Thanks to a fortuitous breach in Chronicle security last week, The Insider was at last able to make a long-anticipated unholy pilgrimage to the paper's tenth floor chapel of darkness, otherwise known as the executive conference room. Once inside, we stood weak-kneed before Operation Falcon, the artwork commissioned by the paper's bigwigs to commemorate their successful campaign to kill the Post..
The smell of greed and arrogance in the air was as thick as the paper's classified section. "I think I'm going to be sick," gasped one of our companions as she beheld artist Bo Newell's rather cheesy wildlife painting where it hung on the wall of publisher Dick Johnson's chat room.
Created last year and circulated in poster form to the paper's department heads, the painting depicts an eagle, the corporate symbol of Chronicle owner the Hearst Corporation, sweeping down with bared talons on a hooded falcon meant to symbolize the Post. On the left side is the Chronicle building on Travis, on the other is the former Post headquarters on the Southwest Freeway, and in the middle is the hapless victim perched on a nondescript skyscraper. Why the artist didn't put the sacrificial bird atop the Post building is unclear. Perhaps symmetry dictated the center location.
In the clouds above the murder scene is the abstract profile of yet another eagle, perhaps symbolizing the in-house god of journalism, the long-departed William Randolph Hearst. One of our witnesses likened it to the Harley-Davidson logo.
Our route to the scene of the artistic crime started with an invitation to participate in a media panel for Leadership Houston, that civic incubator for aspiring young municipal leaders. The group conducts training classes for members, including Outward Bound-type adventures that afford up-and-comers the chance to climb mountains with the likes of Kathy Whitmire, Jon Lindsay and Helen Huey. In this case, the organization provided us with a pass through Chronicle security.
The paper's guards, who were so efficient at keeping other reporters from grilling Johnson and other Chronicle executives that day in April 1995 when the Chronicle took over the Post, waved us on into the building without a second glance. After a quick tour of the newsroom, where we waved to our friends in comfortable bondage while muttering "world class" and "fabulous," it was on to the paper's eighth-floor education center for the media panel.
Curiously, the Chronicle representative failed to show for the discussion, leaving plenty of time to explore the failings of Texas's biggest and slowest daily. After the discussion ended, our strike force broke from the group and made its way to the tenth floor, where the executive receptionist graciously directed us to Operation Falcon.
As we gazed upon the painting, Chronicle president Gene McDavid popped out of his nearby office, eyed us with cheerful puzzlement and a vague inkling of recognition and affably inquired, "Where did you hear about the painting?"
Well Gene, it certainly wasn't in the Chronicle.
On the Move
With their mayoral campaigns in varying states of motion, both Rob Mosbacher and Lee P. Brown have their homes on the market, though there is a question about just how serious Mosbacher is in peddling his.
On the other hand, there is speculation that Brown is vacating his mostly white subdivision near Meyerland to stake his homestead in a more traditional area for Houston's black political elite, maybe the stately Riverside neighborhood in southeast Houston. And all we can do is speculate, since Brown did not respond to an inquiry from The Insider about his future residential plans.
A comparison of the two homes is instructive. To comply with the city's six-month residency requirement for mayoral candidates, Mosbacher earlier this year moved his family from the two-story, five-bedroom traditional on Vanderbilt in West University, where they had lived for a decade. They're now camped out in a River Oaks-area high-rise.
The Vanderbilt house is valued by the Harris County Appraisal District at $657,800, but Mosbacher's realtor is asking $987,000 -- despite the fact that the house has no swimming pool. Of course, according to the realtor listing, "This lovely home ... is located in one of the most desirable residential areas ... this is quite a family home with a great flow for entertaining...."
Maybe so, but with a price like that it probably won't be changing hands any time soon -- perhaps not before November, when Mosbacher finds out whether he'll need to remain inside the city limits on a permanent basis.
Brown seems a bit more serious about selling his two-story, five-bedroom domicile on Grape Street, where he maintained his Houston residence and paid city taxes through his years in Washington, D.C., as drug czar for the Clinton administration. The home carries an HCAD appraisal of $200,000, and Brown is asking a very realistic $225,000.
For comparison shoppers, here's a quick rundown on the residences of the other candidates in the race. No "for sale" signs have been spotted on these houses just yet, by the way.
The home of former controller George Greanias and wife Elizabeth Rice on Robinhood in the Rice University area is HCAD-appraised at $321,300, while Councilwoman Helen Huey and husband Don's Spring Branch swankienda on Monarch Oaks is appraised at $104,200. The Weaver Street abode of Councilwoman Gracie Saenz and police officer husband Eloy clocks in with an appraised value of $47,880.
Seeking Closure with Phil, Terry and Wayne
Last week in this space ["Seeking Closure in Fort Davis"] we characterized as "erroneous" Channel 2's April 30 report that Richard McLaren had reached an agreement with the Department of Public Safety to surrender and end the standoff outside Fort Davis. Regrettably, that characterization itself was erroneous, at least with regard to Phil Archer. Archer is a veteran reporter whose work we've always respected, and continue to respect.
Archer says his station was correct in reporting that McLaren had agreed to surrender, pointing to statements that day by McLaren lawyer Terry O'Rourke that "an agreement ... maybe an understanding" had been reached and by DPS spokesman Mike Cox that his agency thought it had "an understanding ... at least a verbal agreement" with McLaren. While McLaren did not give up until four days later, after viewing tapes of the April 30 Channel 2 report and the station's follow-up stories, it is clear to us that Archer never said McLaren would "surrender shortly," as our item suggested. In fact, Channel 2 anchorwoman Dominique Sachse and reporter Mark Alford, who was on the scene with Archer in Fort Davis, both cautioned that the station did not know if McLaren would actually surrender. However, in the same report Alford seemed to suggest that a surrender was imminent, saying, "We're expecting [McLaren] at any time to come through this police blockade and put an end to this four-day standoff."
O'Rourke, meanwhile, takes issue with our description of him as "having no background in criminal law," saying he possesses extensive experience in criminal matters from his stints as a clerk to a U.S. district judge, an assistant state attorney general, an assistant county attorney and as a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, D.C.
O'Rourke, by the way, is not representing McLaren in the criminal charges against him, but is the lawyer for the civil action McLaren is pursuing that questions the validity of Texas's annexation by the United States 150 years ago.
And lastly, Channel 13's Wayne Dolcefino says that he made only a perfunctory effort to chat up that Midland-Odessa print journalist we mentioned in the same item last week. Wayne tells us his true non-news interest during the media siege of Fort Davis was a fellow TV reporter from El Paso who liked him a lot more than Sylvester Turner's little sister might have, if she existed and had run into Wayne at closing time a few years ago at The Pig on Richmond.
Law of the Pack
Boy Scout Troop 152 hoped to make some money off the sale of barbecue sandwiches at St. Jerome's Catholic Church, but all the scouts got out of the afternoon was a close-up view of a real beef between a bevy of HPD patrol officers and one of the cooks. While the police report of the April 12 incident claims one officer used justified force to arrest the man on charges of interfering with and resisting arrest and public intoxication, numerous witnesses insist that she and her colleagues used excessive force in making an unjustified arrest.
The incident at the Spring Branch church began after Gary Cameron, the owner of a lock and safe company in the area, and friends had set up a grill and began preparing food for the benefit. A friend of Cameron's, Carol Ingersoll, made a run to a local convenience store and was returning to the church parking lot. An HPD patrol unit driven by officer T.L. Davis followed Ingersoll into the lot with the intention of ticketing her for an expired inspection sticker.
What happened next is in dispute. Ingersoll and four other bystanders, including the scout troop leader and his teenage son, say Cameron approached the squad car to ask Davis why Ingersoll had been stopped. Davis ordered him to get away. Cameron began to leave, then turned and offered the officer a sandwich and soft drink once the matter was concluded. Davis repeated the order to leave the area.
As Cameron walked away, Davis turned to a civilian passenger in her car and said, "Watch this," according to witnesses who support Cameron's version of events. The officer then ran up to Cameron, grabbed the 300-pound man's back pocket, and spun him to the ground. While Davis claimed in her report that Cameron resisted arrest, the witnesses all maintain that he tried to comply with the officer's orders, which included a confusing series of barked commands to get on his knees and then lie face down. Davis handcuffed one of the prostrate Cameron's hands but left the other free, while calling for backup. The HPD report claims Davis could not get the man's arms together because he was too big.
According to the report, Davis claimed she was in fear of her safety, but witnesses say Cameron never resisted and tried to comply with her orders. Within minutes, four other squad cars swarmed into the lot, and four officers pounced on Cameron, who, according to witnesses, was still lying face down on the ground. All the witnesses agree that one patrolman kicked Cameron in the head while the others pulled his arms behind his back until he began screaming. The officers then put the locksmith in a squad car, while other units began pouring into the lot. At its peak, according to witnesses, some 15 officers were milling about the church lot, laughing and joking with one other.
Clay Reilly, vice president of Interstate Adjusters, a vehicle repossession company, says no HPD supervisors ever appeared on the scene, though the church was buzzed by a police helicopter.
While there were plenty of witnesses to the arrest in the parking lot area, the police report cites Davis's companion in the squad car, Sharon Russell, as a corroborating witness in backing the officer's account. Davis apparently had permission to have a guest in her squad car, says police spokesman Jack Cato, although the required permit was not verified in the police report. It is not clear whether Russell is a personal friend of the officer.
Although Cameron was charged with public intoxication, the witnesses who talked to The Insider all confirm there were no alcoholic beverages on the church grounds and Cameron was not drinking at the scene. Cameron says he requested a Breathalyzer test from arresting officers but was not given one.
Cameron, who has a DWI violation from two years ago and an out-of-state marijuana possession conviction more than a decade old, denies either resisting arrest or being intoxicated during the St. Jerome's incident. He claims he suffered bruises and abrasions from Davis's throwing him to the ground, as well as a swollen ear from a kick to the head by the officers who came to her assistance. Pictures taken by friends of the alleged injuries showed a badly swollen ear and scratches, but otherwise appeared inconclusive.
At about the same time Cameron was meeting the pavement of the church parking lot, a woman's purse was snatched during a Boy Scout car wash at the neighborhood Randalls a few blocks away, according to Leonard Rivera, the scoutmaster of Troop 152. Rivera says bystanders at the Randalls waited for 30 minutes for a responding officer.
HPD spokesman Cato wasn't surprised to learn of the rapid, massive response to Davis's call for assistance, saying such reaction is commonplace when an officer is believed to be in danger.
Cameron did not file a complaint with HPD's Internal Affairs Division, but he has retained a lawyer to initiate a civil action against the city. Cato says that witnesses who have information on police misconduct should contact Internal Affairs. Counters Cameron's friend Clay Reilly: "We don't trust the police."
Rivera says that after the officers left the scene, he tried to explain to his troop that what they had seen was not representative of Houston police behavior. Rivera says Cameron's sole offense was to approach the officer and ask why his friend had been stopped. "I didn't know that was against the law," he says.
Rivera's 13-year old son Nathan has no doubts about the propriety of officer Davis's actions, which he witnessed at close range.
"I think it was wrong," says the eighth grader. "When she said, 'Get on the ground,' he said, 'Yes ma'am, I'm on the ground.' He was really no threat to her at all."
Save Our Judges!
Democratic judges are an endangered species in Harris County courts these days, and the firm of similarly endangered lawyer John O'Quinn isn't lying back waiting for the rest to disappear. While O'Quinn battles authorities in South Carolina and Texas over allegations of case running, partner Rick Laminack is urging fellow lawyers to support civil district judges Kathy Stone and Carolyn Johnson, the only Democrats up for election in 1998, by influencing upcoming polls of Houston Bar Association members.
"It is no secret that opposition forces have targeted Judges Stone and Johnson for elimination," writes Laminack in a widely circulated missive to Democratic lawyers. "Our clients deserve justice and a fair playing field when their respective causes are heard. We must act now by coming to the aid of these two women."
The Bar Association will ask members to rate Harris County judges later this year, and Laminack is trying to sign up enough attorneys to improve the standing of the Democratic jurists. The letter asks recipients to fill out an association enrollment form and send it back to him, along with a check for membership fees.
"I will be responsible for delivering these to the HBA office and following up to make sure that you receive a ballot at the appropriate time," Laminack promises.
Wonder whether O'Quinn and Laminack will now disqualify themselves from trying cases before those judges that Laminack is trying so publicly to re-elect? Laminack was out of town and unavailable for comment.
Bar Association president Scott Rozzell says that since a major selling point for membership in the association is participation in its polls, he's neither surprised nor disturbed by Laminack's letter.
Contact The Insider at 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax), or e-mail him at Insider@houston-press.com.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.