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Deb Armintor won't seek third term on Denton City Council
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Deb Armintor, who has held Denton City Council’s Place 5 seat since June 2018, will not seek reelection next year.

Armintor has maintained a high profile while on the council in part because of her vocal support for various progressive measures.

Those include support for citywide marijuana decriminalization, people who are LGBTQ and racial justice protests in the summer of 2020.

Denton City Council members cannot be elected to the same seat for four consecutive terms, so a hypothetical election win for Armintor next cycle would have been her last before a year off the council.

Members can, under city statute, be elected to other seats on the council so long as they don’t serve more than 12 consecutive years.

Armintor publicly announced her decision not to seek her third term on the council Thursday morning on Twitter.

“Last week, for the sake of my mental & physical health, I made the bittersweet decision not to run for a third & final term in At Large Place 5 on City Council,” she wrote. “By going public with my decision today, I’m making it official.”

The death of UNT student Darius Tarver at the hands of Denton police, hundreds of local COVID-19 deaths and inequalities for the residents of Green Tree Estates were among the issues she cited as difficult to deal with.

“Every day & night, I feel the indescribable weight of all that unfinished work, shared trauma, inequity, & loss,” she wrote.

She also attributed her decision to gaslighting, obstacles, threats, attacks and intimidation “from all directions.”

Armintor signed off her Twitter thread as “Dangerous Deb,” which is a moniker she adopted after opposition signs popped up across Denton during her 2020 reelection bid.

Signs calling her by that name popped up around Denton. They attacked her attempts to reduce the Denton Police Department’s budget and included her cellphone number.

The signs were put up by Denton resident Dan Shea. At the time, Shea told the Denton Record-Chronicle he’d put up the signs because “she’s a f---ing communist.”

Armintor, reached for comment Thursday morning, said personal attacks against her have often backfired because they energize her and her supporters.

Despite that, Armintor said she came to realize many attacks against here were really an indirect way to attack the underrepresented communities she represents.

That realization and the implications behind it were what caused her the most despair, she said.

She made the decision not to run for reelection this past week while on her way home from a City Council meeting, Armintor said.

She and her fellow council members had just finished a more than five-hour meeting, two hours of which were spent discussing and debating a nondiscrimination ordinance.

“I was driving home, and I thought, ‘You know, if I were to die I wouldn’t have to worry about these problems,’” Armintor recalled Thursday. “And then I thought, ‘Red flag.’”

She decided her position on council and its accompanying troubles were weighing too heavily on her, but she said she feels fine currently and that her departure is a form of preventive care.

When asked, Armintor said she didn’t intend to throw her weight behind a potential successor at this point.

“Democracy is really important to me, and I don’t believe that it’s up to me to kind of step down with a successor in mind,” she said.

She said she would watch the election carefully and is open to making endorsements down the line, and she’s certain there are multiple people in the community who can do at least as good a job as she has on council.

She did specify she does not support Daniel Clanton, who previously ran against District 2 council member Brian Beck, and announced early he would seek the seat soon to be vacated by Armintor this time around.


News
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How are the lowest level of marijuana cases handled in Denton Municipal Court?

Cases for the lowest level offense of possession of marijuana cases from the Denton Police Department go to the Municipal Court under another charge name — possession of drug paraphernalia — where the judge is now issuing deferred disposition to those who ask for it.

Over the last few years, some police departments in North Texas have been issuing citations where the possessed amount is under a certain level or give a drug paraphernalia citation. Judge Tyler Atkinson of the Denton Municipal Court said within the first half of 2021, 147 possession of drug paraphernalia tickets have come across his court from Denton police as well as the police departments from the universities.

Someone found with drug paraphernalia or an ounce or less of marijuana would get the paraphernalia citation, a Class C misdemeanor. Atkinson said he has standing orders where someone charged with this can request deferred disposition — the dismissal of this charge if the accused complies with deferred conditions.

“Under the law, everyone has a right to plead Not Guilty and have a trial — even a jury trial — and has a right to hire an attorney,” Atkinson said in an email. “But, if their goal is to not contest the charge and they want to keep it off their record, they can almost immediately go online to our website and request to keep the charge off their record.”

Tyler Atkinson

Whether the request comes online or in person during a pretrial hearing, Atkinson said he’ll accept the request. He said he’s never denied a request for deferred disposition on a possession of drug paraphernalia charge.

About 60% of those 147 cases are closed completely. Atkinson said out of all 147 cases, 70% were resolved in a manner that keeps the charge off their record and the other 30% resulted in convictions or jail time credit, Atkinson said.

He said he gives some jail credit if they were in jail on a higher charge for a sufficient amount of time.

“Instead of paying, they pled no contest and accepted conviction for the charge,” he said in a phone call Friday. “Sometimes the prosecutor has two charges. They can move for dismissal on one if the person agrees to do something for another. It’s a plea agreement. That 70% includes those kind of cases where they move for dismissal on one [charge] and proceeded with another. That group, the charge stayed off their record.”

Roughly 40% of those 147 cases are still open.

The Denton Police Department has said before that they take a person’s situation as a whole into account before making a decision on what charges to issue relating to marijuana.

If you’re caught with a misdemeanor amount while also being in possession of a firearm illegally, or a stolen gun or if there are felony warrants out for your arrest, that can lead to a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana rather than the drug paraphernalia charge.

Being caught with amounts over an ounce would result in an arrest.

A Texas law change in 2019 also made it more difficult for district attorneys to prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases, and the number of those cases filed in the state after hemp was essentially legalized dropped. The law changed the definition of cannabis and redefined it as a substance that has more than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in marijuana that gets users high.

District attorneys across the state said they wouldn’t be able to prosecute most low-level cases unless the arresting agencies submitted results that the substance they seized passed that 0.3% threshold.

Atkinson said the conditions for deferred disposition are typically to pay a fine and agree to get no more citations for 90 days, but can also include taking a drug or alcohol education class or doing community service hours. The case is then dismissed and not reported on their criminal record if they complete deferred disposition. There’s also an option for people to get the case expunged.

“An expunction is an order from the judge to local and state agencies requiring them to delete any records related to the citation and the charge,” he said. “If granted, an expunction legally allows the person to state that they have never received a citation for the offense.”

However, this does take a few extra steps, so someone can get the case dismissed and never have it expunged.

If someone is caught again after that deferred disposition period, they can go through the same process again.

“They could try deferred again,” Atkinson said. “The court used to have rules where you could only request one deferred disposition per year. When I came on board with the city, I removed that as a restriction for deferred disposition.”

Asked why he made the change, Atkinson said he wanted to remove barriers for people.

“In every process, it’s my goal to remove barriers to resolutions and make sure everyone has access to the outcome that they want to have for their charge under the law,” he said. “There’s no legal requirement or prohibition on getting multiple deferred dispositions within a certain period of time, and so adding that extra burden on an individual causes more things to go on people’s records when there’s no legal need for them to have a record created.”


National
Julius Jones is spared execution by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who commutes his sentence to life in prison

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, commuted the death sentence of Julius Jones on Thursday, intervening just hours before his scheduled execution. Jones, 41, has spent nearly 20 years on death row for the 1999 slaying of a suburban Oklahoma City businessman. Jones, who has maintained his innocence since his arrest at age 19, was recommended for a commutation and later clemency by the state’s Pardon and Parole Board.

“After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones’s sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” Stitt said in a statement.

Jones’ claims that a former friend committed the murder and implicated him were featured in the 2018 ABC documentary “The Last Defense,” broadening awareness of the case and drawing in high-profile supporters from around the country. The battle over Jones’ execution comes amid scrutiny of Oklahoma death-penalty protocol. The state resumed executions in October after a six-year hiatus following a string of botched lethal injections in 2014 and 2015.

The news was bittersweet for Jones’ allies, who noted Stitt’s decision to modify the Pardon and Parole Board’s original recommendation to commute Jones’ sentence to life without the possibility of parole means Jones will never get out of prison.

“I was expecting this, and it’s still hard to digest,” Oklahoma state Sen. George Young, a Democrat, who has been among Jones’ longtime supporters, told The Washington Post minutes after the governor’s decision. “He waits to the last minute and not kill him, but assign him a fate that is in some ways worse than death and [the governor] claims the high ground.”

Jones has served nearly 20 years on death row after he was convicted for the 1999 murder of Paul Scott Howell in nearby Edmond, Oklahoma, during a carjacking. Jones’ long-standing assertion of innocence has in recent years attracted worldwide attention, drawing in notable supporters such as Kim Kardashian West and members of the National Basketball Association who had ties to Jones from his time as a youth basketball star.

Amanda Bass, one of Jones’s federal public defenders, echoed Young’s relief mixed with the disappointment that Stitt’s decision closes off the possibility of Jones being freed.

“While we had hoped the Governor would adopt the Board’s recommendation in full by commuting Julius’s sentence to life with the possibility of parole in light of the overwhelming evidence of Julius’s innocence, we are grateful that the Governor has prevented an irreparable mistake,” Bass said in a statement.

In Oklahoma, the governor can accept, reject or modify recommendations by the state’s Pardon and Parole Board to grant a prisoner a reprieve from death row. The board in September recommended that Jones’s sentence be commuted to life with the possibility of parole, bolstering his supporters’s hopes Jones could be released with time served. Stitt deferred action, saying he would wait until Jones’s clemency hearing, which fell closer to his execution date. The board on Nov. 1 again voted in Jones’s favor to recommend clemency, which takes the death penalty off the table permanently.

“Governor Stitt, please send my baby boy home,” Jones’s mother, Madeline Davis-Jones, said in a video message days before the execution date. “He is innocent, and please send him home. In Jesus’s name, I ask you.”

Attorneys for Jones filed an emergency injunction on Thursday in a last-ditch effort to stay the execution in the event the governor does not grant clemency. In the filing, his attorneys state that the recent execution of John Grant shows the state’s lethal injection protocol continues to “pose a serious substantial risk of severe suffering and pain to prisoners.” A media witness said Grant convulsed about two dozen times after the first drug was administered. Grant’s execution in late October was the first to take place in Oklahoma since several botched lethal injections derailed the state’s death penalty system six years ago.

Jones had exhausted his legal appeals, making Stitt’s decision the last hope for sparing his life.

Pressure on Stitt to grant the clemency request intensified in recent days as the execution date neared. Jones’s family unsuccessfully petitioned to meet with Stitt on Tuesday, while dozens of students at the University of Oklahoma marched in protest a week earlier and called for the governor to grant clemency.

Several Republican lawmakers from Oklahoma, including two representing the town where Howell was murdered, have urged Stitt to spare Jones.

State Rep. Garry Mize (R) said in a statement that Oklahoma should not execute a person whose guilt is in doubt, and he echoed Jones’s attorneys, who said his co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, confessed to the murder. Jordan was convicted of lesser charges and has since been released.

State Rep. John Talley (R) agreed, saying in a statement that the Pardon and Parole Board had spent hours looking at the case and determined that the justice system may have erred in convicting Jones.

“If we believe, as conservatives, in law and order and the criminal justice system, then we have to make sure the system is getting it right,” Talley said.

Calls for Stitt to grant clemency came from outside the United States, as well, with the European Union and German ambassadors to Washington urging the governor to accept the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation.

“The concerns expressed by Board members, including Mr. Jones’ lack of understanding of the consequences of his actions at age nineteen, fundamental questions about evidence, and the disparity between his and Mr. Christopher Jordan’s sentences, underscore the importance of commuting Mr. Jones’ sentence,” Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union’s ambassador to the United States, wrote in an open letter to Stitt.

Lambrinidis and others who called for clemency acknowledged the pain of the Howell family. Howell’s survivors, including his sister Megan Tobey, have spoken out at hearings about the pain caused by Howell’s murder and their belief in Jones’s guilt.

Howell, 45, had just returned home from a shopping trip with his two daughters and Tobey when he was shot during a carjacking in his parents’ driveway the night of July 28, 1999.

Connie Ellison, Howell’s girlfriend at the time, spoke to The Washington Post about how her doubts over Jones’s guilt have grown over the years, prompting her to speak in support of him at his recent hearings before the Pardon and Parole Board.

Since taking office in January 2019, Stitt has not broken with the board’s recommendations.

Jones is now the sixth person since 1973 on Oklahoma’s death row to be granted clemency from Oklahoma’s death penalty.


State
Thanksgiving flyers will push DFW Airport, Dallas Love Field to COVID-era highs

DALLAS — Greg Malcolm isn’t going to let busy airports and airline disruptions stop him from watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from Times Square in New York.

The Dallas hotel manager changed his flight from Wednesday to Tuesday next week to give him and his wife an extra day in case his flight is delayed, as many have been in recent months.

“I’m anxious about the flight,” said Malcolm, 62. “This is my childhood dream. I didn’t want to let anything get in the way.”

After a turbulent summer and fall, airlines and airports in North Texas and beyond are preparing for their largest crowds of the pandemic era. DFW International Airport expects 2.3 million passengers between Nov. 18 and Nov. 29, a period that was extended as many travelers who are still working from home are stretching out trips since they can work virtually. That’s 95% as many passengers as it saw during the same period in pre-pandemic 2019.

The crowded holiday comes just after Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and Fort Worth-based American Airlines experienced major disruptions in October due to separate isolated weather events, each cascading into thousands of canceled flights and hundreds of thousands of passengers delayed. The airlines saw similar disruptions during busy travel weekends over the summer.

“We’re gonna be busy,” said American Airlines CEO Doug Parker at an industry conference Wednesday. “People are wanting to travel, wanting to get to go see family for the holidays or traveling for the holidays.”

Nationwide, the Transportation Security Administration said it expects 20 million passengers between Nov. 19 and 29. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines said it could see as many as 550,000 travelers on the Sunday following Thanksgiving, which would be “well over the previous single-day post-downturn record of 516,000 set this summer.”

At DFW, that includes more than 256,000 potential passengers traveling out of DFW on the day before Thanksgiving, slightly more than airlines planned in 2019, according to data from Diio by Cirium. That’s slightly less than the 258,000 seats that airlines have scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 28, the busiest day of the Thanksgiving travel period.

Airlines have 977 flights planned for the day before Thanksgiving out of DFW Airport, nearly as many as the peak this summer. But planes are expected to be even more full during the compact holiday travel weekend than they were during the summer vacation peak.

Crowds are expected to be big enough that DFW Airport cut off pre-paid parking starting Nov. 18 for the rest of the Thanksgiving period. The airport said it has enough parking, even with long-term parking lots still closed because of a lack of demand. However, the airport is warning that one or two of its five parking garages may fill and that airport staff will be directing passengers to emptier garages.

The busiest day at Dallas Love Field also is expected to be Sunday, Nov. 28, when the airport will see about 26,700 departing and transferring passengers, according to Love Field spokesman Chris Perry. The Sunday after Thanksgiving usually competes for the busiest of the year and in 2019 was the busiest in U.S. travel history. But this year, the next day, a Monday, will be the second-busiest day of the holiday period at Love Field, and the entire week is expected to see elevated passenger levels.

But even with the busy airline schedules and airport crowds set for the week, it could have been worse. American and Southwest Airlines each said they reduced schedules for the holiday period after operational meltdowns in October. Both have blamed staffing issues, while unions for pilots and flight attendants say their members are stretched to the limit after months of heavy flying and frequently rebooked trips.

American and Southwest have responded by hiring thousands of new employees, particularly gate agents, reservation agents and others who deal with sidelined passengers when there are delays and cancellations.

“We’ve all heard of the staffing challenges that the hometown airlines and all other airlines are facing,” said Jeff Pelletier, founder of Dallas-based Airline Data Inc. “I hope that Southwest, American, Delta and Untied will be staffed to avoid the headlines that we’ve seen in the last few weeks.”

Still, American Airlines has nearly 10,000 fewer employees than it did before the COVID-19 pandemic, even as it tries to hire about 4,000 new workers before the end of the year. Southwest Airlines is trying to hire 5,000 new employees. But most pilots and flight attendants won’t be ready for duty until early in 2022.

American and Southwest are offering bonus pay and other perks to employees to incentivize them to pick up extra hours in November and December, hoping that they will have more workers on staff for peak crowds.

Airline operations are always challenged during Thanksgiving, even in normal years. Airlines are forced to ramp up operations after a few quiet months following the summer holiday. And the chances for winter weather increase as the northern parts of the country head into cold-weather months. Forecasters are expecting a “potentially significant” storm to strike the northeast next just in time for Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving travel.

“Severe weather is nothing new for airlines, so I think they try to deflect the blame onto some things like wind and weather,” said Colin Scarola, a research analyst with CFRA. “Under normal circumstances, they could call in reserve pilots or flight attendants when they have outages in certain parts of the country, but their reserve capacity is essentially nothing because most of the crews are already running at maximum hours allowed under regulations.”

Travel experts are warning passengers to give themselves plenty of extra time to make it to holiday activities and to anticipate a high likelihood of a travel delay.

“The common denominator for all those disruptions is that they were pushing to get back to the pre-pandemic flight schedule,” Scarola said. “What they found is that the labor supply is just not there to do it.”


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