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Denton police now making domestic violence reports a priority

Police arrived Monday evening at the house on Rose Street after a caller said a man was punching a woman in the street. The woman denied the assault ever happened, but the police still took the man to jail, charged with a felony.

Old injuries to the woman’s face and a statement from a witness, combined with police records showing at least two assaults in the past year, gave Denton police a foot to stand on in charging the 45-year-old man with continuous violence against the family and taking him to the city jail, a police report shows.

A Denton County prosecutor says most all family violence cases come with wearied victims who either have patchy memories of events or are unwilling to cooperate with authorities during questioning.

Domestic violence is a crime built on patterns. And Denton police under Chief Frank Dixon are taking a more thorough approach to keeping track of those patterns such as the ones that developed on Rose Street.

“I think we owe it to our victims and our potential victims,” Dixon said.

As part of a department overhaul underway since Dixon’s arrival in October, Denton police officers now are required to file a report each time they respond to a domestic disturbance call — regardless if a victim names an abuser or if arrests are made at the scene.

Police say this is an effort to ensure that criminal charges and relief for victims are not halted by a lack of insight into victim-abuser relationships. Victim advocates and criminal prosecutors alike have voiced support for Denton’s approach to domestic violence reporting.

“Knowing that there’s been previous calls to that home and knowing there have been previous allegations made can help the police determine which resources and referrals a family needs,” said Donna Bloom, the director of legal services for Denton County Friends of the Family, an advocacy group that works with Denton and other police agencies.

Bloom said the people who work with victims find robust reporting from police a vital piece to understanding the dynamics at play in a relationship. By using police reports, caseworkers can find instances that can help them form questions, better targeting what a victim needs in terms of protection and rehabilitation.

“Domestic violence is about power and control,” Bloom said.

Although arguments and fights are the most common types of calls that police handle daily related to intimate partner cases, these instances can escalate into assaults or worse. Data from the Texas Council on Family Violence shows 136 women were killed by a male partner in 2017.

“A lot of the times, it is a build-up,” said Michael Graves, the Denton County District Attorney’s Office’s chief domestic violence prosecutor. “Verbal arguments start to turn physical. Or emotional abuse turns into physical abuse.”

He said juries are more easily convinced of guilt when prosecutors present documented proof that a defendant comes with a history of violence or allegations of violence. Graves said these paper trails also inform what kind of breaks may be offered defendants during plea negotiations.

“We like to know the entire history,” Graves said.

Southwest Airlines baggage weight discrepancies lead to yearlong FAA probe

DALLAS — U.S. air safety regulators have been investigating Southwest Airlines for a year over widespread miscalculation of the total weight of checked bags loaded onto flights, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal, citing government officials and internal agency documents, said the Federal Aviation Administration’s yearlong civil probe found “systemic and significant mistakes with employee calculations and luggage-loading practices, resulting in potential discrepancies when pilots compute takeoff weights.”

In a statement Tuesday to The Dallas Morning News, the FAA said it launched the investigation in February 2018 into Southwest’s weight and balance performance data.

“Since that time, the FAA has directed the development of a comprehensive solution to the methods and processes used by Southwest Airlines to determine this performance data,” the statement said. “The FAA will not close its investigation until it is satisfied that Southwest’s corrective actions are consistent and sustained.”

Dallas-based Southwest said it voluntarily reported the issue to the FAA, and stressed that it isn’t facing any enforcement action.

“The dialogue that is being reported between the FAA and Southwest is part of that ongoing effort to track and voluntarily report operational data to the FAA so that we can mitigate and eliminate any operational risks as safety is always our top priority,” the company said in a statement Tuesday to The News.

The carrier put “controls and enhanced procedures” in place last year to address the FAA concerns and believes it has resolved the issues, the statement said. It described the FAA’s open letter of investigation as a common way airlines and regulators discuss safety issues.

“Our goal is to always operate with zero weight and balance planning inaccuracies, and our processes and procedures directly support that mission,” the company said. “We will continue our stringent monitoring of operating systems and procedures and always voluntarily report things that we believe can be improved to enhance aviation safety.”

Unlike other large U.S. airlines, Southwest doesn’t rely on computerized scanners to count bags. Its ground crews count bags they load and use an average weight to calculate the total.

The FAA found cases in which the bag load was more than 1,000 pounds heavier than paperwork indicated, the Journal reported. FAA inspectors believed pilots might respond incorrectly to an engine emergency if they had inaccurate information about the distribution of weight between front and rear cargo bays.

In the course of the inquiry, Southwest told the FAA its system presents “less than minor risk” to passengers, according to documents cited by the Journal. Pilots set takeoff speed and thrust depending on total aircraft weight and how it is distributed, including passengers, fuel and contents of cargo holds.

Southwest told the FAA in documents that problems with manual bag counts and weight calculations fall well within operating safety margins of its fleet, the Journal reported. The company cited distracted baggage handlers and last-minute bags as major causes of loading discrepancies.

By year-end, Southwest plans to institute computerized scanning of all individual bags on the tarmac, just before they are loaded into the cargo holds of its more than 700 Boeing 737 jets, the Journal said.

Southwest is the nation’s largest domestic carrier, flying about 4,000 flights daily. It’s preparing to launch service to Hawaii and its planes are in the process of being certified for over-the-ocean flights.

There haven’t been any Southwest accidents linked to suspect weights and the airline never had an onboard fatality until last April, when an engine broke apart and debris smashed through a plane window, killing a passenger. That accident led to stepped-up inspection of fan blades on certain engines used by Southwest and other carriers.

However, the carrier has faced safety scrutiny from the FAA in the past. In 2009, Southwest agreed to pay $7.5 million in penalties to settle allegations that it operated 46 aircraft on 60,000 flights without completing mandatory maintenance checks for potential fuselage cracks.

Ethics board faces ethics questions of its own

The city of Denton’s Board of Ethics may be a little hobbled Wednesday night when it meets to discuss possible changes to the city’s new ethics ordinance.

Officially a seven-member body, the group has gone into its bullpen of alternates in recent days. Two appointees resigned soon after joining. Two other appointees have said they will take leaves of absence until after the election, triggered in part by the announcement that the board chairman, Jesse Davis, filed last week to run for City Council.

Davis has said repeatedly that he doesn’t intend to step down from the board, or as board chairman, while he campaigns for District 3 seat. Nothing in the ethics ordinance requires it.

Jesse Davis

“My leadership of the Board of Ethics during my candidacy for District 3 is no different than a [planning and zoning] commissioner running for council,” Davis said in a prepared statement. “The only reason for me to resign would be to avoid political controversy. I believe too much in the work we do on the Board of Ethics to shirk my duty for political reasons.”

Davis added that he would recuse himself from discussing issues that directly implicated his candidacy.

Last week, Davis led an ethics panel discussion on the City Council’s latest dilemma: whether council members Deb Armintor and Paul Meltzer could vote on a pending matter that involved the University of North Texas.

The panel’s answer was no, because Meltzer’s wife and Armintor are UNT employees. But the original question also involved a contract for a polling location on the UNT campus.

David Zoltner, ethics vice chairman, said he believed Davis should not have participated because the council’s vote could ultimately affect polling sites. (Zoltner himself could not advise on the issue because he is Armintor’s appointee, a prohibition in the ordinance.)

Some election decisions may be ripe for controversy since the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which hamstrung the U.S. Department of Justice from reviewing and clearing election changes in Texas. In last November’s election, for example, voting rights activists threatened to sue Hays County elections officials for closing a polling location early at Texas State University in San Marcos. Rather than face a lawsuit, elections officials reopened the site.

Currently, the Denton City Council, including incumbents running for re-election, vote on polling locations for city elections. In addition, the City Council added a second polling location in all four council districts last year before voting to approve them.

David Zoltner

Zoltner said he hoped the board’s discussion Wednesday night would help refocus the city’s ethics ordinance on the appearance of impropriety. Davis’ continuing service while running for office is an example of such an appearance, he said. But Zoltner also said he would take a leave of absence from the board until the May 4 election, offering his resignation if the board preferred.

“To continue would find me (and all other board members as well), complicit in unethical behavior whereby a candidate for public office under the jurisdiction of an ethics board plays ANY role in determining rules or policy,” Zoltner wrote in an email to Davis, which was shared with the Denton Record-Chronicle.

Board alternate Kara Engstrom said that she too felt she should take a leave of absence until after the election. She is the campaign manager for Diana Leggett, who is running for the District 3 council seat along with Davis and a third candidate, Matt Farmer.

“For [service on] other boards and commissions, I don’t feel it’s necessary to recuse or resign, but to me, ethics is different,” Engstrom said.

She stopped short of calling for Davis to step down.

“That’s his decision to make,” Engstrom said.

Engstrom would not have been required to attend Wednesday’s meeting unless called, since she is an alternate.

The board is scheduled to meet beginning at 5 p.m. The other appointees still serving along with Davis are council member Don Duff’s appointee, Don Cartwright; Mayor Chris Watts’ appointee, Ron Johnson; Meltzer’s appointee, Karen McDaniels; and Keely Briggs’ appointee, Lara Tomlin. Zoltner and the remaining alternates, Engstrom and Deborah Cosimo, were appointed by Armintor.

Bettye Myers, retired professor and dedicated community member, dies at 92

Once Carine Feyten started her job as chancellor of Texas Woman’s University in 2014, kinesiology professor Bettye Myers made an appointment to meet her.

Myers was nearly 88 years old at the time and had been at the university since 1961. Following that first meeting, Myers was full of feedback for the chancellor, frequently toting sweet treats and flowers to show her appreciation. Most recently, Myers and her dog Muffins Myers stopped by the chancellor’s office on Valentine’s Day to hand-deliver chocolate-dipped strawberries.

“She was really something else and so generous with her time, her resources and her energy,” Feyten said. “She was a real humanitarian. She cared for everyone.”

Myers died Monday after suffering a stroke in her home. TWU officials announced her death Tuesday morning.

Myers, 92, was a lifetime board member with the United Way of Denton County and worked at TWU for 54 years. She also held leadership positions with several organizations in Denton over her life, including the Denton school board, the TWU Alumnae Association, the Kiwanis, Denton County MHMR Center and Denton City County Day School.

“She transformed the nonprofit world,” Mayor Chris Watts said. “Her dedication and her heart were infectious. She could motivate people and bring out the best in people, and was such a powerful force in our community.”

Born in Heavener, Oklahoma, Myers attended TWU when it was known as the Texas State College for Women, earning her bachelor’s degree in 1946 and her master’s the following year, both degrees in health, physical education and recreation. In 1960, she earned a doctorate in counseling psychology at the University of Michigan. In 1961, she rejoined TWU as a faculty member.

After so many years at the institution, Myers was a guiding light in helping Feyten understand TWU — and for laughs, regularly using a collection of one-liners and phrases like “It’s great to be me!”

“She, to me, really symbolized the saying ‘TWU is a campus with a heart,’” Feyten said. “To me, she epitomizes that. She’s a caring face to the campus, the students, the staff and faculty. That’s who she was, and she wanted to make sure I knew that about TWU. She made that very real.”

It wound up being Feyten who encouraged Myers to retire in 2015, asking that she dedicate her time to helping lead the community in other ways.

“I think everyone was worried about how it would go,” Feyten said. “And she said, ‘You know what, honey bunny, that’s a fabulous idea.’”

Jeff Woo/DRC file photo 

Bettye Myers, secretary for the United Way of Denton County board of directors, poses with the nonprofit agency's CEO, Gary Henderson, in its renovated building on Teasley Lane on Nov. 14.

At the time of her death, Myers was still active in her community engagement. She was vice chairwoman of the MHMR board, on the Serve Denton board and still serving as a lifetime member of the United Way of Denton County board. United Way gives an award in her honor every year, the Dr. Bettye Myers Humanitarian Award.

“There’s no single individual who has been a part of the United Way of Denton County in its full 60 years in existence more than Bettye Myers,” United Way CEO Gary Henderson said. “When you look at the breadth of needs that United Way strives to meet, Bettye Myers cared about all of those areas.”

Courtesy photo/Denton ISD 

Bettye Myers greets her "honorary" granddaughter Amy Thielke and great-granddaughter Mallory Thielke prior to the start of the dedication ceremony for Bettye Myers Middle School in 2013. The Thielkes were part of a huge contingent of extended family who drove in from Heavener, Oklahoma, to celebrate the occasion with Myers.

Denton ISD named a new middle school in her honor in 2013. There’s also the Dr. Bettye Myers Butterfly Garden at TWU, which was dedicated to her in 2016. Other honors included the city creating “Bettye Myers Day” on her 80th birthday and her more than 30 awards for education and civic participation.

“Denton has lost a legend, but I’ll tell you what — she’s been a mentor to so many people that the town will benefit from her life and service to this community for years to come,” former City Council member Dalton Gregory said.

Services are pending with Bill DeBerry Funeral Directors.

Jeff Woo / Jeff Woo/DRC  

A cluster of blooming yellow jonquils signals that spring is coming and serves as a bit of cheer during a mostly gloomy Tuesday in Denton. Wednesday afternoon could bring sunny skies, but National Weather Service meteorologists are calling for cold temperatures, cloudy skies and occasional rain for the rest of the week.