Winter Holiday Safety Tips
CBS Exclusive: Jack Ruby court files cast new light on Oswald killer
NOVEMBER 20, 2013, 7:05 AM | Anna Werner reports on documents unseen for decades — boxes of evidence from the trial of Lee Harvey Oswald shooter, Jack Ruby.
DA’s office delivers food to North Texas Food Bank
Today, District Attorney Craig Watkins, accompanied by First Assistant Heath Harris and DA staff, arrived at the North Texas Food Bank to deliver the donations from our annual food drive. All-in-all, the DA’s office collected 175 lbs. of food to benefit the food pantries supported by NTFB – enough to feed 228 people this Thanksgiving.
Jan Pruitt, President & CEO, North Texas Food Bank was appreciative of the donation. “We are deeply grateful to District Attorney Craig Watkins and his team for their generous contribution of food. Every day, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office works hard to keep our community strong, and by taking up the cause of hunger, it further strengthens North Texas.”
DA staff and participants in the Citizen Prosecutor Academy came together to donate canned goods and nonperishable items. Everyone was eager to be a part of making Thanksgiving a happier time this season.
“There are so many people in need this holiday season, and I’m thrilled that the staff in our office stepped up to the plate,” said Watkins. “We are always advocating for victims, and this time it’s victims of a tough economy.”
DA Watkins joins Purple Paws in showing connection between animal abuse and family violence
October Staff Spotlight: Elsa Zapata
Elsa Zapata is known around the office as the friendliest and most outgoing assistant you will come across. Before her transition into her current role in the Technology department, she was a valuable member of the Family Violence Division, where she maintained the daily processes of the department. Elsa has earned a much deserved reputation for her willingness to learn new things and to assist anyone and everyone that might be in need of her help.
As the technology assistant, she assists the entire DA’s office in a variety of tasks ranging from new employee and intern ID’s, to trouble shooting equipment issues in courtrooms and around the office. She is always ready to take on new challenges to make her fellow staffers’ jobs easier. Even when her desk is covered with requests, and a line is forming around her cubicle, Elsa greets with a smile.
“Elsa embraces what it means to be a team player,” said District Attorney Craig Watkins. “We value her work here in the office and appreciate her consistent willingness to lend a helping hand.”
Elsa has also become a valued member of the Citizen Prosecutor Academy (CPA) faculty, creating and printing weekly powerpoints, and assisting with any technological needs of the Academy. Her voluntary role with the CPA is essential for the success of the Academy, and greatly appreciated by the CPA faculty.
James Tate, CPA creator, admires Elsa’s eagerness to assist. “Without Elsa, we would be lost. She makes our operations in the CPA fluid, and the word ‘no’ is not in her vocabulary.”
Outside of her role in the DA’s office, Elsa’s eagerness to assist is felt by the masses. At her second job at the Disney Store, she enjoys meeting with shoppers and guiding them to the perfect purchases of Disney merchandise, DVDs, and tickets to Disney World. It’s no secret Elsa has deemed Disney World as her vacation destination of choice! She goes every year with her nephews and nieces.
Elsa has a love for college football, and her team of choice is the Oklahoma University Sooners. She spends a lot of time with her siblings and her many nieces and nephews.
DA Watkins rolling through your neighborhood: Dart bus carries message to help family violence victims
Today marks the beginning of an increased effort to let victims of family violence know that help is available. Early this morning, the District Attorney’s public service announcements took to the streets. At Dart stations around the city and highlighted across Dart buses, the message is clear: Family Violence victims are not alone. The hope is that victims will be inspired to reach out, and prompt loved ones to help them get the assistance that they need.
Tammy Kemp, Chief of the Family Violence Division is eager to share the message. “Family violence in Dallas County is an epidemic. We need to utilize every resource available to let victims know that the DA’s office is here to help.”
Family violence plagues a number of homes across North Texas. About 50 percent of all women, regardless of race, ethnicity or background, will experience some sort of physical abuse. A child is reported abused or neglected every three minutes. A major factor that allows this behavior to continue at home is silence. Speak out against family violence by contacting the authorities. The District Attorney’s Office has specialized prosecutors, investigators and advocates against family violence that are committed to blowing the whistle on at-home abuse.
The DA’s Office regularly partners with local family resources like Genesis Women’s Shelter, The Family Place, and Mosaic Family Services that can help individuals rebuild their lives free of domestic abuse.
One of our strongest alliances is with the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center. The organization provides a child friendly environment and helps those that are referred by law enforcement or CPS. They help children and their non-offending family members who were sexually abused, physically abused, or those who have witnessed a violent crime. They also house an Assistant District Attorney, along with units of the Dallas Police Department and units of CPS to provide better care to these victims.
“We need to be proactive rather than reactive,” said District Attorney Watkins. “The increase in the number of reported family violence cases is alarming, and we need to think outside of the box to get the message out.”
In conjunction with the Dart messaging, District Attorney Watkins created radio spots that will play throughout the remainder of the month in hopes of reaching an even larger audience. Listen below.
The DA’s office wants to reduce family violence in Dallas County by letting perpetrators know that we take each and every crime seriously, and we will not stop until justice has been served.
The DA’s office also initiated a new program which places the faces of the perpetrators on billboards in order to cast a wider net to catch the perpetrators still at large. We have placed 20 faces on the billboards and 11 have been captured. With the help of Dallas County citizens and the work put in by our various prosecutors and investigators, we will continue to make Dallas a safer place to live.
If you are a victim of family violence, or know someone who is, contact the 24 Hour Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
DA’s office raises $11,000 to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters
Under the direction of District Attorney Craig Watkins, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office continues to step outside of the box to find ways to support our communities, and the citizens who inhabit them.
One of the most rewarding approaches is by participating in the annual fundraiser Bowl for Kids’ Sake, an initiative of Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas, which raises money to benefit mentoring programs for children around Dallas County.
Along with some 60 representatives of the DA’s office, District Attorney Watkins took to the lanes in an effort to motivate his team to raise the essential funds to continue BBBS’ mentoring program. “The children is where it is all at,” said Watkins. “I am proud that year after year my office volunteers their time to help place these kids with mentors that make positive impacts in their lives.”
This year was no exception. Debbie Denmon, Director of Communications, assigned 12 team captains that were charged with inspiring their team members to dig deep, in an effort to raise awareness and funds to help the kids. Attorneys and staff throughout the DA’s office came together to motivate each other to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
This year was a huge success for the DA’s office, and the children that will benefit, with the total amount of money raised reaching $10,943. “We are so grateful that the Dallas County DA’s office has partnered with us again at our annual Bowl For Kids’ Sake,” said Daneshe Bethune, Dallas County Regional Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “Their partnership helps ensure that the next generation of kids has someone to look up to.”
Casting a wide net for fugitives
Covay Davis has a criminal history of 50 offenses in Dallas County, with 10 arrests. The vast majority of his offenses are family violence and drug crimes. He is wanted for one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of aggravated assault family violence with a deadly weapon, and he has been on the run for about seven months.
The Dallas County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, with the support of District Attorney Craig Watkins, is taking a new approach in addressing the many cases where defendants wanted for felony family violence offenses have not been apprehended and brought to trial. The reasons why these felons have not been captured are varied: Some have gone to Mexico, some have changed their names, some are given safe harbor by family members, some are incarcerated elsewhere, and some are so far off the radar that they are never contacted by law enforcement. With today’s social and mass media, the old ways of just knocking on doors and using the telephone to track down felons has been expanded to a whole new sphere: specifically, digital billboards. These signs in high-traffic areas allow the public to get involved in their community’s safety and well-being. Posting a wanted notice with a criminal’s name, face, and crime on a roadside Jumbotron gets noticed.
New way to solve an old problem
I came to work at the DA’s office in August 2012. I brought with me 28 years of prior experience from the University of Texas at Arlington Police Department and the Arlington Police Department. My first assignment with the DA’s office was as an investigator in the family violence unit, more specifically, to find the wanted felony defendants so they could be tried. Well, it’s hard trying to find people who don’t want to be found, especially those who have been off the radar for upwards of 10 years. Covay Davis, for example, had been on the run for seven months. The task seemed insurmountable.
While driving home on Interstate 30 one day, I noticed a billboard—but not just any billboard: This one was lit up and digital, and its screen changed about every eight seconds. I noticed that on the billboard, the FBI had posted a “wanted” notice with a reward for a fugitive they were looking for. My immediate thought was, “If the FBI can do that, we can do it too!”
I thought that using the digital billboard might be the answer I was looking for, a way to cast a broader net. In a way, looking for fugitives is like fishing: You bait a hook and cast your line in various spots, hoping you will catch a big fish. It is long and tedious work in most cases, the bites few and far between. But a digital billboard is like having many hooks spread all over the city or county, and a reward from Crime Stoppers is the bait.
Obviously before moving too far forward, I met with my supervisors, both on the law enforcement side and the prosecutor side. Such an idea will never go anywhere if they are not in the loop. There I was, brand new to the office and pitching an idea like this to people who had either just met me or didn’t even know my name. I figured they’d think it was a crazy idea—but that’s not how they responded at all. Instead I heard, “Smart, great—let’s move forward on that.” It was a compelling concept—but how to pull it off? I did not really have a clue, so I had to do my research.
The digital billboard I’d seen on IH-30 is owned by Clear Channel Communications. As part of its charter, Clear Channel sets aside airtime on its digital billboards for messages and announcements for the public’s welfare or safety—with no fees attached. What an awesome service (that many law enforcement entities are probably not aware of)! I also learned that Clear Channel Outdoors (the billboard branch of the company) has as many as 80 billboards across Dallas County. That’s a lot of hooks! Teresa Moore is the representative I spoke with; she handles the public service concerns in our area from her office in Arlington. We talked at length, and she answered all of my questions. She even came to our office and gave a presentation to Mr. Watkins and his executive staff so they could ask questions and find out how the program might meet our needs.
The billboard initiative was approved, and we could come up with our own design of what the billboards would look like and say. Different design suggestions were given to Mr. Watkins and his staff, and after a short time a design template was agreed upon. We also got Crime Stoppers involved so that when the billboards went online, people would have a place to contact if they had any information on the fugitive’s location. This turned out to be relatively simple; we just called our local Crime Stoppers and explained what we were doing. We all agreed that Crime Stoppers would be the clearinghouse for the tips that were generated, which would be forwarded by email to me and another investigator, Ric Bruner. He is tasked with tracking down our absconded felons with assistance from the U.S. Marshals’ task force.
We also had to choose which fugitives would be posted on the billboards. Because the idea was born out of my need to apprehend family violence defendants, we agreed to concentrate on FV cases involving felonies. The cases were reviewed as to their seriousness, complainant/ witness support, the strength of evidence, the defendant’s criminal history, and his likelihood of still being in the area, and the final decision was left to the chief prosecutors in the division. (Since we started this program, the list has expanded to include child abuse defendants too.)
The first 10 defendants were selected, including Covay Davis, the fugitive I mentioned at the beginning of this article. We designed a template of 10 fugitives to use in-house so our website coordinator, James Tate, can update our website (www.DallasDA.com), Facebook, and Twitter. A copy of the template is also made available to Crime Stoppers and Clear Channel. The list displays each person’s name, photo, and the crime charged.
Clear Channel, using our template, enters the information for each fugitive on his own billboard template and submits a visual draft to me for approval. Once I give the go-ahead, it is placed in the general rotation to be displayed at random times on various billboards throughout the county. The template is designed so that when a fugitive is caught, it can be noted on the billboard and social media and the listing removed so another fugitive can be posted. The program kicked off on March 15.
Which brings me back to Covay Davis. Within two weeks, a tipster called Crime Stoppers and stated that she had spotted Davis at a local liquor store. Not wanting the fugitive to get away, Crime Stoppers immediately contacted the Dallas Police Department, and Covay was arrested by patrol. We don’t know where he had been for the previous seven months, but we caught up with him thanks to the billboard. It is great when a plan comes together!
We have tweaked a few things here and there, but the program is still going strong. As of this writing, pictures of 20 fugitives have been displayed and 11 have been captured. If I were a fisherman with that kind of average, I would be a professional!
I certainly don’t know if this type of program would work for every county and every situation, but it has here in Dallas. Even with its success, it is still a work in progress. There are things that could be changed and most likely will change as time goes on, technology improves, and our needs evolve. It’s still old-school police work of casting a lot of lines—only now with a technological twist that has vastly increased what we catch.
Originally posted on TDCAA -The Prosecutor September – October 2013 | Volume 43, No. 5
Citizen Prosecutor Academy welcomes third class at introductory ceremony
Last Thursday, District Attorney Craig Watkins, along with distinguished guests, welcomed in the Fall 2013 Citizen Prosecutor Academy (CPA) class. The CPA is an initiative of the Community Prosecution Unit (CPU), celebrating its third class this fall.
The Academy is a twelve-week instructional program that provides insight to the numerous divisions of the District Attorney’s office. Each week, the class is taught about a particular division of the DA’s office, led by an assistant district attorney within that division. This provides the class with the opportunity to learn about the material from a first-hand perspective, utilizing real world experiences and cases that have been prosecuted by the office.
The program is facilitated by the prosecutors in the Community Prosecution Unit, led by CPU Chief Rachael Jones, and Community Relations Liaison and program creator James Tate. The faculty advises during each class to provide support and stability throughout the program. The participants also have the opportunity to meet and develop a relationship with their own community prosecutor that is assigned to each geographical location in the county: Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest.
“I am honored that citizens throughout Dallas County would take time out of their busy days to learn about the important work we do here,” said District Attorney Watkins. ”I am confident that they will all leave the program with a concrete understanding of the criminal justice process and the many ways in which we fight to protect their communities.”
The desire to participate in the Academy continues to grow. The Fall 2013 class reached 48 class members, up from 36 last fall. CPU Chief Rachael Jones attributes the growth to the awareness of the Academy, and to citizens wanting to take a more active role in their communities. ”The growth in the class is just another indicator of how interested citizens are in our criminal justice system,” said Jones. ”We want to make sure we have the appropriate resources to make Dallas County a safer place for us all to live.”
Community leaders were invited from around the county to help welcome the participants. University Park Mayor Richard Davis, and Grand Prairie Chief of Police Steve Dye were among the guest speakers. The Honorable Roberto Cañas, who presides over County Criminal Court No. 10, offered words of encouragement to the incoming class. Judge Cañas has graciously offered his courtroom for the class meetings every Thursday.
Classes will regularly meet every Thursday in the Frank Crowley Courts Building, with the exception of two field trips. As part of the class discussion on the Conviction Integrity Unit, the class will enjoy a tour of the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences (SWIFS), where most DNA testing is done. The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center has agreed to host the class for the discussion of child abuse and family violence. Participants will also have the opportunity to tour the jail facilities at Lew Sterrett.