the room.
     “Remember the time you turned over in bed and a bed spring impaled itself in your butt?” I called out. “Remember you had to call 911 and half the fire department turned out to watch the extraction?”
     “That was different,” she said indignantly.
     “Of course it was. There was no music to go with the bed spring.”
     At one time I had a stuffed chicken that danced and played the song. I loved that stuffed chicken and played with it often at my office before I retired. It disappeared one night after I went home and I never saw it again. Soon, though, I had a four-foot-tall stuffed giraffe that someone lost beside the building (seriously? How do you lose a giraffe?) and it was quiet, so nobody took it away from me.
     Christi moved out after that. It had nothing to do with the chicken dance, I’m sure.
But, admit it. At some point while you were reading this column you flapped your wings. Yeah, you did.
     OK, maybe you didn’t. But you’re dying to do it now. So go ahead, I won’t tell. Da ta da ta da ta da….

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


        Of Dinosaurs and Fishing Worms

I’ve been thinking about dinosaurs.

I’m one, right down to the big sharp teeth and long spiky tail. And my friend Mike Trimble is right there beside me waiting to become a lump of coal.

I was a newspaper reporter longer than I would prefer to admit having been alive. And I and my way of doing business are pretty much extinct. Journalism as I knew it when I started at the Denton Record-Chronicle is tottering along supported by flashy new methods that don’t have a thing to do with informing the public.

Now I never worked with anyone who wore a press card in his hatband or kept a pint of bourbon in his desk drawer. But for years after I started, the newsroom air was thick with curses and smoke, and nobody took a 15-minute break. Ever.

An Associated Press machine ticked away by the copy desk and spit out the news on long strips of paper. Occasionally it chimed one or two bells, and the news editor would check to see what was going on to excite the machine. If it ever chimed more than four times the entire newsroom jumped up and rushed over to find out what major national catastrophe the machine was regurgitating.

Huge rumbling presses occupied the back half of the building and in front you could literally feel them start to line newspapers off the roller with the ink still damp. When you handled the paper back then, your fingers got smudged. That’s where my fellow dinosaur, former opinion page editor Mike Trimble, got the term “inky wretch” that he sometimes threw into his national prize winning editorials.

Lord, how I loved all that!

The newsroom was in a much smaller area in that same building on East Hickory Street, but at first the eastern half contained the Russell Newman pantie factory. When it closed, we expanded into part of their area, producing news stories instead of underwear.

Weldon Burgoon sold saddles and western wear across the street. Still does I guess. Jimmy Normile sold auto parts next door to him, and I used to love to sit on a bench seat from a junked car in front and watch traffic go by with Jimmy. Lawyers hung out there and sometimes cops, and I got some of my best news tips at Barneys. There hadn’t been a Barney there for years, even back then, but Jimmy left the name to save money on buying a new sign. Recently the city condemned his building, and I think they plan to put a fern bar there.

Back in the newsroom, all our desks were pushed up together in two or three long lines. There were no secrets among newsies. We used electric typewriters and threw our copy in a basket on the news desk for the slot man to hand out to copyeditors.

The ambiance was punctuated with quips and shouts and curses. Nobody took offense. We’re all so much more civil now. Nobody curses much and if they did they probably would be filed on for some non-politically-correct infraction.

A small intimate theater shares the DRC building now – a much tonier neighbor, I suppose. The garage door store further up the street has been replaced by loft apartments, and restaurants are all around. A California-style taco joint has replaced the feed store. There’s even a wine and cigar bar across the street.

Inside, everyone works in cubicles and the news creeps in silently through the copy editor’s computers. The big press is gone. The news goes silently back out through those computers to a press in Plano.

I used to bang heads with Lafayette Newland over page layout in the backshop. He always had a chaw of tobacco in his mouth. I’d just keep arguing until his mouth filled with juice and threatened to drown him, and then he’d throw up his hands and head for the back door to spit. It was a crude way to win, but effective.

I once met a confidential source at a sporting goods store/soda fountain on the square. He was late. The clerks were suspicious about why I was hanging around the ammunition aisle. Finally I bought five jelly-worm fishing lures to stave them off. The story from that source helped get a corrupt politician out of office. I kept the lures for years but they finally melted to the bottom of my top desk drawer and I threw them away.

Later I met my sources in a coffee shop but it’s gone now too.

But I realize, thinking back, that no matter whether I got my tips along with car parts or fishing lures or café mocha, it was still the news. No matter whether I pecked it out on a typewriter or a computer that corrected my typos; no matter if they someday turn Barneys into a fern bar and the DRC into a venue for ballet – there’s still the news, people. There’s still the story.

Trimble and I, dinosaurs that we are, fell from grace at the DRC. He was fired for standing his ground in an ethical impasse and I couldn’t bear it there without him. That grit we had, the wit, the nose forever sniffing out the story, doesn’t seem welcome within those walls anymore. He and I meet once a week for lunch, and we hash over the old times and the old stories, like the time he wouldn’t let me use the term “plumber’s crack” in a column. And the time the school superintendent picketed the office wearing a sandwich board. And the time my car fell through a bridge while I was covering a flood.

Everyone believes their times were the good old days. Everyone remembers high-jinks and triumphs and where they were when the twin towers went down.

The news is still the news, but it seems more sterile now. The stories seem to be all happy tales, careful not to make anybody mad.

Someone else pounds out editorials and police reports in the old pantie factory now. Someone else has the bylines and the deadlines and the eternally ringing phones.

As for Trimble and I, we’re OK.


Monday, September 30, 2013

                                                                THE COP SHOP

Suspect, victim arrested after he tries to throw her out of car

Police responded to reports of a man hitting a woman and trying to throw her out of a car in the 2300 block of South Loop 288 about 1:20 p.m. Sunday. They spotted the moving car on I35 near the University Drive exit and made a traffic stop.

They found the woman had injuries and took the 33-year-old man to jail on charges of family violence assault. But a computer check showed the 24-year-old woman had a outstanding warrant from Carrollton police for alcohol violations, so she was also taken to jail as well.

Other reports

3600 block of Marianne Street - A woman called for help about 10 p.m. Sunday. Arriving officers found the 42-year-old man had hit the 39-year-old woman in the face with a metal spatula, causing a cut to her eye. The man also had punched her in the jaw and kept her from leaving the house, according to the report. They charged him with family violence assault.

1700 block of McKinney Street - Officers arrived at Mack Park about 5:45 p.m. Sunday in response to a report that a man was choking a woman. They found the couple, and she said she had nearly fainted because of her impeded breath. Two witnesses backed up the 45-year-old woman's story of the attack. The 60-year-old man was charged with family violence assault/impeding breath. One of the witnesses had an outstanding warrant, and he also went to jail.