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Construction to resume soon on FM2181/Teasley Lane

For the widening of FM2181/Teasley Lane, there is good news and bad news.

The good news is that Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio will resume the work. The agreement between the Texas Department of Transportation and Berkshire Hathaway, the bond holder for the job, and Zachry (Berkshire’s subcontractor), should be finalized Nov. 7.

Zachry is mobilizing crews in anticipation of receiving that final contract, said Tara Snowden, Zachry’s vice president for public and government affairs.

“Our guys are ready,” she said.

The bad news is that the job effectively must begin again. The city’s transportation consultant, John Polster, told council members during a Mobility Committee meeting last week that part of the redo is that the city did not accept some materials placed by the previous contractor.

Residents and motorists first began navigating around the orange barrels in November 2017, when Munilla Construction Management began the $35 million project. The company got the contract to widen the two-lane road to a six-lane divided roadway with a plan to finish in March 2020.

MCM was also the general contractor for a Miami pedestrian bridge that collapsed during construction and killed six people in March 2018. Founded in 1983, the company has since filed for bankruptcy protection and has been renamed Magnum Construction Management.

TxDOT pulled the plug on MCM’s contract to widen FM2181 on Jan. 24. Construction was more than 40% behind schedule, and there were problems with barricades and a deficit with payroll. Subcontractors were also reporting to TxDOT that they hadn’t been paid, officials said.

The job was estimated to be about 20% complete, TxDOT officials said at the time.

The company was sent a notice in early January along with a chance to comply but did not. MCM disputes the contract’s termination.

“It is MCM’s position that the company was wrongfully terminated and reserves its rights under the contract,” wrote Mike Hernandez, MCM representative, in an email.

The company has through February 2020 to file a claim.

TxDOT turned to MCM’s surety bond holder, Berkshire Hathaway, to finish the job. The cost to complete the project rose to $37.6 million, TxDOT spokeswoman Emily McCann said.

Polster said Zachry will get more than 500 days to finish the job. But TxDOT officials don’t have an official completion date to share yet, McCann said.

Either way, residents and motorists can likely expect the orange barrels to remain on FM2181 and Teasley Lane until early 2022.

Dixon talks about his first year as Denton police chief

Today marks one year since Frank Dixon took over the Denton Police Department as chief of police. It’s also Dixon’s birthday. Most of his entire adult life has been spent working in law enforcement. But the past 365 days were different — this is Dixon’s first job as a police chief.

The first year will surely work to define Dixon’s leadership style and the course he’s set for the department’s future. So the Denton Record-Chronicle sat down with Dixon in his office last week to ask: What happened this year? What should the community expect from the department in coming years?

“It’s time for us to rebrand ourselves and really put out there it’s a new day for us as a department,” Dixon said, unveiling that the agency will soon have a redesigned patch and badge. “There’s nothing wrong with the past at all. It’s all about us finding our identity collectively as an agency as we move into 2020 and beyond.”

Likely the biggest moment in Dixon’s first year was the failed search in July for Sarbesh Gurung, the missing 2-year-old who was found dead in an SUV within the official search area after hours of searching. That case, Dixon says, has already led to changes within the agency.

“That was a watershed moment, not just for the police department but for me personally,” Dixon said.

Now in big search operations, a sworn, volunteer coordinator will work between the police and fire departments and citizens — like the hundreds who showed up for Sarbesh — to pair citizens with police officers to conduct organized searches, Dixon said. They will search every parking lot, note every car they search and note every residence they search. Vehicles will be marked with washable ink.

“We’re putting in stopgaps to make sure that we conclusively can say we searched this entire parking lot and we leave nothing to chance,” Dixon said. “We’re hoping that becomes best practice in our profession.”

Adjustments also came after another high-profile case. When a manager at Harvest House was assaulted after asking a group of people — including one man who displayed his swastika tattoo — to leave the bar, Denton police investigated but did not charge anybody with a hate crime. That decision brought criticism to the department. Months later, the agency announced revisions to how it tracks hate-related incidents.

There is now a hate incidents case code that Denton’s police officers can use to keep track of these incidents, even if no criminal charges come. There was no such case code before the Harvest House assault, Dixon said.

“We need to be able to report that, keep it, log it, so we can go back and search it later on,” Dixon said. “We track it so if you are then involved in an actual hate crime a year later ... we can go back and hopefully build a better case for prosecution.”

Before that was Isaac Warriner, the man indicted on a murder charge who allegedly decapitated his mother before fleeing to Oklahoma, where he was arrested. After it was revealed by the Record-Chronicle that friends and family were calling Denton police to warn them about Warriner’s behavior, Denton police reviewed their records and found about 12 calls wherein police officers were made aware about a troubling pattern of Warriner’s behavior, including at least one documented threat to kill himself and his mother.

Dixon said more mental health training will come for Denton police after that case, which Dixon characterized as a “worst-case scenario.”

“We need to start tracking those calls,” Dixon said, “by having our police officers being able to recognize some of the symptoms of someone that’s maybe suffering from mental illness, so we can document and hopefully get them some good follow-up to get them services before it manifests itself.”

Additional training has been a mark for Dixon’s first year. There have been new training courses for officers interacting with people with autism, animal cruelty investigations, active shooter response and strangulation investigations.

“The message is, get used to it, because training is going to be a part of this culture,” Dixon said.

If voters approve, the police department at 601 W. Hickory St. will be renovated and a substation and an indoor shooting range will be built. Denton voters will decide whether to spend $61.9 million for that on Nov. 5.

In a highly competitive North Texas region — with dozens of cities and police agencies — Dixon said his agency has about nine vacancies to fill. But during the sit-down interview, Dixon seemed optimistic that Denton is attracting qualified applicants. Just this month, the police department announced it is accepting lateral transfers, meaning peace officers already working at other agencies can more easily take a job at the Denton Police Department.

“We’re not going to shrink our standards to get more people hired quicker,” Dixon said. “We’re going to keep our standards where they’re at, or we’re going to raise them.”

Texas officer charged with murder, resigns after shooting

FORT WORTH — A white Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a black woman through a back window of her home while responding to a call about an open front door was charged with murder on Monday after resigning from the force.

Aaron Dean, 34, was jailed Monday evening on $200,000 bond after the police chief said he acted without justification and would have been fired if he hadn’t quit.

Police bodycam video showed Dean approaching the door of the home where Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was caring for her 8-year-old nephew early Saturday. Dean then walked around the side of the house, pushed through a gate into the fenced-off backyard and fired through the glass a split-second after shouting at Jefferson to show her hands.

Dean was not heard identifying himself as police on the video, and interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said there was no sign Dean or the other officer who responded even knocked on the front door.

“Nobody looked at this video and said that there’s any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately,” Kraus said.

Earlier in the day, Jefferson’s family had demanded that Dean, a member of the force for 1½ years, be fired and arrested.

“Why this man is not in handcuffs is a source of continued agitation for this family and for this community,” family attorney Lee Merritt said, hours before Dean was booked into jail.

Police went to Jefferson’s home about 2:25 a.m. after a neighbor called a nonemergency line to report a door ajar. In a statement over the weekend, the department said officers saw someone near a window inside the home and that one of them drew his gun and fired after “perceiving a threat.”

The video showed Dean shouting, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” and immediately firing.

Jefferson was staying up late, playing video games with her nephew, when she was killed, according to the family’s attorney.

As for what, exactly, led Dean to open fire, the police chief said: “I cannot make sense of why she had to lose her life.” The chief said Dean resigned without talking to internal affairs investigators.

The video included images of a gun inside a bedroom. Kraus said he did not know whether Jefferson was holding the weapon. But he said the mere fact she had a gun shouldn’t be considered unusual in Texas.

“We’re homeowners in Texas,” the police chief said. “Most of us, if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn’t be and we had access to a firearm, we would be acting very similarly to how she was acting.” Kraus said that, in hindsight, releasing the images of the weapon was “a bad thing to do.”

Mayor Betsy Price called the gun “irrelevant.”

“Atatiana was in her own home, caring for her 8-year-old nephew. She was a victim,” Price said.

Texas has had a “castle doctrine” law on the books since 2007 that gives people a stronger legal defense to use deadly force in their homes. The law was backed at the time by the National Rifle Association and is similar to “stand your ground” measures across the U.S. that say a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder.

In Dallas, another high-profile police shooting occurred last year. White Dallas officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her black neighbor Botham Jean inside his own apartment after Guyger said she mistook his place for her own. Guyger, 31, was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison.

A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson’s home Sunday night for a vigil after demonstrations briefly stopped traffic on Interstate 35. A single bullet hole was visible in the window of the single-story, freshly painted purple home, and floral tributes and stuffed animals piled up in the street.

The police chief said Dean could face state charges and that he had submitted a case to the FBI to review for possible federal civil rights charges.

Dean has not yet hired an attorney but will have one provided with financial support from the state’s largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, according to Charley Wilkison, executive director.

Relations with the public have been strained after other recent Fort Worth police shootings. In June, the department released footage of officers killing a man who ignored repeated orders to drop his handgun. He was the fourth person Fort Worth police had fired upon in 10 days.

Of the nine officer-involved shootings so far this year in Fort Worth, five targeted African Americans and six resulted in death, according to department data.

Nearly two-thirds of the department’s 1,100 officers are white, just over 20% are Hispanic, and about 10% are black. The city of nearly 900,000 people is about 40% white, 35% Hispanic and 19% black.

Calling the shooting “a pivotal moment in our city,” the mayor said she was ordering a top-to-bottom review of the police force and vowed to “rebuild a sense of trust within the city and with our police department.”

Jefferson was a 2014 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. She was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was considering going to medical school, according to the family’s lawyer.

As stabbing investigation continues, police release name of victim

Denton police identified Isaiah Rahimi, 20, as the man who was fatally stabbed Saturday night in the parking lot of an auto shop along McKinney Street.

The investigation into Rahimi’s homicide was ongoing Monday. A police spokeswoman said detectives had interviewed multiple witnesses and possible suspects, but no arrests had been made by midday Monday.

At about 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Denton police got a call from a person who said Rahimi asked them to call 911 and report he’d been stabbed. Officers responded to the call, in the 3600 block of East McKinney Street, finding the injured man. He was driven to a hospital, where he died, police said.

Though no arrests had been made, investigators were aware of the circumstances that led to the stabbing but would not release those details until after the case was resolved, the spokeswoman, Khristen Jones, said Monday.

An official at the University of North Texas confirmed Rahimi was not enrolled as a student at UNT. A call to Texas Woman’s University was not immediately returned Monday.