Fleck Exonerated; Stockman Sued

The Harris County District Attorney's Office has concluded that Press staff writer Tim Fleck broke no laws while inside Congressman Steve Stockman's combination home and campaign headquarters on June 8.

"Based on our usual standards, there was no criminal conduct" by Fleck during his brief encounter with Stockman campaign workers, said first assistant district attorney Don Stricklin.

The D.A.'s office had investigated complaints lodged with the sheriff's department by Stockman supporters who were in the congressman's house at 2402 Whitman Way when Fleck knocked on the front door and was admitted. The man who let Fleck into the house, a Stockman volunteer named Booker Stallworth, alleged that Fleck had yelled insults at him and other Stockman workers and refused to leave when asked.

Stockman, who was in Washington, D.C. at the time, issued a statement claiming the reporter had "forced his way" into the house and then had trespassed by refusing to leave after being asked three times to do so. The congressman also accused Fleck of "hurling personal insults" at Stockman workers and alleged that Press photographer Nicole Fruge later tried to take pictures through the windows of the house. Stockman said he was asking the sheriff's department to charge Fleck with trespassing and assault and battery.

But Stricklin said that a review of a tape recording Fleck made of his visit shows that the reporter knocked on the door, identified himself as being with the Press and was "allowed" inside the Stockman residence/headquarters by Stallworth. After being asked to leave, Fleck stayed no more than 90 seconds, during which time he engaged in a "dialogue" with the Stockman workers before asking one of them to move away from the door he was barring so Fleck could comply with their request. The entire encounter took less than two minutes, Stricklin noted, and there was no evidence of any yelling or "altercation" as alleged by Stallworth and Stockman.

Additionally, the prosecutor said, photographs taken by Fruge showed there was no locked gate that Fleck somehow had to traverse to enter the house, as Stallworth alleged in his complaint. (The photos also showed there were no windows accessible from the front of the house through which to shoot pictures.)

Fleck and Fruge had gone to the house in an attempt to interview Chris Cupit and Jason Posey, the principals of Political Won Stop, a recently formed partnership that has received more than $126,000 from Stockman's campaign. Stockman's campaign finance reports list Political Won Stop's address as the congressman's home, which also doubles as his campaign headquarters. The phone number for Political Won Stop is the same as that for Stockman's residence and campaign.

Fleck has since identified Chris Cupit as the man who, after being summoned by Stallworth from a garage office on June 8, denied that Chris Cupit was in the house. When the Press later contacted Cupit by phone at his home in the Jefferson County town of Groves, he denied that he had been in the Stockman house or had spoken with Fleck.

Fleck, meanwhile, filed a lawsuit this week against Stockman for libel and slander. The reporter -- who is bringing the suit as an individual, and not on behalf of the Press -- said he is seeking damages to counter the false allegations by Stockman that Fleck had battered and assaulted the congressman's campaign workers and had terrorized his wife. (Stockman has claimed his wife was in the house at the time of Fleck's visit, although the reporter never saw her.)

"My tape proves none of those charges are true," Fleck said.
Fleck is being represented free of charge by lawyer David Berg, who has contributed money to Stockman's Democratic opponent, Nick Lampson of Beaumont. Fleck and Berg have agreed that any award or settlement from the suit will be donated to a charity of Berg's choosing.

Cory Birenbaum, the spokesman for Stockman's congressional office, did not return a phone call from the Press seeking comment on the D.A.'s decision and Fleck's suit. Even after Stricklin declined to bring charges, Birenbaum maintained to the Beaumont Enterprise that Fleck "crossed the line from reporting over to being a criminal."

-- Jim Simmon

 
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