U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess sided with the White House this week in its decision to withdraw the U.S. military from northeastern Syria, the latest example of the Pilot Point Republican’s support for Donald Trump despite a bipartisan rebuke of what some say is unpredictable decision-making by the president.
Burgess stood against an overwhelming majority of the U.S. House that voted to condemn Trump’s decision to withdraw. Burgess voted no in a 354-60 vote.
Meanwhile, Burgess, who’s up for reelection in 2020, said his reason for supporting the president this time is that Congress did not vote to authorize U.S. involvement in Syria when the Obama administration sent troops into the conflict in 2014.
Though Burgess did say multiple times this week, in interviews and in prepared statements from his office, that he sympathizes with his colleagues on Capitol Hill who are rattled by the seemingly abrupt pullout, Burgess said nobody should be surprised. It’s Trump doing Trump.
“First off, the president did talk about it several months ago,” Burgess told the Denton Record-Chronicle. “We have all known that has been his strategy from the beginning.”
Asked if he was concerned about how the U.S. will be perceived by its allies and world leaders for a swift policy change, leaving behind Syrian Kurdish fighters who’ve battled alongside American service members, Burgess said sanctions on Turkey would be effective in blunting Turkey’s military advance.
“That’s going to depend on the follow-through,” Burgess said. “I think it is important to send a very powerful message to Turkey.”
On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence heralded a victory for Trump, saying Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had agreed to a temporary cease-fire. In an agreement reached between the leaders of the U.S. and Turkey, the U.S. promised not to impose the sanctions at all, which Turkey’s foreign minister said was a victory for his country.
With the U.S. military out of northeastern Syria — which Burgess said was a lifesaving victory for the United States — and U.S. sanctions off the table, the looming prospect of Russia becoming more powerful in the strategic region is a main reason many have been critical of Trump’s withdrawal. Burgess’ response? He said Russia has been involved from the beginning, so nothing really changes on that end.
“The situation is significantly unsettled in that area that I don’t think anyone can predict how all this works out,” Burgess said.
Back in Denton, Mat Pruneda, one of Burgess’ most unreserved critics and who is running in the Democratic primary in hopes of facing the incumbent for House District 26, wrote on his campaign’s Facebook page this week that Burgess’ support for Trump on Syria underscores his allegiance to Trump no matter the circumstances.
“I understand there are sometimes policy disagreements people have with each other, but this is beyond policy,” Pruneda’s post reads. “This is a pathological need to be supplicant to Trump.”
In an interview on Monday on national television, North Texas’ Burgess shifted some of the blame for the Trump withdrawal onto Congress, saying to a CNN anchor that Congress did not work quickly enough weeks ago to impose economic sanctions onto Turkey. His blaming of Congress was also noted by Newsweek, which quoted the congressman as saying of the Kurdish fighters turning to the Russia-backed Syrian government, “It’s not an ideal outcome, but look, this was not just the president. The Congress had a role here and didn’t step up and fulfill it.”
Speaking to the Record-Chronicle, Burgess said, “The president told us what he was going to do before he did it.”
Robert Shahady heaved two rocks through the windows of the car and emptied a yellow detergent bottle full of gasoline inside it. The car was ablaze as Denton Fire Engine No. 2 pulled up and everything would start to fall apart for him, not that he hadn’t already come unraveled.
Sabotaged by a medley of rage and distrust in police, Rob had spent the previous three days trying to fix things. Rebecca Wilson, his wife, flinched when he’d touch her. She was a shadow of her former self. Denton police seemed disinterested in her case. She was already having nightmares and waking up crying.
“He tried not to show me he was struggling with it,” Rebecca said.
Later that day, May 6, a fire investigator watched Robert in security camera footage douse the outside of the car with two bottles of lighter fluid and spark it. When the fire burned out, Robert left the parking lot at The Loop apartments and came back a half-hour later with the gasoline-filled detergent bottle and the rocks.
He was not going to let that car keep moving. Whoever drove it — Rob was certain — was the man who tried to rape Rebecca.
“Everywhere we’d go, I was scanning every single car we went by, seeing if it matched the description of the one she’d gave,” Robert said. “I was exhausted.”
The man used the car as a weapon, wielding him the power to lurk after Rebecca and other homeless women in Denton.
It needed to be destroyed.
Rob met Rebecca in 2015 at Monsignor King Outreach Center. She was volunteering one icy night in January when Rob came in with a nasty cut on his hand. Rebecca cleaned and bandaged it. Rebecca opened up Rob’s heart, he said. He would always try to keep her safe.
But on May 3, Rob could not. He was away from the old greenhouse they lived in, near the rundown old Grandy’s on East McKinney Street. Rebecca was inside lying down watching a movie on her phone, her back turned toward the doorway.
The opening credits hadn’t stopped rolling when Rebecca heard a thump. At first, she didn’t think anything of it — probably just one of the cardinals that nested near the greenhouse flying inside for a visit. She rolled over and was jolted by what she saw — a man wearing a maroon long-sleeve shirt, blue Wranglers and light-brown, pointed cowboy boots, his skin looking as though he worked outdoors.
“No man at home?” the man asked her in broken English.
The horror of an uninvited man in her home was made exponentially worse as Rebecca realized she’d seen the man before near the Serve Denton building. The man stalked her last fall, soliciting her for sex and threatening to harm her when she refused. And there he was, standing no more than 5 feet from her.
“Get the f--k out of my house!” Rebecca told him, as noted later in a police report.
The man climbed on top of Rebecca, pressing his knees on her chest, his hands around her neck, the report says. Rebecca fought back. The man tried to pin Rebecca’s arms to the bed above her head. He reached for her groin. She grabbed a loose brick and smashed it against the man’s face and head. He staggered back, and eventually left.
Rebecca didn’t see the type of car the man was driving. She only heard a belt squeal as the engine turned over. But from the stalking incident last fall, in which the man followed her in his car, Rebecca later give authorities — and Rob — a description of it the best she could.
She ran across McKinney Street to the Singing Oaks Church of Christ, and eventually to a nearby Jack in the Box, in hunt of a public Wi-Fi connection to message Rob on Facebook. When she saw he was not online, she messaged a friend. Rebecca needed help.
“It just ruins you,” she said.
That friend biked over to her and eventually they got in touch with Rob. Both men checked the greenhouse to make sure the man was gone.
About two years earlier, Rebecca and Rob had found the shed inundated with debris and trash, in circumstances not unlike the images seen in the news before the city moves in to clear out a homeless camp. Robert and Rebecca cleaned this space and kept it that way. Rebecca used a can of spray paint Robert found to tag an “R” on either side of the greenhouse’s doorway. “The Coop,” they named it.
It was a home, affording them a break from some of the more brutal realities of transient life. They collected furniture and snagged a bed, cushioned seats and paintings to hang on the wall.
After the attack, Rob and Rebecca wouldn’t stay there another night. The stability the Coop gave them was crushed by the attack. They packed what they could and left immediately, pushing them back into a cycle of trespass warnings and moves from camp to camp across Denton.
“We’ll probably never go back,” Rob said.
By the time Rob walked through the parking lot at The Loop apartments on May 6, a Denton police detective, April McDonough, had already been handed Rebecca’s case.
But it was too late.
In just a three-day span, Rob grew frustrated with the Denton Police Department. He and Rebecca already felt blown off by the officer responding to the sexual assault on May 3. In a state of hypervigilance, Rob, and Rebecca, too, figured their homelessness was the reason for the perceived judgment they got from the officer.
“You live here?” Rebecca recalled the officer saying when he saw the Coop.
Right before he burned out the car, Rob tried to stop a patrol officer passing in an SUV near Cardinal Drive. He knew where the cops could find the man who tried to rape his wife. Nothing.
During the initial investigation, Denton police learned from Rob and Rebecca that other homeless women knew of the suspect; some of them had been attacked or stalked by him as well. But police would never develop any substantial leads from them. As noted in the police report, those people, some apparently with warrants, were afraid to talk to the police out of fear of being arrested.
So Rob did something that was irrational, but made complete sense to him. He firebombed what he thought was the rapist’s car.
“He tried to fix it the best way he could,” Rebecca said. “He had to see me be scared, so he got hurt, too.”
The Denton Police Department was responsive to this story. Through its spokeswoman, the department characterized its interactions with Rob and Rebecca as a series of miscommunications and not an overt attempt to ignore them.
As May rolled by, it was apparent that Rob had gotten payback with the wrong guy. On May 22, Rob started swinging at a man he thought was the rapist at the 7-Eleven on McKinney and the loop. He damaged that car, too, pulling its doors toward the front of the car. He ran off before police arrived, a report shows.
In June, Rob was arrested, charged with second-degree felony arson and misdemeanor criminal mischief. And so far, investigators have found no links between those two victims and Rebecca’s attacker.
Now, he’s stuck in a suffocating position, incarcerated inside the Denton County Jail. Rebecca, with her attacker still at large, lives among friends but without Rob.
“I just feel bad that he’s in there,” Rebecca said. “I feel like it’s my fault.”
Rebecca has had to move eight times since May. No arrests yet in her sexual assault case. The main interactions she’s had with Denton police are when officers shuffle her and her neighbors out of another encampment, handing out “pink slips” for trespass warnings.
It’s the reality of police and homeless relations in Denton. Property owners call the police, and officers have to move them.
“I know that sometimes when they trespass us, they feel bad,” Rebecca said.
She is less frustrated with Denton police today then she was in May. McDonough, the detective, has done right by her and seems to be trying to find the guy who attacked her.
But that’s proven nearly impossible, like trying to catch vapor. Someone told police the man was spotted at a Taco Bell in August. McDonough scanned security footage but couldn’t find him, a report shows.
Rebecca says she doesn’t want anything violent to come to her attacker, just that he goes to jail.
“Ultimately, I want him to pay for what he did, just like Rob’s having to pay for what he did,” she said.
Rebecca remembers some of the other men in their circles talk about what they would have done if their partner was attacked, working to stir up Rob.
“His mind was clouded with anger,” she says.
Rebecca thinks about what would’ve happened if she never told anybody about the attack.
“Sometimes I wish I would have done that, because Rob wouldn’t be where he’s at,” she said.
Rob has told fire marshals and police all of this. In recorded confessions, he’s talked about what he did and why he did it.
To this point, it looks like he’ll be prosecuted fully for second-degree felony arson, his former attorney, Chris Abel, said Thursday, a day before Rob asked District Judge Steve Burgess to dismiss the attorney from the case.
Appearing for an arraignment in the 158th District Court on Friday, Rob got to see Rebecca for the first time since he was jailed. He faces prison time. A plea bargain and probation would be ideal, so Rob could get out of jail, but that would require constant payments and fees, too expensive for a person living on the streets.
“He looks so skinny,” Rebecca said to herself, rocking her body from right to left to see around a lawyer standing in the way.
She moves from the back of the courtroom gallery to the front row. Now worlds apart, Rebecca tries to hear what Rob, the attorney and the judge are saying over a courtroom abuzz with a morning docket.
Rob turns his head over his left shoulder and mouths “I love you” to Rebecca. A bailiff catches it and tells them both to stop.
“It’s hard,” Rebecca says, “when you feel like you’re doing the right thing but you’re still getting punished.”
Halloween festivities at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center brought out dozens of children dressed as superheroes, animals and princesses for some games and a chance to win a trophy for their costumes Saturday morning.
Denton has numerous events centered around Halloween and fall in October. Denton Parks and Recreation staffer Cheylon Brown said the rec center’s annual Halloween Carnival embodies the parks department’s “Come Play” slogan.
“Halloween [events] are always the most interesting because you can see the kids’ personalities through costumes they choose, and the diversity is amazing,” she said.
Brown said judges considered creativity, originality, effort and authenticity when deciding on the costume contest winners.
While many kids were dressed in classic Halloween costumes like Marvel and DC superheroes, Disney princesses and professions such as firefighters and police officers, there were a few others that caught the contest judges’ eyes.
Ryley Sweat stood in an inflatable suit that made it look like an alien was carrying her away.
“I just saw it and thought it was cool,” Ryley said.
At least one person asked for a picture with her and laughed with delight when they realized what her costume was. She took home third place in the costume category for ages 6 to 12.
Ryley’s mom, Tiara, said the family is still fairly new to Denton, and she decided to bring her kids to the Halloween Carnival after learning about it.
Some family members, including Andre and Anderson Wallace, wore complementary costumes. Andre was a Ghostbuster and 2-year-old Anderson was dressed as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Anderson kept his parents chasing after him as he ran through the MLK center’s gym.
The pair’s costumes won them each third and second place in the baby and adult categories, respectively.
“We came last year and we really enjoyed it,” said Michelle Wallace, Andre’s wife and Anderson’s mother. “Now that [Anderson] is older, he can play the games.”
Although nerds are teased in television and movies, a nerdy “Head of Class” girl won first place for kids ages 6 to 12. Sophia Webb wore oversize glasses with tape adorning the center, a red plaid dress with chemical element symbols and knee socks.
Brown said organizers had a lot of sponsors pitching in with candy and money for trophies this year.
“This really was a community event,” Brown said.
Updated at noon to correct the proposition names. Button up for your civic responsibility, Denton. There are some big decisions to make for our collective future.
The state of Texas has 10 constitutional amendments for every Texas voter to consider. And Denton residents have an extra reason to head to the polls: a $221.5 million bond election to pay for roads, police department needs, parkland and public art.
Proposition A allocates $154 million to road improvements, with $70 million of that going to city streets in three neighborhoods that need a leg up: around Denton High School in central Denton, around Ginnings Elementary School in eastern Denton and in Southeast Denton.
The remaining amount will go to widen major arterials and accommodate a growing city, including Bonnie Brae Street in western Denton and Ryan Road and Hickory Creek Road in southern Denton.
In the case of Hickory Creek Road, one portion will be reengineered to eliminate a dangerous s-curve in the road. Motorists ended up in the creek in four of seven serious wrecks on that road in the past two years. University of North Texas student Lucas Tucker, 24, drowned Jan. 21, 2018. Nearly a year later, brothers Daniel, 14, and Diego Rivera, 17, died when their SUV rolled into the creek on Jan. 9, 2019.
Proposition B allocates $61.9 million to renovate the Denton Police Department’s current building on East Hickory Street, to build a new police substation on the south side of town and to build a new, indoor firing range.
Proposition C allocates $5 million for the city to purchase open space for parks.
Proposition D allocates $619,000 for public art, or 1% of Proposition A. Longstanding policies by the City Council require the city to allocate some portion of general obligation bond spending to public art. The separate proposition empowers the Public Art Committee to recommend projects that could be installed in other places besides the firing range or the police department, which is already home to significant pieces.
Early voting continues daily through Nov. 1, with extended hours on Saturday, Oct. 26 and during the second week of early voting at 24 locations around the county.
During early voting, voters may cast a ballot at any early voting location, whether close to home or the workplace.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5. More information on the election administration can be found at votedenton.com.