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UNT student addresses board to ask for improvements to black student experience

In an impassioned five-minute statement Friday, Yolian Ogbu, president on the University of North Texas Student Government Association, told the UNT System Board of Regents about the changes she wants to see at UNT.

Ogbu has led efforts on campus to increase cultural competence and better the experiences of black students on campus since Caitlin Sewell, assistant general counsel, used a racial slur in a public forum last week. Ogbu led nearly 200 students to silently sit in during the regents’ Thursday meeting and then addressed the full board Friday.

“The university must seriously reflect, as well as the [UNT] System, on the past and future and transition toward being proactive stewards of education dedicated to making intentional efforts to create an educational community that values and supports us,” Ogbu said in her remarks. “In order to form a more united and culturally sensitive campus, [we want] to implement changes in school policy and legislation for the betterment of the black student experience on campus to provide a framework to eliminate institutional bias, advocate for cultural and racial education and to promote unity among all members of the UNT community.”

Yolian Ogbu

Ogbu said afterward that as she spoke, she could see Chancellor Lesa Roe choking up, and saw sympathy and real emotion from Laura Wright, the board chairwoman. Immediately after, Wright responded and vowed to do better for students of color.

“Equity, diversity and inclusion are active points of emphasis, and we know they require deliberate and continuous commitment in order to foster the culture we need of open-mindedness, compassion and inclusiveness among students faculty and staff,” Wright said. “Thank you — we’re going to raise the bar, and we’re going to be better.”

During Ogbu’s remarks, she outlined demands that she and leaders from the campus NAACP and Black Student Union have made: required diversity training for all university employees, a mandatory cultural competency course for students, a strategic plan for increased diversity and inclusion, an increase in staff and faculty members of color, and additional financial resources for the multicultural center.

UNT President Neal Smatresk is already working to implement training and a new strategic plan, while Roe connected Ogbu with the vice chancellor for facilities to discuss how to get more space for the multicultural center. After the meeting, both Smatresk and Elizabeth With, vice president of student affairs, tweeted in support of Ogbu and her mission to better UNT.

Late Friday afternoon, Provost Jennifer Cowley also sent an email to faculty and staff members outlining the changes students want to see on campus. She encouraged employees to talk about closing achievement gaps for minorities and announced that she and Joanne Woodard, vice president for institutional equity and diversity, will host a brown-bag lunch series about creating an inclusive campus.

To move forward, Ogbu plans to continue meeting with university and system officials to capitalize on the moment she and other students have created.

“I think the demands we said today were actually listened to, and I physically saw the emotions coming from a lot of the regents, so I’m hopeful,” Ogbu said. “I’m seeing that people are ready to have these conversations, so I hope this was a nudge in the right direction.”

Warriner, accused of decapitating his mother, has a trial date

A jury trial is set in the murder case against Isaac Warriner, the Denton man accused of decapitating his mother with a hacksaw in May.

Warriner’s attorney said Friday the trial date was set for June 1, 2020. Whether the trial will start then will depend on a number of factors, including whether the 23-year-old will be declared mentally competent to stand trial.

After his arrest, Warriner was transferred to a mental health facility when District Court Judge Jonathan Bailey ruled him incompetent. He returned to the Denton County Jail in July, where he has been housed on multiple charges, including first-degree murder.

Chris Abel, Warriner’s court-appointed attorney, said he plans to argue Warriner was insane when he killed his mother. He is gathering expert witnesses, mostly psychiatrists, who will testify on Warriner’s behalf.

Isaac Warriner

The Denton Police Department, which handled the bulk of the investigation, was aware that Warriner was in a downward spiral mentally before his mother, Sarah Warriner, was killed on May 5.

When the Denton Record-Chronicle reported in May that some of Warriner’s classmates from the University of North Texas were calling the police about Warriner to report disturbing and uncharacteristic behavior, the department clarified that it had received 12 calls about Isaac in the months leading to Sarah Warriner’s death. One of those calls was from a nurse at a Denton hospital who said Isaac said he would kill himself and his mother. Sarah Warriner called the police as well on May 1, days before her death.

Police Chief Frank Dixon told the Record-Chronicle his officers could not have done anything more in any of the calls, because either Warriner never told officers he was going to hurt himself or anybody, could not be located or refused mental health evaluations.

“I think he was insane during the commission of the offense,” Abel said in a phone interview Friday.

When he was first arrested, Isaac Warriner was charged with abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence by Denton police. Police in Gainesville chased Warriner into Oklahoma, during which Warriner picked up a charge for aggravated assault on a public servant.

Police in Denton found Sarah Warriner’s decapitated body May 5 inside the apartment where she and Isaac lived. In a probable cause affidavit, police said it looked to them like Isaac tried to wash the blood from a hacksaw, which was found at the scene, in a bathtub and toilet.

Arrested in Oklahoma, Warriner was driven back to Denton about a week later.

Abel said Warriner’s mental standing changes almost as regularly as Abel’s visits with his client. He said some days Warriner is alert and asking questions and other days he’s unaware of what is going on.

“Every time I talk to him, I have to gauge him a little bit,” Abel said.

The case is being handled in the 431st District Court in Denton.

Denton votes to provide temporary water services to Green Tree Estates for 90 days

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Denton City Council voted in favor Friday of declaring a local emergency regarding the water services at Green Tree Estates and to provide temporary water service and/or resources for a period of 90 days.

The council called a special meeting for Friday to discuss the declaration of emergency and to consider adopting an ordinance canvassing election returns of the bond election. Mayor Chris Watts’ initial declaration of emergency was set to expire this Wednesday, one week after it was announced.

Residents who spoke during the meeting asked the city to approve the 90-day declaration. Council member Paul Meltzer told residents in Spanish that he has no doubt the city will come to a more permanent solution by the time the 90 days is up.

“The period of 90 days is because we think it’s enough to resolve the situation,” Meltzer said in Spanish. “This is within our control. I would like to assure people in general that it’s not necessary to ask for consideration so we can answer to your emergency. Of course we’re going to respond.”

The owner of the water well system that provided water for Green Tree Estates residents planned to shut it off Friday. The small enclave of mobile homes on Swisher Road was annexed into Denton during 2009-10.

The city’s temporary solutions for Green Tree Estates includes providing 55-gallon drums to each residence by Friday and then providing 275-gallon tanks to each residence beginning Monday.

Denton’s director of utilities, Ken Banks, said 14 55-gallon drums for non-potable water storage were delivered to residents Thursday during a meeting with them. He said 14 275-gallon tanks for non-potable water storage will be distributed Monday. These tanks will be refilled by the city regularly, according to a presentation.

Banks said the city spent $8,427.09 as of Friday on the drums, tanks and bottled water, including shipping and transportation for the materials purchased. In total, the city purchased 17 each of the 2-gallon sizes.

Beatriz Martinez and Elva Hernandez, two residents who spoke at the meeting, told council members and staff that some residences would need a second tank because they have more family members. Hernandez said 275 gallons isn’t enough to sustain a household.

“If a person uses 100 gallons [of water] daily, how can I survive with a 275-gallon tank for five people?” Hernandez asked in Spanish. “I wouldn’t last a day.”

Hernandez also asked for the city to refill the 275-gallon tanks three times per week.

The city of Denton is also working to improve the dirt roads near the residences to allow city trucks to pass through to provide residents with water on a regular basis. The road work being done is meant to improve the quality of the area in general, Banks said.

The ordinance brought to the City Council said the funds the city would spend would not exceed $250,000 in the 90-day period. Council member Jesse Davis made a motion to amend that amount to $100,000, saying they can review the amount again at any time if more is needed.

Meltzer said the $250,000 doesn’t obligate the city to spend that much and opposed the amendment.

Council member Deb Armintor initially opposed the amendment, but then said she would vote in favor after Assistant City Attorney Larry Collister clarified that if the vote for the amendment came to a tie, it would fail. Council member Keely Briggs said that vote would push the ordinance to a later meeting.

City staff will develop long-term solution options and present them to the council in December. City Manager Todd Hileman said the meeting would be set for either Dec. 10 or 17.

Denton Rugby Club members come from all walks of life

The Denton Rugby Club will play its first home game of the season Saturday at Denton’s new Vela Athletic Complex on Field 1. The women’s game begins at 11 a.m., followed by the men’s game at 2 p.m.

The club has been around since 1972, but there still may be some Denton residents who don’t know much about the sport. Coach Art Anderson said that when he first joined the club, the focus was mostly on using brute force. Today, there is a stronger focus on developing skills.

“A lot of people try to relate it to football with no pads,” Anderson said. “But it’s more of a transition game, like basketball, because you play offense and defense. You have to have all skill sets.”

Women’s captain Marie Wilson said the club is not just about the sport itself — a big part of the atmosphere is the camaraderie between players.

“Because it’s a global sport, no matter where you go, you’re going to find someplace to play,” Wilson said. “It’s really a global family.”

Club president Andy Chapman learned this when he moved to Denton. Originally from England, Chapman has also lived in Germany and now the U.S.

“Being English, we start playing rugby when we’re very little,” Chapman said. “When I moved here 13 years ago, I looked for a club and I was surprised that there was one in Denton.”

Chapman said he recruits people he meets throughout town in bars, gyms and even the grocery store. He said recruiting people is always important because many players live in Denton for a short time, then move on.

Anderson said the team was smaller than usual last season, but this allowed him to focus on developing the skills of the players he already had. Additionally, players will often recruit their friends, which is how Anderson found the club initially.

“I started because my best friend found rugby and said that I would love playing,” Anderson said. “And he was actually right. And now I’m coaching his son.”

Justin Adams is one of the younger players in the club. He said he grew up watching his dad play, having no idea he would one day be on the same team.

“Once I got out of high school, Art and my dad dogged on me to get out here,” Adams said.

He compared his experience with rugby to his time playing high school football because of the friendships he has gained.

“You get a camaraderie with guys that you’ve never met before,” Adams said. “Like Andy. He’s, what, 30 years older than I am and I consider him a friend now.”

Wilson said there is not just one type of person who can play rugby. She said that anyone who is interested in playing should come to a practice because rugby is not limited to a certain body type or skill level.

“We have a lot of people that didn’t think that they could play any sport, let alone something like rugby,” she said. “And yet, here they are. It’s really one of the only sports where it doesn’t matter what your size is. It doesn’t matter your age [or] your perceived athletic ability. There’s going to be a spot for you.”

Saturday’s game is free to attend. Visit www.facebook.com/dentonrugby for more information about the Denton Rugby Club.