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Denton police taking initiative to keep drunken drivers off roads

Denton County has the 10th highest number of DWI charges out of Texas’ 254 counties, according to a recent announcement from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Recent statistics from the Denton Police Department show that the number of drinking while intoxicated arrests in Denton this year has increased by 87% from the previous year, from 277 in 2018 to 519 so far in 2019.

Denton Assistant Police Chief Bobby Smith says these high numbers of arrests are benefiting the Denton community.

“When you see that No. 10 ranking, that’s a good thing,” Smith said. “And it’s a direct result of our department’s initiative towards higher levels of enforcement on DWI. That being said, there is still a lot of preventative work that can be done.”

This year, from January to September, the number of crashes relating to an inebriated driver is down 7% compared to the year before, while crashes that resulted in fatalities have gone down 60%.

“When Chief [Frank] Dixon came on last fall, he definitely wanted to push our DWI enforcement up,” Smith said. “From a public safety standpoint, you have to consider what in your community is causing people to lose their lives. We have a number of DWI deaths, so our mission is to reduce DWI-related deaths and injuries.”

In efforts to further reduce these numbers, Denton police will be initiating a campaign called “DWI-Free Denton” that aims to inform Denton residents and students that driving while intoxicated is intolerable. DWI-Free Denton will be a five-year plan that’s focused on maximizing the department’s efforts in prevention, enforcement and prosecution.

“It’s not just about enforcement,” Smith said. “Our enforcement numbers are very important, but you can’t enforce your way completely out of this problem. You have to be preventative, and we’ll continue to promote these initiatives to get that message out there.”

With several bars near campus, the University of North Texas Police Department has also seen high numbers of DWI-related arrests. In the last 60 days, there have been nearly 40 DWI charges on or near the UNT campus. UNT police are taking precautions to try to prevent such arrests and promote safety.

“We’re partnering with the Denton Police Department and their DWI-Free campaign,” UNT police Sgt. Kevin Crawford said. “We proactively patrol the area and if we see someone exhibiting signs of intoxication, even walking to a car, we can get involved before they get behind the wheel.”

Both Denton and UNT police are also encouraging students to contact Lyft or Uber to get a safe ride home.

“In today’s time, there’s really no excuse for driving while intoxicated,” Smith said. “There’s always another way to get home.”

Royal treatment
MLB player, volunteers pitch in for Special Olympics bowling tournament

Bowling balls crashed constantly across every lane during Sunday afternoon’s Special Olympics area tournament hosted at University Lanes.

Teams from Decatur-based Made 2 Thrive, the Cooke County Special Olympics and the Pilot Point ISD Special Olympics programs arrived to compete.

Paul Hamilton, a Cooke County coach and head organizer, said the Made 2 Thrive group might head toward the state tournament, but his group and those from Pilot Point don’t go past area tournaments because of funding constraints.

Dozens of bowlers — decked out in one of three matching team shirts — filled nearly every table. Laughter, jumping, hugs and high-fives were frequent. A man in Lane 2 carefully placed his ball atop a bowling ramp and took a few steps back for a running start.

He watched stoically as all but three pins toppled. He adjusted the ramp slightly to the left, dialing in his next shot. Another running start, another forceful push.

The moment the final pin hit the ground, the bowler jumped and spun around to gather his rightful applause.

A few lanes down, Johnny Hardy, 31, was having a so-so round after a strong start to the game.

“I was getting those shots. Now —” Hardy said before slumping his arm and head down in exasperation.

He said he’s been involved with Special Olympics through Made 2 Thrive for the past few years, and it’s the people that keep him coming back.

“If it weren’t for the coaches, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Jeremy Mila, a Special Olympian with the Cooke County wing of the Special Olympics, echoed those sentiments. He said he’s been involved with the program for roughly 10 years in several sports. While basketball is his favorite — he plays point guard — he said bowling can be fun too.

Slowly but surely, each bowler was escorted by a Guyer High School cheerleader to get their picture taken with the cheerleaders. Once developed, the instant photos had a hole punched through them and a length of neon plastic cord threaded through.

With the picture done, athletes had the opportunity to meet Hunter Dozier, a Denton native and third baseman for the Kansas City Royals. Dozier handed out signed pictures and posed for photos throughout the event.

“They [the athletes] bring such a joy,” Dozier said Tuesday. “You see how much fun they’re having; they have it so hard, I can’t even imagine.”

Other volunteers helped bowlers, played alongside the athletes or simply cheered them on from tables. Among those were Guyer students Jess Holbert, a senior, and Grayson O’Bara, a sophomore.

They both explained that volunteering with Special Olympics events is a fun and rewarding experience.

Aside from their involvement during Tuesday’s tournament, O’Bara, Holbert and Dozier — along with Guyer cheerleading coach Ashley Hamilton — are all connected by a common thread: They were all present because of Paul Hamilton.

Ashley Hamilton is his oldest daughter, O’Bara and Holbert are two of his nephews, and Dozier is a family friend.

O’Bara said his brother, Grant, has also volunteered at past events because of their uncle.

“Paul [Hamilton] really started it all,” O’Bara said Tuesday afternoon.

Unless you were looking for him, it would have been easy to miss Hamilton’s frenetic trek as he threaded through the crowd Tuesday. Before the first ball went spinning, he, along with other coaches and organizers, was in near-constant motion.

In payment for the volunteers, joy-filled athletes soon sat at every table in the building with commemorative pictures, autographed photos and ribbons marking their achievements.

Questions and outrage after Fort Worth officer fatally shoots 28-year-old woman in her home

Atatiana Jefferson

The fatal shooting of a 28-year-old black woman in her home by a white Fort Worth police officer has drawn swift condemnation, calls for police accountability and mourning for a life cut short.

Atatiana Jefferson became the sixth person since June who has been killed by one of the department’s officers. A seventh person was wounded.

Lt. Brandon O’Neil, a Fort Worth police spokesman, said at a brief news conference Sunday afternoon that two officers had been dispatched to the home in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue after a neighbor made a call early Saturday to the nonemergency police line. They arrived about 2:30 a.m. and walked into the backyard.

The officer who shot Jefferson did not announce himself as a police officer before firing through a bedroom window, O’Neil said.

That officer will be interviewed Monday and another news conference will be conducted later that day, he said.

“What the officer observed and why he did not announce police will be addressed as the investigation continues,” O’Neil said.

Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew was “inside the room” at the time of the shooting, O’Neil said.

O’Neil said police had communicated with Jefferson’s family and called her death an “unspeakable loss.”

Police did not take questions at Sunday’s news conference.

Attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing Jefferson’s family, said Jefferson had been playing video games with her nephew.

“Her mom had recently gotten very sick, so she was home taking care of the house and loving her life,” he wrote on Facebook. “There was no reason for her to be murdered. None. We must have justice.”

The officer, whose name has not been released, has been on the force since April 2018.

He arrived at the home about 2:30 a.m. in response to a call about an “open structure,” the department said.

A neighbor, James Smith, said he had called a nonemergency line to ask police do a welfare check when he noticed the front door was open at the home where Jefferson was.

In audio released Sunday, Smith told a dispatcher that it wasn’t normal for his neighbors to have “both doors open at this time of night.”

Smith said he didn’t know what happened inside the house after police arrived.

“All I know is my neighbor died unnecessarily at the hands of the Fort Worth Police Department,” he said.

There was no sign that anything violent was going on inside the house before the officers arrived, he said.

“All they had to do was announce who they were and if she heard them, she’d probably come to the door to see who was at her front door,” Smith said.

In the six other shootings since June, Fort Worth police reported clear signs of provocation by the five people who were killed and the one who was wounded.

Police haven’t said whether the officer who killed Jefferson had tried knocking on the front door before the shooting.

In body-camera footage released Saturday, the officer who shot Jefferson is seen walking around the backyard of the home.

About a minute-and-a-half into the video, he swivels toward a window, then yells, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” and fires into the window within about three seconds.

The department said the officer perceived a threat before firing but hasn’t said what that threat was. A firearm was found inside a bedroom in the house, but authorities haven’t said whether Jefferson had been holding it when she was killed.

Merritt said Jefferson and her nephew heard what they thought was a prowler in the backyard. When she went to see what was happening, she was confronted by an officer and had only seconds to comply, Merritt said.

One of Jefferson’s sisters, Amber Carr, told KXAS-TV (NBC5) that her sister’s shooting was “another one of those situations where the people that are supposed to protect us are actually not here to protect us.”

Carr said she wants justice for her sister.

“But justice don’t bring my sister back, you know?” she said.

Jefferson’s aunt told the station that the news of her niece’s death has grown “more inconceivable and more confusing” in the hours since it unfolded.

Jefferson graduated in 2014 from Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black Catholic college in New Orleans. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, a statement from university President Reynold Verret said.

“Our prayers and thoughts are with her family and friends as we gather as a community in prayer,” Verret said in a letter to the Xavier community. “As we wait for details of this incident to unfold, let us cling to our mission of justice and humanity and seek answers to this tragedy.”

A video shared widely Sunday on social media showed Jefferson performing an assignment for an anatomy and physiology course.

The Fort Worth Police Officers Association said in a news release Sunday that the union urges the department to conduct a “thorough and transparent investigation” in the wake of Jefferson’s death.

“Any loss of life is tragic, but the reported circumstances surrounding this incident are heartbreaking,” the statement read. “We join with the citizens of Fort Worth in mourning the death of one of our young community members.”

Outrage over Jefferson’s death spread quickly on social media. Several Democratic presidential candidates, including Sen. Kamala Harris and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, weighed in.

“The officer gave Atatiana Jefferson four seconds to respond before shooting and killing her,” Harris wrote on Twitter. “Being Black in your own home shouldn’t be a death sentence.”

O’Rourke called for accountability and expressed condolences to Jefferson’s family.

“As we mourn with Atatiana’s loved ones, we must demand accountability and promise to fight until no family has to face a tragedy like this again,” he tweeted.

Former Housing and Urban Development secretary and fellow Texan Julián Castro shared an article about Jefferson’s death, saying police shouldn’t make people “unsafe in our own homes.”

“How many articles do we need to read or videos do we need to watch before we do something to reform policing in this country?” he asked on Twitter.

His brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, tweeted that the officer needs to be held accountable.

“Since he never identified himself, how was she to know that he was a police officer and not a dangerous person about to break into her home at night to harm her?” he wrote.

Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., responded to news of Jefferson’s death on Twitter, saying, “State-sanctioned violence against Black people is a persistent evil in this nation.”

Some activists likened Jefferson’s death to the case of Botham Jean, who was killed in his apartment last year by former Dallas officer Amber Guyger. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison earlier this month.

“First Botham Jean, now Atatiana Jefferson,” Scott Roberts, senior director of criminal justice campaigns for Color of Change, an online racial justice organization, said in an email. “Nowhere are Black people safe from police violence, not even in their own homes, living their own lives. We cannot imagine the shock and grief being experienced right now by Jefferson’s family and community.”

The organization called for an independent investigation and appointment of a special prosecutor in the case, citing distrust of Tarrant County’s district attorney.

It also called on Fort Worth police to release the name of the officer who shot Jefferson.

At sunset, dozens of people gathered for a candlelight vigil outside Masjid Hassan Al Islam, a mosque next door to the home where Jefferson was shot. The crowd spilled off the mosque’s lawn and into the yards of homes across the street.

“No justice, no peace,” they chanted, as some laid flowers on the sidewalk.

The gathering was at times angry and loud, with speakers calling for more police oversight.

“Everyone has the right to be angry but then what?” said Nita Sullivan of Fort Worth. “You can only shake your fists at the sky so many times.”

Later, a large portion of the crowd marched west on Allen Avenue, chanting, “Whose street? Our street.” They marched toward Interstate 35W, where police had blocked the on-ramp, then returned to the vigil.

As Jefferson’s family, who did not speak publicly, left the vigil, cries of “We love you!” and “We’re with you!” could be heard.

A GoFundMe campaign to support Jefferson’s family had raised more than $100,000 by Sunday evening.