Texas gubernatorial race between Abbott and O’Rourke tightens -- according to first poll since Uvalde shooting

A new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows the Texas gubernatorial race has tightened between Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic nominee Beto O’Rourke in the wake of the mass shooting in a Uvalde elementary school where 19 children and two adults were killed.

The poll, the first to come out since the May 24 shooting, found that 48% of registered Texas voters polled prefer Abbott while 43% prefer O’Rourke. That has narrowed slightly from a December Quinnipiac poll in which 52% of the registered voters who responded said they would vote for Abbott, versus 37% who chose O’Rourke.

“The race tightens,” Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy said in a press release Wednesday. “Abbott, considered strong on leadership, slips. O’Rourke, considered long on empathy, rides the momentum of support from women and young Texans in the horse race to Austin.”

In December, 60% of voters polled said Abbott would do a better job of managing gun policy issues and 33% said O’Rourke would do a better job on the issue.

But that number tightened dramatically in the poll released Wednesday, with 47% of voters polled now saying Abbott would handle gun issues better, versus 43% for O’Rourke.

Democratic candidate for governor Beto O'Rourke speaks to the press after interrupting a separate press conference held by Gov. Greg Abbott and other local and statewide Republican officials at Uvalde High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

Democratic candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke speaks to the press after interrupting a press conference held by Gov. Greg Abbott and other local and statewide Republican officials at Uvalde High School on May 25, 2022. Credit: Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune

Since the shooting, Abbott has called on multiple state agencies to improve school safety. He tasked the Texas School Safety Center with performing random safety audits of school buildings, called on the Legislature to convene committees to discuss legislative solutions, called for active-shooter training for school districts, and directed the Texas Education Agency to create a new school safety and security position.

But he hasn’t suggested potential solutions that would restrict access to firearms.

The poll found that 38% of respondents approved of Abbott’s handling of gun violence.

According to the poll, a slight majority — 51% — of Texas voters believe stricter gun laws would decrease the number of mass shootings, compared with 42% who thought such laws would make a difference in last June’s poll.

According to the poll, 58% of voters support stricter gun measures in the United States, 93% support requiring background checks for all gun buyers and 73% support raising the minimum legal age to buy any gun nationwide. But only 47% support a nationwide ban on assault weapons.

“Texans take a hard look at a harrowing series of mass killings and signal it’s time to put more teeth into gun laws. Though when it comes to assault weapons, there is a near even split on whether to outlaw their ownership,” Malloy said.

While border policies and the economy remain some of the top most important issues to Texas voters, gun policy has been rising. In Quinnipiac’s December poll, abortion was the third-most important issue for voters, after the border and the economy. In Wednesday’s poll, gun policies edged out abortion as the third-most urgent issue.

Overall, neither Abbott nor O’Rourke is overwhelmingly liked by voters polled: 46% have a favorable opinion of Abbott, versus 45% who have an unfavorable opinion of him. Thirty-eight percent have a favorable opinion of O’Rourke while 43% have an unfavorable opinion of him.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/15/poll-abbott-beto-orourke-uvalde/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas professors behind conservative-backed 'Liberty Institute' say UT has strayed from plan

University of Texas at Austin finance professor Richard Lowery was emailing with a colleague in London last November when he was asked if it was true that the so-called “Liberty Institute failed to launch.”

Six months prior, UT-Austin had received $6 million in the state budget to launch a new think tank “dedicated to the study and teaching of individual liberty, limited government, private enterprise and free markets,” known as the Liberty Institute.

The project had hit some roadblocks after The Texas Tribune reported that the university was working with conservative donors and politicians to launch the center, sparking concerns among some students and faculty that the Legislature was “politicizing” the university.

Lowery replied that the failure-to-launch rumor was “100% accurate.”

“We’re in the Weekend-at-Bernie’s phase of the Liberty Institute life cycle,” he wrote, referring to the 1989 movie about two coworkers pretending their murdered boss is still alive to continue their weekend vacation.

New emails obtained by the Tribune via open records requests show that multiple faculty members who were heavily involved with the center’s genesis are frustrated with the direction it has taken since last fall. Those professors, Lowery and Carlos Carvalho, say they are unhappy with the hiring process and worry about what they view as a lack of independence from the liberal-leaning faculty as a whole. And they accuse UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell and Richard Flores, deputy to the president for academic strategies, of backing off the agreed-upon proposal developed with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and conservative donors.

“The President of UT, in coordination with one of his chief deputies, Richard Flores, chose to completely default on the plan agreed to for bringing needed intellectual diversity to campus and to push back against the persistent attacks on free inquiry and academic freedom at UT-Austin,” Lowery said in an emailed statement.

UT-Austin did not respond to requests for comment or to a list of emailed questions Tuesday.

Carvalho told the Tribune that he wrote a draft proposal for the center that the Tribune obtained from Patrick’s office last summer, and said that version was written “in cooperation with the president’s office.”

“A growing proportion of our population lacks a basic understanding of the role liberty and private enterprise play in their well-being,” that proposal read. “Too many Americans, particularly younger students, maintain misconceptions about our political system and lack an even basic understanding of the moral, ethical, philosophical and historical foundations underpinning a free society.”

In that proposal, the center would be managed by a board of overseers of “alumni and friends” who would manage donations and help the UT-Austin president approve the center’s leadership. A separate board of scholars appointed by that board of overseers would advise on faculty hiring.

Some faculty expressed concerns that the university was setting a negative precedent by forming an institute born out of political motivations and legislative connections. For Carvalho, those concerns have negatively changed the original efforts.

“I believe the current implementation is far from the original plan and from what we presented the [Legislature] as a proposal,” Carvalho said to the Tribune in an email answering written questions. “The change of direction started after the original Texas Tribune article came out last fall.”

The frustration appears to be shared by the lieutenant governor. During a speech at a conservative think tank’s policy event earlier this year, Patrick said he was supportive of the institute after donors approached him, but said UT-Austin faculty “shot it down” because they wanted to have control of hiring.

“Well that’s the whole point,” Patrick said to the crowd. “We don’t want to hire you guys.”

More wealthy conservative donors involved

In faculty council meetings and on its website, the university has insisted the center — which they originally called The Liberty Institute until they were notified they could not legally call it that name — would help support and attract faculty. And university officials have given no public sign that their vision has changed.

On a web page about the program last updated in January, the university states that it hopes to support three to five new members of faculty “with teaching interests in philosophical bases for decision making and choice, government regulation, legal and policy impacts on economic outcomes and individual choice and freedoms, market design and social welfare, and social prosperity and well-being, including innovation, entrepreneurial activities, company formation and job creation.”

Faculty and students have criticized the administration for a lack of transparency beyond these details. University leaders have answered very few questions about their vision, repeating that it is still in planning stages and many decisions have not yet been made. On that same website, the university said the new center will be modeled after the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a center at Oxford University.

While the Tribune had previously reported that wealthy, conservative UT-Austin donors Bill Holmes, Bob Rowling and Bud Brigham had been involved with the project, emails sent to and from Carvalho’s university email account show that GOP megadonor and Dallas billionaire Harlan Crow was also helping Carvalho and others develop the center.

In June 2021, Crow reached out to Princeton University professor Robert George, director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, to see if he could advise UT-Austin as it launched the institute, pushing for a center that runs independently of the university, which many donors characterize as a school controlled by liberal academics.

“I’m hoping that Jay [Hartzell] might want Robbie as an adviser in setting this up,” Crow wrote to Carvalho and others in July 2021 saying Hartzell and George had a phone call set up to discuss the center. “Robbie agrees that this UT program must have a lot of independence from the forces of the left. He believes the left will relentlessly try to emasculate and destroy our effort.”

According to Crow, George said it would be hard if the center was located in an existing school and “to get the best talent UT will need to honestly promise that it would move into an independent unit status.” George did not respond to a request for comment.

Crow told the Tribune he became involved in the efforts to launch the Liberty Institute because he is a donor to the Salem Center for Policy, which Carvalho runs. He said he was not closely involved in the day-to-day progress of the center and could not comment on its current status. But he said he supported the idea of countering “leftist advocacy” on the university campus.

“Anything you can do to restore balance with the university, not a political point of view, but intellectual and moral balance, seems to be a good thing,” he said.

While private donors repeatedly emphasized the importance of independence, Hartzell said in faculty council meetings during the semester that other centers on campus do not hire independently.

“This institute or center, or whatever [it] ends up being named, is going to conform with the way we run centers and institutes at the University of Texas at Austin,” he said at a March faculty council meeting. “Centers and institutes don’t, for example, appoint tenured faculty.”

In an April article in The Texan, Carvalho said independence of hiring is paramount.

“There’s one thing, one key provision that makes or breaks this institution,” he said. “The provision is the independence of hiring.”

Disagreements over hiring

In the beginning of the fall semester, Carvalho expressed frustration in emails that the Liberty Institute was facing pushback.

At one point in early October, Crow sent him an email telling him he was thinking about him.

“I completely realize that this has been a roller-coaster year for you, more for you than anybody. I know it has been hard, and I know it is hard right now,” Crow said. “Of course, I don’t know how this Liberty Institute will turn out. I don’t even know if it will happen. My main priority is that it will happen. If it happens and if it is possible for you to have a meaningful role in it, that would be terrific.”

Around that time, Hartzell invited Carvalho to be on a steering committee on a new philosophy, politics and economics program. The committee was asked to help develop the program’s vision and create a wish list of faculty to possibly hire. In the email, Hartzell said this new program would be supported by an institute, “what you have probably heard of as the ‘Liberty Institute.’”

“This institute will provide the resources to attract top scholars, to provide new opportunities for our students, and to offer increased intellectual diversity and breadth to campus,” Hartzell wrote.

A subset of the committee would focus on launching the institute, including hiring, finding the director and deciding its name.

Carvalho agreed to participate. But five months later, he wrote to two UT-Austin professors and said he had withdrawn from the committee because he disagreed with the university’s hiring process for the executive director.

“I am not at all supportive of the appointment that Jay Hartzell is trying to push,” he wrote. “When I sat out to write the proposal for the Liberty Institute I was aiming to build a high quality place with Hoover as the inspiration model.”

He added that he had conversations with professors from the University of Chicago and Columbia University about the effort.

“What we are getting instead, is a mediocre attempt to appease external pressure,” he said.

UT-Austin professor John Gerring responded that he “share[s] his sentiment.” He declined to comment further to the Tribune.

In late March, UT-Austin business professor Brian Roberts mentioned in an email to Carvalho that the university was bringing University of Missouri professor Justin Dyer to interview for the position. Dyer, who holds a doctorate from UT-Austin, is a self-described “pro-life evangelical.”

“Justin is a good guy, but I don’t think he has the needed prominence to make this institution a reality,” Carvalho said. “I am also very disappointed by the lack of a proper national search for a director. We could have done a lot better!! Jay Hartzell likes people he can control, not top scholars!”

Roberts responded that he was in agreement about Dyer.

“His name came up very early, so somebody had their eye on him,” Roberts wrote.

Dyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In mid-April, Daniel Brinks, chair of the government department, confirmed that the executive committee of the government department voted that Dyer met the requirements for tenure in the department, which is one of multiple steps in the university’s hiring process. It’s unclear where Dyer is in the hiring process.

The university posted the job description on its website in January. Carvalho told the Tribune a hire of this level would usually involve a search firm and a large group of candidates.

“Obviously not the case here,” he wrote. “In addition, the proposal to the [Legislature] called for an external faculty advisory board (again, of leading scholars) to be formed to advise the university on this hire. Yet another item in the proposal the president decided not to pursue.”

Disclosure: University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


Join us Sept. 22-24 in person in downtown Austin for The Texas Tribune Festival and experience 100+ conversation events featuring big names you know and others you should from the worlds of politics, public policy, the media and tech — all curated by The Texas Tribune’s award-winning journalists. Buy tickets.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/08/ut-austin-professors-liberty-institute/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Kyle Rittenhouse now says he’s going to Blinn College, after Texas A&M said he’s not a student

Days after he told a conservative podcast that he was going to Texas A&M University, Kyle Rittenhouse corrected himself on Twitter to say that he is planning to attend Blinn College, a two-year public college, this year.

His announcement comes one day after a Texas A&M spokesperson told The Texas Tribune on Sunday that Rittenhouse had not in fact been accepted at the Tier One research university for this summer or fall, despite his claims about his plans to attend.

“Unfortunately, the end of my high school career was robbed from me,” Rittenhouse wrote Monday afternoon on Twitter. “I didn’t have the time other students get to properly prepare for the future. I look forward to attending Blinn College District this year, a feeder school for Texas A&M. I’m excited to join Texas A&M in 2023!”

A Blinn College spokesperson said he has applied but has not enrolled for a current or upcoming term at Blinn, which is an open enrollment college, meaning all students are welcome.

In a subsequent tweet, Rittenhouse said he plans to move to Texas at the end of June.

When Rittenhouse was 17 years old he drove from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in response to protests for the shooting of a Black man by a white officer. Rittenhouse had said he wanted to help law enforcement protect property amid civil unrest. He was accused of fatally shooting two men and injuring another with his rifle. He was acquitted of multiple felony charges during his high-profile trial in which he argued he acted in self-defense.

Blinn College is a community college based in Brenham with a location near Texas A&M in Bryan that has strong transfer partnerships with Texas A&M. In 2020, the college said 53% of its transfer students continue their studies at Texas A&M.

Last Friday, Rittenhouse appeared on “The Charlie Kirk Show,” where he said he was going to Texas A&M, making a big reveal by swapping out his baseball cap for a Texas A&M hat.

“I’m going to be going there, and it’s going to be awesome,” Rittenhouse told Kirk. “Beautiful campus, amazing people, amazing food.”

Rittenhouse previously claimed he was studying nursing at Arizona State University, before a school spokesperson clarified he was not enrolled and had not gone through the admissions process.

Disclosure: Texas A&M University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/06/kyle-rittenhouse-texas-am-blinn/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Greg Abbott instructs school safety officials to conduct 'unannounced, random intruder' audits of Texas public schools

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday instructed state school security and education officials to start conducting “in-person, unannounced, random intruder detection audits on school districts” to find weak access points and see how quickly staff can enter a school building without being stopped.

The mandate was one of several the governor laid out in a letter to school security authorities in an effort to ensure district emergency operations plans are solid and school buildings are protected in the wake of the Uvalde school massacre that left 19 children and two adults dead.

In his letter to Texas School Safety Center director Kathy Martinez-Prather on Wednesday, Abbott said the tragedy in Uvalde last week demands more action.

“The State must work beyond writing words on paper and ensuring that the laws are being followed; it must also ensure that a culture of constant vigilance is ingrained in every campus and in every school district employee across the state,” he said.

Education advocates and lawmakers swiftly condemned the idea of unannounced, fake intruders.

Clay Robison, a spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association, raised concerns about whether a person conducting unannounced drills puts themselves at risk to be attacked by someone on campus who sees them as a real threat.

“If it really does mean breaking into a school, it could be an accident waiting to happen,” he said, adding that he thought Abbott’s latest school proposals were “just another way to avoid addressing the issue of doing something about too many guns in the hands of the wrong people.”

Shannon Holmes, executive director of Association of Texas Professional Educators, raised similar concerns.

“It's a recipe for an accident if there is not some coordination between the local campus or ISD and whoever's conducting the audit,” Holmes said.

On Twitter, Texas Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, a member of the House Education Committee, criticized the plan.

“So you want grown men to show up to schools unannounced and try as hard as they can to find a way in?” Bernal wrote on Twitter. “This is a terrible idea.”

The Texas School Safety Center, located at Texas State University, was launched in 1999 in the wake of the Columbine school shooting and authorized by the Legislature in 2001. It was created to serve as a clearinghouse for school safety and security information, training, assistance and applied research for Texas’ K-12 public schools, charter schools and community colleges. It receives funding annually within the state budget, as well as through state and federal grants to provide training and resources on everything from anti-tobacco campaigns to active-shooter threats.

It’s unclear if the Texas School Safety Center has conducted such security audits before or whether the school districts will be notified they are being audited beforehand.

The center did not answer emailed questions. In a statement, a spokesperson said they received the letter and that the center “is designing a program and action items to specifically address the governor’s directives within the prescribed timelines.”

State leaders also did not answer clarifying questions as to whether districts would be alerted of the audits beforehand.

“This is a new, enhanced level of audits,” Renae Eze, Abbott’s spokesperson, said. “Until now, the [Texas School Safety Center] has been conducting reviews of school districts emergency operations plans, following the passage of SB 11 in 2019. This is an audit of the implementation of those plans, specifically targeted to access control procedures.”

A spokesperson pointed The Texas Tribune to the safety center for more information.

The Texas Education Agency flagged that the Texas School Safety Center has a toolkit for districts to audit their own security practices, which state that facility staff should be unaware of the assessment and it should be unannounced.

"It is highly suggested that a member of the law enforcement jurisdiction and a district level administrator be notified of the assessment in the event someone calls in from the school, facility, district, or community in response to the intruder," the toolkit states. The TEA did not immediately answer questions about its role in these audits and whether the agency has conducted similar audits before.

In addition to the random security audits, Abbott requested that the center conduct school safety reviews of all Texas public schools.

He instructed the center to alert each school district that they must meet this summer to review their emergency operations plans, including each district’s active threat plan, to ensure all staff and substitutes are trained on the plans and to conduct an assessment of building access points, including single-access-points protocols, locked instruction room door policies, visitor check-in rules, the effectiveness of exterior door locks and more by Sept. 1. The center will present findings to the governor by October.

Abbott also called on the center to make recommendations to the Texas Legislature to determine necessary funding or possible improvements to “continue the work of hardening our schools against outside threats.”

Abbott and other state leaders adopted similar rhetoric on improving school security in the wake of the 2018 school shooting in Santa Fe, southeast of Houston, though experts say there is no indication that the security measures most often promoted by public officials — including locked doors to the outside and in classrooms, active-shooter plans and security cameras — have reduced gun violence in schools.

In 2019, state lawmakers passed a package of school security laws including a law that gave the school safety center the authority to audit the school district’s emergency operations plans.

Under that law, if a school district does not satisfactorily submit an emergency operation plan, they must notify the community in a public meeting. If they do not hold such a meeting, the TEA can take over school leadership, according to Abbott’s letter.

An audit conducted by the center in 2020 found only 67 school districts out of 1,022 had viable emergency operations plans. Meanwhile, just 200 districts had active-shooter policies, while an additional 196 school districts had policies that auditors deemed insufficient.

Abbott’s letter comes the same day that he instructed the Texas Legislature to form special committees to make legislative recommendations in response to the Uvalde school shooting, stopping short of calling for a special Legislative session to consider possible legislation before the next session in 2023.

Senate Democrats and a few Republicans have called for a special session.

Disclosure: Association of Texas Professional Educators and Texas State Teachers Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/01/texas-greg-abbott-school-security-uvalde/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas Dems demand special session to raise the age to buy AR-15s and require background checks: report

The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is urging Gov. Greg Abbott to call an emergency special legislative session to consider a variety of gun restrictions and safety measures in the wake of a mass school shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two adults dead this week.

In a letter released Saturday morning, all 13 Senate Democrats demanded lawmakers pass legislation that raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 years old. The Uvalde gunman was 18 and had purchased two AR-style rifles which he used in the attack.

The caucus is also calling for universal background checks for all firearm sales, “red flag” laws that allow a judge to temporarily remove firearms from people who are considered an imminent threat to themselves or others, a “cooling off period” for the purchase of a firearm and regulations on high capacity magazines for citizens.

“Texas has suffered more mass shootings over the past decade than any other state. In Sutherland Springs, 26 people died. At Santa Fe High School outside Houston, 10 people died. In El Paso, 23 people died at a Walmart. Seven people died in Midland-Odessa,” the letter reads. “After each of these mass killings, you have held press conferences and roundtables promising things would change. After the slaughter of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, those broken promises have never rung more hollow. The time to take real action is now.”

Such laws are unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has a track record of favoring legislation that loosens gun restrictions. Only the governor has the power to call lawmakers back into a special session for emergency work.

Asked about a special session at a Friday press conference in Uvalde, Abbott said “all options are on the table” adding that he believed laws would ultimately be passed to address this week’s horrors. However, he suggested laws would be more tailored toward addressing mental health, rather than gun control.

“You can expect robust discussion and my hope is laws are passed, that I will sign, addressing health care in this state,” he said, “That status quo is unacceptable. This crime is unacceptable. We’re not going to be here and do nothing about it.”

He resisted the idea of increasing the age to purchase a firearm, saying that since Texas became a state, 18-year-olds have been able to buy a gun.

He also dismissed universal background checks saying existing background check policies did not prevent the Santa Fe and Sutherland Springs shootings, which both happened while he has been in office.

“If everyone wants to seize upon a particular strategy and say that’s the golden strategy right there, look at what happened in the Santa Fe shooting,” he said. “A background check had no relevance because the shooter took the gun from his parents…Anyone who suggests we should focus on background checks as opposed to mental health, I suggest is mistaken.”

Since the massacre at Robb Elementary School, the governor’s comments about potential solutions have centered around increasing mental health services, rather than restricting access to firearms.

But in the letter, Senate Democrats criticized the governor for blaming a “broken mental health care system – that you and other state leaders continue to underfund severely.”

“We need evidence-based, common sense gun safety laws. Without a doubt, if at least some of the measures noted above had been passed since 2018, then many lives could have been saved,” the caucus wrote.

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter.

After the Santa Fe school shooting in 2018, Abbott released a variety of recommendations to address school safety, including a call to the Legislature to consider a “red flag” law.

At the time, Abbott claimed in his plan to improve school safety that similar protective orders restricting gun possession could have prevented the mass shootings in Sutherland Springs, southeast of San Antonio, and Parkland, Florida.

But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and gun rights activists pushed back and the proposal died.

By the end of the 2019 legislative session Abbott signed a package of school safety measures that primarily focused on expanding mental health resources and “hardening school buildings.” He expanded the number of school staff who could have a firearm on school grounds.

When he signed that legislation at the end of the 2019 session, reporters asked if he still supported a “red flag” law.

Abbott said such a measure wasn’t necessary in Texas “right now.”

On Friday, Roland Gutierrez, the Democratic state senator who represents Uvalde, interrupted Abbott’s press conference by walking to the front of the auditorium and urged the governor to bring lawmakers back for three weeks.

"We have to do something, man,” he said to Abbott, the second Democratic politician to interrupt a press conference this week. "Just call us back.”

In the hours after the shooting on Tuesday, Gutierrez told the Texas Tribune that the state needed to make it more difficult to obtain a firearm, especially the gun used by the shooter, an AR-15, which he called a “weapon of mass destruction.”

“There's not a hunter in Texas that utilizes these kinds of weapons,” he said. “And so I'm not saying let's take those kinds of weapons away, I'm saying that we should have some greater accessibility restrictions …When you've got an 18-year-old kid getting his hands on this kind of weaponry, it just makes no sense to me.”

Texas already 'hardened' schools. It didn’t save Uvalde.

Four years after an armed 17-year-old opened fire inside a Texas high school, killing 10, Gov. Greg Abbott tried to tell another shell-shocked community that lost 19 children and two teachers to a teen gunman about his wins in what is now an ongoing effort against mass shootings.

“We consider what we did in 2019 to be one of the most profound legislative sessions not just in Texas but in any state to address school shootings,” Abbott said inside a Uvalde auditorium Wednesday as he sat flanked by state and local officials. “But to be clear, we understand our work is not done, our work must continue.”

Throughout the 60-minute news conference, he and other Republican leaders said a 2019 law allowed districts to “harden” schools from external threats after a deadly shooting inside an art classroom at Santa Fe High School near Houston the year before. After the Uvalde gunman was reportedly able to enter Robb Elementary School through a back door this week, their calls to secure buildings resurfaced yet again.

But a deeper dive into the 2019 law revealed many of its “hardening” elements have fallen short.

Schools didn’t receive enough state money to make the types of physical improvements lawmakers are touting publicly. Few school employees signed up to bring guns to work. And many school districts either don’t have an active shooting plan or produced insufficient ones.

In January 2020, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District received $69,000 from a one-time, $100 million state grant to enhance physical security in Texas public schools, according to a dataset detailing the Texas Education Agency grants. The funds were comparable to what similarly sized districts received.

Even with more funds and better enforcement of policies, experts have said there is no indication that beefing up security in schools has prevented any violence. Plus, they said, it can be detrimental to children, especially children of color.

“This concept of hardening, the more it has been done, it’s not shown the results,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, a public health professor at New Mexico State University who studies school security practices and their effectiveness.

Khubchandani said the majority of public schools in the United States already implement the security measures most often promoted by public officials, including locked doors to the outside and in classrooms, active-shooter plans and security cameras.

After a review of 18 years of school security measures, Khubchandani and James Price from the University of Toledo did not find any evidence that such tactics or more armed teachers reduced gun violence in schools.

“It’s not just guns. It’s not just security,” Khubchandani said. “It’s a combination of issues, and if you have a piecemeal approach, then you’ll never succeed. You need a comprehensive approach.”

Insufficient active-shooter plans

Since the shooting, GOP lawmakers have repeatedly suggested limiting access to schools to one door.

“We’ve got to, in our smaller schools where we can, get down to one entrance,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered at the press conference Wednesday. “One entrance might be one of those solutions. If he had taken three more minutes to find that open door … the police were there pretty quickly.”

There are still questions about the timing and details of the tragedy, however, including whether the shooter busted a lock to get into the school or if a door was unlocked. A state police official reported Thursday that the door appeared to be unlocked but that it was still under investigation.

Khubchandani and education advocates said locking doors and routing everyone through one entrance is already standard practice in most districts. And safety leaders said locking exterior doors is a best practice, but it’s one strategy that needs to be strictly enforced.

“Sometimes convenience can take priority over safety and you can have a plan in place, you can have policies in place,” said Kathy Martinez Prather, director of the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University. “They’re only as effective as they’re being implemented.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, Abbott emphasized that the package of school safety laws passed in 2019 required school districts to submit emergency operations plans to the Texas School Safety Center and make sure they have adequate active-shooter strategies to employ in an emergency.

State law dictates that districts must be able to show how they will prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters like active threats, but also extreme weather and communicable disease. These plans must include training mechanisms, communication plans and mandatory drills. Schools must create safety committees and establish a way to assess threats. These are known as emergency operations plans. As part of those, schools need active-shooter plans.

But a three-year audit by the center in 2020 found that out of the 1,022 school districts in the state, just 200 districts had active-shooter policies as part of their plans, even though most districts had reported having them.

That same audit revealed 626 districts did not have active-shooter policies. Another 196 had active-shooter policies, but auditors found those plans were insufficient.

In addition, only 67 school districts had viable emergency operations plans overall, the report found.

Martinez Prather wouldn’t say if Uvalde’s emergency plan was considered adequate because of ongoing investigations into the shooting. But said the center’s review did not find any areas of noncompliance.

The audit reviewed school districts’ emergency plans in June 2020, and Martinez Prather said she was “absolutely” surprised that so many schools did not have clear-cut plans, especially after the Santa Fe shooting and others around the country.

“Our attention to this issue should not be as close to the nearest and latest school shooting,” she said. “We need to keep sending that message that this can happen at any point in time and to anybody.”

She said the center has spent the last year and a half following up with schools to get their plans up to standard.

Arming teachers and staff with guns

Texas leaders have already shunned the idea of restricting gun access in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting. In fact, in recent years, Texas lawmakers have loosened gun laws after mass shootings.

Instead, lawmakers point to the nearly decade-old school marshal program in Texas as another measure to deter and prevent mass shootings. That program was created in response to the deadly shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 26 people dead, including 20 first-graders.

Designated school employees who take an 80-hour training course and pass a psychological exam are allowed to keep a firearm in a lockbox on school grounds, an idea most attractive to rural schools in areas where law enforcement response can take longer.

After the school shooting in Santa Fe, state lawmakers removed the cap that limited schools to one marshal per 200 students. Today, according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which oversees the training for the program, there are 256 marshals across the state.

While lawmakers tout it as a potential tool to prevent mass shootings, just 6% of school districts use it, according to a report from the Texas School Safety Center. Martinez Prather at the Texas School Safety Center said many school districts say it’s expensive and the training is time-consuming for educators.

Meanwhile, 280 school districts are utilizing an unregulated option known as the Guardian Program, which allows local school boards to approve individuals in schools to carry concealed weapons. Each “guardian” must have a handgun license and take 15 to 20 hours of specialized training by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, said she’s concerned by the “minimal” level of training school staff go through before they are approved to have a weapon in the classroom.

“These aren’t law enforcement officers,” she said. “These are school staff who have some training, and there’s really not a lot of data to support that that’s the safe direction to go in.”

Plus, Golden said, placing more guns on school grounds can be problematic when data shows students of color are disproportionately disciplined.

When lawmakers decided to expand the number of marshals in Texas schools in 2019, Black students and parents said the idea made them feel less safe in school, knowing they are disciplined more than other students.

The study from Khubchandani and Price pointed to a 2018 shooting at a high school in Kentucky where the shooter killed two and injured 14 students in 10 seconds.

“Armed school personnel would have needed to be in the exact same spot in the school as the shooter to significantly reduce this level of trauma,” the researchers wrote. “Ten seconds is too fast to stop a school shooter with a semiautomatic firearm when the armed school guard is in another place in the school.”

$10 per student for safety

Big changes often take big money, and officials have noted that the 2019 school safety bill gives about $100 million per biennium to the Texas Education Agency. The agency then distributes the money to school districts to use on equipment, programs and training related to school safety and security, a little less than $10 per student based on average daily attendance. The money can be used broadly, ranging from physical security enhancements to suicide prevention programs.

According to a self-reported survey of districts by the Texas School Safety Center, more than two thirds of school districts have used this money for security cameras. 20% used it for active-shooter response training. Nearly 40% of districts installed physical barriers with the allotment.

But Zeph Capo, president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said that money wasn’t enough to pay for the more expensive projects lawmakers were suggesting.

“Districts ended up spending money on some programs, some electronic AV equipment, but I don’t think it was nearly enough to do what needs to be done in most of the schools, which is really change the structures of the buildings so there’s better control over entrance and egress,” he said, noting that AFT believes more gun restrictions is a better solution.

The TEA also received a separate one-time $100 million pool of money to provide grants to districts specifically for physical security enhancements, like metal detectors, door-locking systems or bullet-resistant glass.

It’s unclear how Uvalde CISD spent the $69,000 it received from the state to enhance its physical security. School officials did not respond to questions Wednesday. As of the May 2 report, the district had spent about $48,000 of the grant, which is set to end at the end of the month.

Other remote town school districts received comparable grants per their student population, according to an analysis by The Texas Tribune. For example, the Sulphur Springs Independent School District in East Texas has only a slightly larger student population and received about $71,000 in grant funds.

According to a district document, Uvalde CISD, which enrolls around 4,100 students, had a variety of so-called hardening measures in place that lawmakers and school safety leaders recommend.

The district employed four district police officers, installed perimeter fencing meant to limit access around schools, including Robb, and instituted a policy that all classroom doors remain locked during the day.

There are campus teams that identify and address potential threats, and schools hold emergency drills for students “regularly.” The district employed a threat reporting system for community members to raise concerns. Some schools had security vestibules at their entrances and buzz-in systems to get inside from the outdoors.

But a security vestibule, which is basically a secure lobby to the school, can be a huge expense for school districts already tight on money. In 2019, the Waller Independent School District estimated that the addition of two of these entrances to the junior high school would cost $345,000. Security cameras at a small elementary school can cost more than $20,000, according to industry experts.

In recent years — even before the Santa Fe shooting — school districts have begun to rely on bond proposals to find the money to implement some of these changes.

But Texas voters have expressed hesitancy at the ballot box to approve such bonds in recent years, which the Texas Association of School Boards attributed to the lingering pandemic and political polarization. Recent changes by the Texas Legislature have also complicated bond requests for schools after it started to require districts to write, “This is a property tax increase,” on bond project signs, even when the proposals wouldn’t affect the tax rate.

Overall, Monty Exter, a senior lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said the per-student allotment and one-time grants set aside for school security could never pay for the types of construction projects lawmakers have touted publicly in the wake of the shooting.

“Thinking about making significant changes to 8,000-plus campuses, $100 million doesn’t necessarily go that far,” he said.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators, Texas AFT and the Texas Association of School Boards have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Texas AG Ken Paxton is headed to a runoff against George P. Bush -- despite Trump endorsement

Despite an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton failed to garner enough Republican support in Tuesday's GOP primary to avoid a runoff. The embattled incumbent, under indictment since 2015 and facing an FBI probe into how he runs his office, will face Land Commissioner George P. Bush, scion of a political dynasty, in a May 24 runoff, according to Decision Desk HQ.

Paxton, the two-term incumbent, boasted the largest campaign war chest. But in a field of four candidates, he was unable to secure more than 50% of the vote, setting him up on the defensive in the biggest fight of his political life.

Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Bush were neck and neck throughout Tuesday evening, but Bush was able to pull ahead as election day results were tallied. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler trailed them for much of the night. Neither Guzman nor Gohmert had conceded late Tuesday night.

With legal clouds hanging over his candidacy, Paxton is a prime target for Democrats in the general election. His intraparty challengers have said if Paxton wins, the Republicans would essentially hand the general election to Democrats. Bush hammered that point after news outlets determined he would be Paxton's challenger in a runoff.

"That's what's at stake in this race," he said. "That's what this campaign is about. It's not about one individual. It's about preserving conservative values in our state."

At an election night watch party in McKinney on Tuesday night, Paxton acknowledged he was heading toward a runoff race, which is scheduled for May 24, and pitched himself as the candidate against the "establishment." Late in the campaign, Paxton had also labeled Guzman as the "establishment" candidate.

"May 24 is not that far away. Tomorrow we start 0-0," Paxton told the crowd. "If you want to keep winning for Texas, if you want to be part of saving Texas and saving this country, we're going to have to fight the fight for the next two and a half months, get our vote back out, unite the conservatives."

For months, Paxton’s opponents have blasted him for his legal troubles, which they have flagged as a knock on his integrity and a distraction in his ability to effectively carry out his duties. Eight of Paxton’s former top deputies accused him of bribery and abuse of office, which the FBI is now investigating. Paxton also has been under indictment since 2015 on securities fraud charges. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

Bush said he would continue to educate voters about Paxton's legal troubles and the FBI investigation into him for bribery and abuse of office, citing that only one in three Republican voters knew about those troubles during the campaign.

"He is going to divert attention away from his legal problems and personal challenges,” Bush said of Paxton. “I’m going to be the most effective to secure the border, back law enforcement and take on issues that we’ve been talking about on this campaign. So he can talk all he wants, but we’re going to have three months to have this debate if he dares leave his basement.”

At the Bush campaign's watch party in Austin, supporters were cautiously celebratory once the state had counted more than 70% of the votes and Bush's lead over Guzman continued to expand. After speaking with reporters without declaring victory around 10:30 p.m., Bush walked into a room full of supporters who loudly cheered for him.

"We knew it was going to be a long night," said Jay Zeidman, one of Bush's supporters, who said election night was a roller coaster of emotions. "As a friend, just watching him go through the emotions over the last few months being away from his family a lot, putting in the time and the miles. I just couldn't be prouder of the race he's run ... Tonight is a culmination of what we've experienced.

Bush challenged Paxton to five televised debates across Texas, but said "I suspect that he won't show up to anything."

Bush said he would hit the ground running Wednesday "as if we're starting a new campaign." He also said he'd reach out to Guzman and Gohmert, as well as their supporters, to ask them to join his effort to "restore honesty and integrity" to the attorney general's office.

"This is a cause greater than self," Bush said. "This isn't about me. It's about making sure that we lock arms and make this change."

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Bush pitched himself as the best candidate because of his track record in the private sector, serving in the U.S. military and running a large state agency with 800 employees. Guzman touted her 22 years of legal experience in state courts and questioned Bush’s legal chops, criticizing him for suspending his law license over the last decade.

Gohmert offered voters a candidate whose conservative politics were similar to Paxton’s but without the legal baggage. Both candidates are dedicated acolytes of former President Donald Trump, though Paxton was the one to win his endorsement.

As election day neared, Paxton started taking his opponents more seriously as polls revealed uncertainty that Paxton could win outright.

He recognized Gohmert’s threat and began running negative TV ads against him in Gohmert’s home region of East Texas. A week before the election, Paxton ran TV ads that blasted Gohmert for missing hundreds of votes in Congress during his 17 years in office. Gohmert said that criticism showed Paxton’s desperation and aired his own ad accusing Paxton of dishonesty.

Paxton also took out ads against Guzman, painting her as the “most liberal justice on the Texas Supreme Court” and a supporter of critical race theory.

While all four candidates were well-funded, Paxton had the biggest war chest, with $7.5 million on hand at the end of January. Bush, the runner-up in the money race at that time, had $2.6 million. Gohmert had less than $1 million in the bank during the same period.

Guzman also raked in a lot of cash, raising $1 million in 10 days to kick off her campaign. She attracted the support of major political groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which endorsed her in a rare move against an incumbent.

On the Democratic side, Rochelle Garza, a former ACLU lawyer from Brownsville was the top vote-getter and is headed into a May runoff. But it is still unclear who she will face as Joe Jaworski, an attorney and former Galveston mayor, and Lee Merritt, a high-profile civil rights lawyer, were in a tight battle for second place early Wednesday.

"I am incredibly honored for every vote our campaign received in this election and the broad movement we were able to build in only four short months," Garza said. "This campaign expanded overnight with people from all across the state and country who saw themselves in this campaign and who believed in the future of Texas enough to invest in it."

“I got in this race to fight for Texas families, protect voting and reproductive rights and hold corporations and bad actors to account when they take advantage of Texans," she added. "Indicted Ken Paxton is the most corrupt Attorney General in the country and our campaign is ready to defeat him this November.”

Jaworski said in a tweet that his team was reviewing the results as they came in and expected a "late night." Merritt said he was confident he would make it into the runoff but would not have final vote results Tuesday night because of technical issues in Harris County's reporting of the vote counts.

Garza ran on protecting the right to vote and to have an abortion in the state. Jaworski ran on taking on corruption in state government. Merritt ran on changing the criminal justice system, protecting the right to vote and defending abortion rights. Mike Fields, a former Republican Harris County judge, ran on providing a centrist candidate who contrasted with the polarization presented by candidates from both parties.

Disclosure: Texans for Lawsuit Reform has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/03/01/texas-attorney-general-election-ken-paxton/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas board rescinds recommendation for posthumous pardon of George Floyd

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has rescinded its recommendation that Gov. Greg Abbott pardon George Floyd, the Houston man who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis in May of 2020.

The governor’s office announced the decision Thursday, along with the board’s reversal on 24 other clemency suggestions due to what it described as procedural errors and a lack of compliance with board rules. But it appeared to leave the door open to Floyd receiving a pardon at a later date.

“The Board will review and resolve procedural errors and issues related to any pending applications in compliance with their rules,” Abbott press secretary Renae Eze said in a statement. “As a result of the Board’s withdrawal of the recommendation concerning George Floyd, Governor Abbott did not have the opportunity to consider it. Governor Abbott will review all recommendations that the Board submits for consideration.”

Abbott also granted pardons or restoration of civil rights to eight Texans.

The state’s parole board, in a surprising unanimous decision, had recommended in October that Floyd be pardoned for a minor 2004 drug conviction in Houston. Days after the board’s recommendation, Abbott briefly told reporters at an unrelated event that his office would analyze Floyd’s case. The governor has since been quiet on the matter.

Allison Mathis, a Houston public defender who had put the request before the parole board in May, told The Texas Tribune on Thursday that she was “furious” about the decision. She said the request had already been through a compliance review and none of the seven appointed board members had raised an issue with it. She accused Abbott of playing politics.

“It definitely seems like is that he didn’t want to have to vote on this, for whatever reason,” Mathis said. “It just seems awfully convenient.”

Floyd was arrested by embattled Houston police officer Gerald Goines in 2004 after he was found to have less than half a gram of crack cocaine. Goines said at the time that Floyd had given the drugs to an unnamed person. Floyd ultimately pleaded guilty and received a 10-month sentence in state jail. But Goines has since been accused of repeatedly lying or making up confidential informants to bolster his word against defendants, which was revealed after a botched, deadly raid in 2019 led to murder charges against the officer.

On Dec. 16, David Gutierrez, the presiding president of the parole board, sent Abbott’s general counsel a letter stating that the board sent the governor 67 candidates for clemency in 2021 and called it an “unusually high number, not seen in almost two decades,” and twice the average number of recommendations that Abbott has received in any year since taking office.

According to the letter, he asked staff members to review their policies and discovered that the board had made a “number of unexplained departures from its own rules.” It was not immediately clear which potential rule the board may have violated in relation to Floyd’s case. Mathis said the board did not provide specific information when it alerted her Thursday that Floyd had been pulled from the list of considerations.

In the letter, Gutierrez pointed to three potential violations of board rules, including pardons for innocence, pardons for those in the criminal justice system and pardons for those who were convicted of a misdemeanor, but did not specify whom those violations could have applied to on the original list provided to Abbott.

Abbott’s rhetoric on Floyd’s killing has ricocheted over the past year and a half. At first, he called Floyd’s killing senseless and reprehensible, promising change and waving at a potential Texas George Floyd Act to prevent police brutality in the state.

As Floyd’s murder continued to spur a new wave of protests nationwide against police brutality and racial injustice, the Houstonian became a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement. Calls for widespread change to American policing included efforts to cut police budgets and shift law enforcement responsibilities to other government programs.

Abbott then shifted to defending law enforcement funding and “backing the blue” while quieting on potential changes to policing practices.

According to a letter sent by the board to Mathis and provided to the Tribune, Mathis will not need to wait the standard two years to reapply for a full pardon. The board will review the case in the “near future,” and Mathis may be required to provide additional information.


Updated 'Trump Train' 911 transcripts reveal Texas cops refused to send escort to Biden bus

As supporters of then-President Donald Trump surrounded and harassed a Joe Biden campaign bus on a Central Texas highway last year, San Marcos police officials and 911 dispatchers fielded multiple requests for assistance from Democratic campaigners and bus passengers who said they feared for their safety from a pack of motorists, known as a "Trump Train," allegedly driving in dangerously aggressive ways.

"San Marcos refused to help," an amended federal lawsuit over the 2020 freeway skirmish claims.

Transcribed 911 audio recordings and documents that reveal behind-the-scenes communications among law enforcement and dispatchers were included in the amended lawsuit, filed late Friday.

The transcribed recordings were filed in an attempt to show that San Marcos law enforcement leaders chose not to provide the bus with a police escort multiple times, even though police departments in other nearby cities did. In one transcribed recording, Matthew Daenzer, a San Marcos police corporal on duty the day of the incident, refused to provide an escort when recommended by another jurisdiction.

"No, we're not going to do it," Daenzer told a 911 dispatcher, according to the amended filing. "We will 'close patrol' that, but we're not going to escort a bus."

The amended filing also states that in those audio recordings, law enforcement officers "privately laughed" and "joked about the victims and their distress."

Former state Sen. Wendy Davis, who was running for Congress at the time, is among the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The new complaint also expands the number of people and entities being sued to include Daenzer, San Marcos assistant police chief Brandon Winkenwerder and the city itself. A spokesperson for the city did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Friday. Daenzer and Winkenwerder could not immediately be reached.

The confrontation between the Biden bus and the Trump supporters made national news after it was captured on video the last weekend of October 2020, when polls showed a tight race in Texas between the two candidates. Trump later praised his supporters' behavior, which occurred months before the former president's backers violently stormed the U.S. Capitol in an apparent attempt to stop Congress from certifying the results of his reelection loss.

The Texas highway incident featured at least one minor collision and led to Texas Democrats canceling three scheduled campaign events in Central Texas, citing "safety concerns." The original lawsuit was filed against Chase Stapp, San Marcos' director of public safety, and the San Marcos city marshal's department and claims the plaintiffs continue to suffer psychological and emotional injury from the event. They are asking for compensatory and punitive damages and for legal fees.

The lawsuit alleges that by refusing the help, law enforcement officers violated the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 because they were aware of "acts of violent political intimidation" but did not take appropriate steps to prevent the Trump supporters from intimidating eligible voters.

The provision of the Klan Act that the plaintiffs are citing in the lawsuit has laid dormant for years, but saw a resurgence under the Trump administration, according to Project Democracy lawyer John Paredes, who is representing some of the plaintiffs. It was also recently cited in a federal lawsuit against Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

A second lawsuit was filed against a group of Trump supporters who allegedly harassed and followed the bus. That lawsuit claims the group of Trump supporters who surrounded the bus also violated Ku Klux Klan Act and Texas law by organizing a "politically-motivated conspiracy to disrupt the campaign and intimidate its supporters."

"We're not going to escort a bus"

The amended complaint in the lawsuit against officials said that a San Marcos crime analyst and a Biden supporter both alerted city police that the Biden bus was being followed by Trump supporters as it traveled to a scheduled campaign stop at Texas State University in San Marcos.

While Stapp, the public safety director, told the Biden supporter that San Marcos police would send backup, he did not order an escort. The complaint said he sent the information to Winkenwerder, the assistant police chief. Winkerwerder also did not order an escort or assistance, the complaint alleges. Instead, he told officers to "close patrol" the area near the university.

When the Biden bus entered San Marcos' jurisdiction, a New Braunfels 911 dispatcher attempted to get San Marcos police to take over the escort that city had provided along Interstate 35.

The 911 dispatcher in San Marcos put the New Braunfels dispatcher and the Biden campaign staffer who was pleading for assistance on hold and called Daenzer, the police supervisor on duty.

"I am so annoyed at New Braunfels for doing this to us," the dispatcher tells Daenzer, who answered the call and began laughing, according to the transcribed recording in the filing. "They have their officers escorting this Biden bus, essentially, and the Trump Train is cutting in between vehicles and driving — being aggressive and slowing them down to like 20 or 30 miles per hour. And they want you guys to respond to help."

"No, we're not going to do it. We will 'close patrol' that, but we're not going to escort a bus," Daenzer responds.

The transcript shows that the 911 dispatcher passes along information about the sense of danger expressed by the Biden campaign staffer who called for assistance as he was trying to caravan behind the bus in a white SUV.

"[T]hey're like really worked up over it and he's like breathing hard and stuff, like, 'they're being really aggressive.' Okay. Calm down," she said to Daenzer.

The transcription shows that Daenzer said the Biden bus should "drive defensively and it'll be great."

"Or leave the train," the 911 dispatcher responds. "There's an idea."

According to the transcription in the complaint, the dispatcher gets back on the phone with the Biden staffer and tells him there would be no escort.

"If you feel like you're being threatened or your life is threatened, definitely call us back," she told him.

"Are you kidding me, ma'am?" the staffer responded before saying "they've threatened my life on multiple occasions with vehicular collision" and again asking for an escort.

The dispatcher repeated that officers would be there to monitor traffic infractions, but said there would be no escort and indicated that decision was made by a high-ranking police official the lawsuit claims is Winkenwerder.

The bus "could really use your help"

According to Friday's filing, San Marcos police continued to receive 911 calls from other witnesses warning them of reckless driving along I-35, but the police department did not send an escort. The Biden campaign decided to cancel its event in San Marcos and continue north toward Austin.

Eric Cervini, one campaign volunteer and a plaintiff, had already arrived at the San Marcos event location. He alerted Cole Stapp, a deputy in the city marshal's department who was at the site, that the event was canceled and told him the bus "could really use your help," the filing stated.

When Cole Stapp called 911 dispatch to relay the message that the Biden event in San Marcos was canceled, he did not share that the bus needed help, according to another transcribed audio recording in the amended filing.

Instead, he told Cervini the people on the bus should call 911 if they needed emergency services. When Cervini informed him the bus had already called 911 and shared the bus's exact location, Cole Stapp noted the bus was near the police headquarters, the filing states.

"Despite these multiple calls for help from Plaintiffs and others, for the roughly 30 minutes it took to drive through San Marcos on the main highway that runs through it, there were no officers from San Marcos or any other police cars in sight–not on the I-35 exit or entrance ramps, nor on either side of the highway," the filing read.

Without a police escort, those on the bus allege, the Trump supporters grew more aggressive surrounding the bus and the campaign staffers' car. At one point, there was a collision between one of the Trump supporters and the white SUV driven by the Biden campaign staffer who had earlier connected to the San Marcos dispatcher. It wasn't until the bus reached Kyle around 3:46 p.m. that a police escort from that city arrived and the Trump supporters moved away from the vehicle, the lawsuit alleges.

But when the Kyle police escort departed at the Travis County line, the filing stated, the trucks of Trump supporters "resumed their threatening behavior." It wasn't until the bus was able to make it to a campaign stop in Austin that those onboard were able to get off. The Biden campaign canceled multiple events due to safety reasons.

Allegations of poking fun at the attack

According to the filing, plaintiffs argue a text message between some of the San Marcos police officers who refused to provide assistance "poked fun at the attack."

To support that claim, the lawsuit refers to a group text message among San Marcos officers, including Winkenwerder, in which an unidentified person appears to refer to Democrats who drove through town as a derogatory slang term for someone who is mentally disabled.

The following day, Chase Stapp, the public safety director, texted multiple officers about the situation, according to Friday's filing. "From what I can gather, the Biden bus never even exited I-35 thanks to the Trump escort."

Yet in the days afterward, after news of the melee spread, officers started calling the event a "debacle" in internal emails and braced for a "political fire storm" after officers realized that what happened in San Marcos "might lead to political and legal consequences," the complaint alleges.

When Daenzer wrote the report of the incident four days later, he said "due to the staffing issues, lack of time to plan, and lack of knowledge of the route, we were unable to provide an escort."

A spokesperson for the city of San Marcos told The Texas Tribune last year that police responded to requests to assist the bus, but traffic prevented officers from catching up before the bus left the city limits.

Yet Lisa Prewitt, a former San Marcos City Council member who was running for a county commissioner seat at the time, told the Tribune in the days after the skirmish that she had flagged the event to local law enforcement 24 hours in advance and mentioned safety concerns. Prewitt said she had also called Chase Stapp and alerted him the bus was 30 minutes away from the event location in San Marcos and was being followed by 50 or more vehicles with Trump flags.

Last year, Chase Stapp denied that Prewitt specifically requested a police escort or mentioned the "Trump Train" was causing issues, but did not respond to follow-up questions at the time.

"With the exception of the two phone calls to me from Ms. Prewitt, at no time did anyone from the campaign request assistance from the San Marcos Police Department in advance of the event so that the request could be evaluated and prepared for," Chase Stapp said in a statement to the Tribune last year.

A former professor files free speech lawsuit against Texas college over angry tweets about Mike Pence

A year ago, Texas history professor Lora Burnett fired off an angry tweet from her private social media account about then-vice president Mike Pence. It landed during the vice presidential debate, prompting news coverage from conservative media, an angry response from at least one Texas lawmaker and a series of disciplinary actions from her employer, the publicly funded Collin College in North Texas.

This week, Burnett, who was eventually terminated from her job at Collin College, a community college in McKinney, filed a federal lawsuit against the college, its president, H. Neil Matkin, and the board of trustees.

In the Tuesday filing, she claims that the school's decision not to renew her three-year contract was retaliation for those comments, as well as her public criticism of the school's COVID-19 reopening plan, and violated her First Amendment rights.

In her lawsuit, Burnett argues that Collin College leaders use "a custom or practice of terminating professors who speak out on matters of public concern" and that the school's practices are unconstitutional.

"Government employees have the right to have their own politics," Burnett told The Texas Tribune in an interview this week. "I express my views on Twitter on my own time on a personal account and it has nothing to do with my job. I was not speaking for the college. I was not teaching at the time."

Burnett is the second former professor to file a free speech lawsuit against the college in federal court in the past two months. In September, another former professor, Suzanne Jones, filed a lawsuit claiming the school did not renew her contract because of her comments about the school's COVID-19 reopening plan and her involvement in a local chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, a statewide group that has no collective bargaining rights like a union.

Jones declined The Texas Tribune's request for comment.

Matkin denied a request for an interview through a college spokesperson.

"While it is regrettable that a former faculty member has chosen to file a lawsuit, the College stands firm in our belief in our faculty review process and looks forward to defending our actions in court," said Marisela Cadena-Smith in the statement. She said the college would not comment further on pending litigation.

The two lawsuits are the culmination of more than a year of conflict between Collin College administrators and a total of four professors who have also publicly criticized the school for its COVID-19 response throughout the last school year. Only Burnett and Jones opted to sue.

A third professor, Audra Heaslip, also did not receive a contract renewal last year. She told the Tribune that she made a "difficult personal decision" not to sue the college.

A fourth professor remains employed at the school but received a disciplinary warning from the college in August for criticizing its response to the pandemic on social media, Burnett's filing states.

Collin College, a community college that serves more than 52,000 students northeast of Dallas, has faced criticism for disciplining the professors for their public comments of the school's COVID-19 response over the past year.

Burnett and others had criticized Matkin for downplaying the severity of the pandemic and for leadership's lack of transparency about positive cases on campus. The school did not publicly post the number of COVID cases on campus until after the death of an employee and a student from the virus.

For Burnett, the disciplinary actions began swiftly after Oct. 7, 2020, the night of the vice presidential debate when she tweeted on her private account that the moderator should "talk over Mike Pence until he shuts his little demon mouth up." She retweeted another user's tweet calling Pence a "scumbag lying sonofabitch."

A conservative outlet used the tweets in an article about college faculty's criticism of Pence in the debate. The tweets also caught the attention of Texas Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. According to a copy of a text message obtained by Burnett's attorney, Leach reached out to Matkin asking if Burnett was paid with taxpayer dollars. Matkin confirmed she was and said he was "aware of the situation and will deal with it," and that she was already on his "radar."

Burnett's attorney, Greg Greubel, who works for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said the college spent $14,000 in legal fees trying to keep the text message from being released through an open records request.

Matkin wrote a letter to faculty saying they had been contacted by "college constituents" about faculty tweets about the debate, and that they would not "execute its personnel policies publicly," a note Burnet said she interpreted to mean that disciplinary action was imminent.

Eventually, Burnett received a warning letter, known as an "employee coaching form," reminding her not to use Collin College resources for private or personal conversations, including email. According to the lawsuit, Burnett interpreted the warning as an attempt to punish her for speaking publicly on matters of public concern.

In mid-February, Burnett saw a tweet from Leach that she had been terminated, which he characterized in his Twitter post as a "BIG WIN," the lawsuit states. When she responded to Leach that she had not been fired, the state representative responded with the image of a ticking clock. Leach did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Burnett's lawsuit also states that nine days later, the college informed her that her contract would not be renewed for "subordination, making private personnel issues public that impair the college's operations, and personal criticisms of co-workers, supervisors, and/or those who merely disagree with you." Burnett said the college did not provide specific examples as to how she had violated the college's personnel policies. She filed an internal appeal, which was denied.

Burnett is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Jones claims in her lawsuit that her contract was not renewed because of her comments on social media about the school's COVID-19 plan but also two earlier incidents.

The first was in 2017, when Jones signed a petition to remove Confederate statues from a Dallas park and wrote on it that she was a Collin College professor. At the time, the school asked her to remove the college's name from her signature. Jones said in her lawsuit that she was never warned that signing the document in that way risked her employment.

Jones' lawsuit states that a printed copy of that interaction was slipped into her employment record last year, at the same time she was pushing back against the school's COVID-19 reopening plan through her work on the school's faculty council.

The second time Jones was asked to remove her affiliation with Collin College from a public record was last year as she was working to launch the college chapter of the Texas Faculty Association. Her lawsuit states that Collin's dean for academic affairs asked her to remove a reference to the school from her contact information on the TFA website.

In January, Jones learned her contract would not be renewed, despite receiving a positive performance review the previous school year. According to the lawsuit, a human resources officer told her that her contract would not be renewed because of her criticism of the COVID-19 plan and the inclusion of the college's name on public sites.

Matkin and former Vice President Toni Jenkins told Jones their decision was based on Jones' public comments about the reopening of Collin College and her affiliation with TFA, a group they do not consider one which Collin College "celebrates and encourages affiliation with …," the lawsuit reads.

Jones is seeking reinstatement as well as compensatory and punitive damages against Matkin and Jenkins.

Texas universities with federal contracts are caught between Greg Abbott and Joe Biden over COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Many Texas universities — which collectively hold billions of dollars in federal contracts — are wrestling with how to navigate the Biden administration's mandate that all federal contractors be vaccinated by Dec. 8 in a state that bans vaccine mandates.

Several public universities — all managed by Gov. Greg Abbott appointees — told The Texas Tribune they are still evaluating the executive order, which applies to new federal contracts of $250,000 or greater and awarded as of Nov. 14 or existing contracts that have been renewed as of Oct. 15.

"This is unprecedented," said Michael LeRoy, a labor law expert at the University of Illinois College of Law. "There have been conflicts between the state and federal government, but not at this magnitude with this kind of money on the line."

LeRoy believes the issue will be resolved in the courts because of the two conflicting issues at the center. State universities receive funding from the state and federal level but they are run by a board of regents appointed by the Texas governor.

While LeRoy said it's unlikely the federal government will immediately terminate a grant if universities don't comply, he said a university's actions could impact future bids for federal grants. The federal government could begin to give notice to rescind a grant, he speculated, but that is a lengthy process. For now, universities are awaiting guidance from their own lawyers.

"... [T]he White House has been clear that noncompliance will not be excused, even in situations where state law contradicts the federal directive," University of Houston spokesperson Shawn Lindsey told the Tribune in a statement. "It's an extremely complicated situation that requires further analysis."

Texas Tech University is working with its lawyers to determine if there are contracts that would trigger the vaccination requirement, school officials said in a statement. Texas Tech is also requesting guidance from the Texas attorney general's office.

A Texas A&M University System spokesperson said they are also still evaluating the order. The A&M system has about 500 contracts with the federal government worth $2 billion, most of which are tied to the flagship university in College Station.

A statement from the University of Texas System revealed how universities are trying to appease both federal and state leaders.

"We will endeavor to comply with federal vaccine requirements for specific, covered individuals to protect these investments in our state," spokesperson Karen Adler said in a statement. She then went on to say the system would provide exemptions for those with religious beliefs and "we will make every effort to accommodate employees' personal situations."

Adler did not immediately respond to follow-up questions clarifying if the university will require all employees to be vaccinated. President Joe Biden's executive order already allows for exemptions for disability or religious beliefs.

Baylor University, Texas State University and Southern Methodist University, which have received federal contracts as recently as 2018, according to a federal website tracking public money given to universities, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Through a spokesperson, Abbott criticized Biden's vaccine mandate.

"The Biden Administration left Texans in the impossible position of having to choose between providing for their families or being fired for not getting the COVID vaccine because of their religious belief, medical condition, or personal conscience," Renae Eze, a spokesperson for the governor, said in a statement. "And they left employers with the unfair choice of either violating federal regulations or losing their valued employees. Having spent his entire time in office fighting for the rights and freedoms of all Texans, the Governor will not abandon Texans worried about putting food on the table, and our office continues working with the Office of the Attorney General to do just that."

Outside of Texas, several universities have opted to comply with Biden's vaccination mandate for federal contractors. On Friday, the University of Kansas and Auburn University in Alabama announced they would implement vaccine requirements, joining Arizona's largest public universities, Penn State University and the University of Delaware.


UT-Austin attempts to calm faculty concerns over planned Liberty Institute organized with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, conservative donors

University of Texas at Austin leaders attempted to quell concerns among faculty this week over a proposed think tank on campus known as the Liberty Institute, weeks after The Texas Tribune reported that the university was working with private donors and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to create a center that would be "dedicated to the study and teaching of individual liberty, limited government, private enterprise and free markets."

At a Faculty Council meeting Monday, Provost Sharon Wood reiterated that many decisions had yet to be made about the institute, which already has $12 million in funding over the next two years from the state Legislature and the UT System Board of Regents.

Faculty Council leaders had presented university President Jay Hartzell with a list of eight questions about the university's plans for the institute, its mission and how it would be structured. Hartzell was at an event in Dallas, however, and did not attend the meeting.

In his stead, Wood acknowledged to the council that the Tribune's article "caused a lot of concern" on campus. But she noted that the university did not provide information for last month's story, which detailed emails and documents obtained by the Tribune via open records requests. The request was filed after the university provided vague answers to students and ignored the Tribune's questions about the center.

"So I want to talk to you about what the university is actually planning to do and try to address some of the misconceptions," she told the faculty.

Wood, who is the former dean of the UT-Austin Cockrell School of Engineering, was named provost in June. She told faculty she did not know answers to many of their questions because the discussions about this center predated her arrival in the president's office. But she described a more politically muted proposal than ones discussed privately among donors, lawmakers and school leaders.

According to Wood, the institute's intent is to "support and help attract faculty." She said it will be an "investment in philosophy, politics and economics." She said the idea has been discussed among faculty and school leaders for over a decade, originally led by Tom Gilligan, who was the dean of the McCombs School of Business before he left to run the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, a conservative think tank that operates outside the normal university structure. And she compared the new center to a philosophy, politics and economics department at Oxford University.

"The goal is to provide students who cross traditional boundaries and consider problems from multiple points of view," Wood said. "This allows them to better understand how regulatory and legal environments are going to impact markets. They also will have the analytical and quantitative skills to solve complex problems and understand more economic drivers."

In August, the Tribune reported on Hartzell's emails obtained through an open records request to UT-Austin, as well as two proposals obtained from Patrick's office which suggest more political — though not explicitly partisan — motivations to launch the institute among those involved.

"[A] growing proportion of our population lacks a basic understanding of the role liberty and private enterprise play in their well-being," read one proposal. "Too many Americans, particularly younger students, maintain misconceptions about our political system and lack an even basic understanding of the moral, ethical, philosophical and historical foundations underpinning a free society."

A second proposal described the institute as one that will "educate thousands of students … on the moral, ethical, philosophical and historical foundations of a free society" and asks the state to dedicate money to the project.

It is still unclear who wrote these proposals or when they were written. While they do not reflect the full breadth of discussion about the institute, they provided the most insight into the vision of some of the people involved in its creation. Emails show Hartzell has been involved in discussions since at least 2016.

Wood said the Tribune's report "ignored the role of faculty governance and faculty hiring and also developing new degree programs and implied there was no interest among students." She did not give specifics about those roles.

UT-Austin did not respond to an interview request or written questions sent Tuesday, including a request to provide a list of faculty and students involved in planning the new center.

Despite the decisions yet to be made, some professors remained skeptical about the new center. After Wood spoke, College of Natural Sciences professor Stuart Reichler said faculty's main concern is that the university is allowing the Legislature to politicize UT-Austin.

"You say we need outside funding for this institute to happen," Reichler said. "It sounds like there are already donors, political donors, lined up to provide money for the university to hire people to work in these positions to form part of this institute. I think our concern — or at least what I'm reading into the concern from the questions are — why is the university allowing itself to be politicized by the Legislature? It seems a very dangerous precedent for us to set."

But one professor pushed back on the concerns of his colleagues, arguing that university programs such as social justice centers and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are already political.

"It seems like you're just treating this as ideas you don't want [on campus] as opposed to some broader principle," said Richard Lowery, a finance professor in the UT-Austin business school.

In response to the funding concerns, Wood noted that there are 15 different efforts on campus funded in a similar way by the Legislature, including the McDonald Observatory and Marine Science Institute, while also stating that it is rare for the university to receive money this way.

She said no donors have been secured for the new center. But emails show at least one donor had agreed to commit $8.5 million toward a new center in 2016. Bob Rowling, a conservative billionaire businessman and well-known UT-Austin donor, confirmed he and oil company executive Bud Brigham were involved in the project. Rowling told the Tribune in August that Brigham was the "real leader on this." UT-Austin did not respond to a question asking Wood to clarify what she meant by her comment.

UT-Austin has ignored interview requests and written questions from the Tribune. Leaders provided few details to students who also raised questions last spring.

When asked by a faculty member at the meeting why UT-Austin did not respond to the Tribune's request for comment, Wood said she did not know.

Wood also told the council that the goal this year is to hire three to five new faculty who would have teaching interests in "philosophical bases for individual and collective decision making and choice, government regulation, legal and policy impacts on economic outcomes and individual choice and freedoms, market design and social welfare, and social prosperity and well-being, including innovation, entrepreneurial activities, company formation and job creation."

She reassured faculty that any new professors would be hired within the proper university protocols, which include deans, department chairs and the Faculty Council. One of the proposals obtained from Patrick's office had suggested the center would be run by a board of overseers made up of "alumni and friends … committed to the mission." They would report to UT-Austin's president and the system's Board of Regents and would manage donor funds and help hire the faculty.

Wood also told faculty that the president's office will find philanthropic support to hire chairs or professors. She also said the university plans to do an inventory of existing courses to develop a list of new classes that may be added. They anticipate conducting a national search for the director. Wood said they also have yet to determine the official name of the institute, its mission and the board and governance structure.

While some faculty said the outline provided by Wood on Monday sounded reasonable, they did not feel as if the university has shared enough information and said more discussion and details are necessary.

"I don't think we know enough yet to know whether the university is doing anything inappropriate or in bad faith here," Steve Vladeck, a law professor and member of the Faculty Council, said. "But I don't think the university has helped itself in how it has conveyed information to the faculty. I don't think [Monday's] meeting helped in that respect at all."

The Faculty Council's executive committee has asked Hartzell to make a presentation to them on the new center.

Disclosure: University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at Austin - McCombs School of Business and University of Texas at Austin - Texas Enterprise - McCombs School of Business have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


Emergency contraception funds sent to Texas by Biden admin following GOP's near-total abortion ban: report

The federal government announced Friday it is providing additional funding to Austin nonprofit Every Body Texas to address a potential increase in clients' need for emergency contraception and family planning services now that Texas prohibits abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a release Friday that the Office for Population Affairs will award funding to the group, which is the statewide administrator of the federal Title X funding program, which provides family planning and reproductive health services to low-income patients.

Friday's move comes as the Biden administration is challenging Texas' near-total ban on abortion in court.

The federal government is also launching a new funding program that allows any entity across the country, regardless of if it receives Title X funding, to apply and receive additional money to provide reproductive and family planning services to patients impacted by Senate Bill 8.

There is $10 million available for these two programs, though it is unclear how much Every Body Texas is receiving directly. According to the federal government's website, the grant application for the new program, called Funding to Address Dire Need for Family Planning Services, says they expect to award 10 grants between $150,000 and $1.5 million by the end of this year. The announcement said Every Body Texas must use the money provided by March 31.

Neither Every Body Texas nor the federal government immediately responded to questions.

But the group thanked Becerra on Twitter Friday afternoon for the additional funding.

"In light of #SB8, free and low-cost access to EC is more important than ever," the group wrote.

Becerra also issued a memorandum detailing two federal statutes he says his department would enforce to provide protection for patients who may need an abortion and health care providers who assist pregnant patients in certain situations.

"Today we are making clear that doctors and hospitals have an obligation under federal law to make medical decisions regarding when it's appropriate to treat their patients," Becerra said in a release. "And we are telling doctors and others involved in the provision of abortion care, that we have your back."

It was not immediately clear late Friday how Becerra's memorandum would impact people's ability to access an abortion in Texas or providers' willingness to perform the procedure.

The two federal laws Becerra referred to include the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act and the Church Amendments. The federal government issued a memorandum reminding health care providers that patients who appear in the emergency room must receive appropriate medical screening, stabilizing treatment and a transfer, in or out of state, regardless of state laws, including pregnant patients or patients experiencing a pregnancy loss.

Becerra said the federal government would impose civil monetary penalties against hospitals or physicians if they violate that law.

Second, the federal Office of Civil Rights released guidance about the Church Amendments, which prevent discrimination against health care personnell who object to performing an abortion because of their relgious beliefs. Those amendments also protect health care providers from discrimination if they do assist or perform a lawful abortion, such as an abortion where federal funds are used to end pregnancies that result from rape or incest or to save the life of the pregnant person.

Gov. Greg Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the announcement.

A national anti-abortion group, The Susan B. Anthony List, criticized the Biden administration in a press release Friday evening.

"Texas is not California, no matter how hard Xavier Becerra tries to export his pro-abortion legacy," Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group's president, said in a statement referring to Becerra's home state.

SB 8, which took effect Sept.1, bans abortions whenever an ultrasound can detect what lawmakers define as a fetal "heartbeat," though medical experts say that phrase is misleading because embryos don't posses a heart at that developmental stage.

Rather than the state enforcing the law, it relies on private citizens to sue abortion proividers and anyone who helps a pregnant person receive an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected.

Abortion rights advocacy groups have said the law could affect at least 85% of abortions provided in the state. Since the law went into effect, many providers have canceled procedures or denied care to patients.

Allen West's wife wasn’t drunk or on drugs when jailed for DWI, tests show

"Angela Graham-West, wife of Texas GOP candidate Allen West, wasn't drunk or on drugs when jailed for DWI, tests show" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The wife of Texas GOP gubernatorial candidate Allen West had no traces of drugs or alcohol in her system, despite being arrested and jailed overnight by Dallas police almost two weeks ago on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, the city's district attorney said Wednesday citing toxicology results.

Angela Graham-West, 61, was driving home from dinner at P.F. Chang's with her 3-month-old grandson when she was pulled over after an officer witnessed her swerving into the shoulder of the highway.

An arrest affidavit that Graham-West's attorney Todd Shapiro provided to The Texas Tribune claimed that Graham-West showed signs of intoxication in portions of the field sobriety test. Shapiro had attributed those issues to a previous brain aneurysm behind her right eye. A Breathalyzer test conducted at the scene was inconclusive.

Shapiro did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Allen West, who was previously the head of the Texas GOP before he resigned earlier this year to run for governor, had blasted the Dallas police department on social media, calling his wife's arrest “insidious" and “unjust."

On his campaign website Wednesday, West said the toxicology report proved the arrest was “unwarranted and baseless."

“I stand by my assertion that a full apology to my wife Angela is warranted," West said in a statement. “As well, the full unedited body cam video should be released by the Dallas PD Chief Garcia to the press and the public. My wife's honor and reputation should have never been assailed."

West previously said his wife had only drank water and lemonade at the restaurant. He provided a photo of a receipt to the Tribune that confirmed the order.

In response to West's criticisms, the police department released dash and body camera footage of the arrest in a press conference a few days after the arrest, calling West's description of the events a “mischaracterization."

In a statement, the Dallas District Attorney's office said they were rejecting the case because the toxicology report conclusively showed Graham-West had no drugs or alcohol in her system at the time blood was drawn.

The Dallas Police Department said it was aware of the lab results from the toxicology report.

“Due process is guaranteed to everyone, and Mrs. West is no different," according to a statement provided by the department.

“The officer made her decision based on the information available to her at that time. The purpose of addressing the media and releasing the video footage of the suspected DUI arrest of Mrs. Angela West was not to prove guilt or innocence, but to show the interaction between the officer and Mrs. West because of the accusations regarding the encounter. The remainder of the process lies in the hands of the District Attorney's office. We respect the ultimate decision of the District Attorney's office and we will refrain from commenting further."

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/01/angela-west-allen-west-drunk-arrested-dallas/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Dallas police defend DWI arrest of Allen West’s wife as her lawyer questions their evidence

Dallas police on Monday defended their arrest of Angela Graham-West, Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Allen West's wife, for allegedly driving while intoxicated.

At a press conference, police Chief Edgardo Garcia showed video of her Friday traffic stop, field sobriety test and arrest. He gave few details when asked about what portions of the field sobriety test Graham-West might have failed.

But information about police suspicions were detailed in an arrest warrant affidavit that The Texas Tribune obtained from Graham-West's lawyer, who said his client had not been drinking and questioned the strength of the officer's evidence.

Toxicology results from a blood test are pending. Garcia said results from a Breathalyzer test conducted during the traffic stop were inconclusive.

The affidavit that attorney Todd Shapiro provided to the Tribune claims that Graham-West, 61, showed signs of intoxication in portions of the field sobriety test.

Reference

A Dallas police arrest affidavit for Angela Graham-West, provided to The Texas Tribune by her attorney.

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In an interview, Shapiro said a previous brain aneurysm behind her right eye contributed to some issues with the field sobriety test.

“She told the officer about it and there's no mention anywhere in the ... probable cause affidavit that this woman had some health issues that could affect her performance or mask themselves as signs of intoxication," Shapiro said.

West previously told the Tribune that his wife had “no issues" with field sobriety or breathalyzer tests.

Garcia said the department released the footage because West had painted a different picture than what occurred, comments he said were a “mischaracterization."

“We're not trying to try this DWI arrest in the media," Garcia said. “Mrs. West is entitled to due process."

Dallas police video of Angela Graham-West's traffic stop, field sobriety test and arrest. Credit: Dallas Police Department

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Graham-West was driving home with her 3-month-old grandson from a dinner with a close friend at P.F. Chang's — where she had Chilean sea bass and lemonade, according to the affidavit and a photo of a receipt West provided to the Tribune — when a police officer pulled her over on West Northwest Highway in Dallas. The video released Monday shows a vehicle veering into the right-hand shoulder before an officer pulled over the driver.

The video shows Graham-West at first stopped in the middle lane of the highway when the officer told her to move to a side street. She then pulled over to the far right lane, and the officer told her again to move to a side street.

According to the probable cause affidavit that Shapiro provided to the Tribune, the officer approached the vehicle and “smelled the scent of alcohol coming from within the car" and said Graham-West's eyes were bloodshot. The officer observed that Graham-West's reaction times were delayed and she seemed confused.

It further pointed to the appearance of Graham-West's clothing and hair as signs of possible intoxication, which Shapiro called “shaky" evidence.

The affidavit says Graham-West attributed the way she was driving to her listening to her GPS. It also said Graham-West was on the phone with an unknown person.

Officers then conducted three field sobriety tests, in which she showed signs of intoxication in two, according to the affidavit. In the first test, one of six clues that someone could be intoxicated were observed. In the second test, two of eight clues were observed. Two of four clues were observed in the third test. Failure is considered two or more clues, Shapiro said.

“Normally ... you only see four out of six [clues observed] and six out of six. I've been doing this for 21 years. I've never seen one out of six [clues observed] written on a police report," Shapiro said.

Shapiro attributed the failures in the field sobriety test to a brain aneurysm that Graham-West had experienced behind her right eye a few years ago.

When police asked her to conduct a Breathalyzer test, she questioned why she needed to take one. But video shows Graham-West blowing multiple times on the Breathalyzer. Garcia said the Breathalyzer results were inconclusive because it was not done properly. Afterward, the video shows she was put under arrest and she did not resist.

The affidavit also says Graham-West initially consented to a blood test and went to Parkland Hospital with the police officer, but then withdrew consent when she arrived and asked for her lawyer. The officer then got a warrant to draw blood.

“Based on the totality of the circumstances, I believe the officer believed she had probable cause to think the individual was driving while intoxicated," Garcia said at the press conference.

Shapiro also said Graham-West went and got a five-panel, instant urinalysis test Monday morning that also included an alcohol test. He said it showed zero presence of drugs or alcohol. The alcohol test traces back up to 80 hours, Shapiro said.

The arrest drew attention Saturday when West said in his Instagram video from Dallas County jail that he had been in Waco having dinner with Ted Nugent when he returned to Dallas to find his wife had been arrested.

He said in the video that he had spoken with people who had dinner with his wife and grandson who told him she only had water and lemonade. The photo of the restaurant receipt that West provided to the Tribune shows a lemonade but lists no alcoholic beverages.

In the video, West said he was especially angry that his grandson was left on the side of the road with two police officers while other officers took his wife to jail. The officers stayed with the child until his parents arrived to pick him up.

Mike Mata, the president of the Dallas Police Association, defended the officer's actions on The Mark Davis Show on 660 AM in Dallas and criticized West for his calls to remove the officer from the department.

"Lt. Col. West thinks that he is special, that he should get certain treatments that every other citizen doesn't get," Mata added. "Is it because he's a politician? Is it because he's running for governor? Well that's not how it goes. We believe in fair and equal treatment under the law."

Mata also said the officers went beyond normal policies to contact West's family to pick up his grandson. Department policy, he said, usually requires officers to call Child Protective Services when a driver is arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated with a child under 15 years old in the car.

In response to Mata's comments, West told the Tribune this incident was “not normal."

"I appreciate the gentleman who's speaking up for the police association, but I'm speaking up for the honor of my wife, I'm speaking up for the honor of my family and I'm also speaking up to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else in Dallas," West said.

James Barragán contributed to this story.

Join us Sept. 20-25 at the 2021 Texas Tribune Festival. Tickets are on sale now for this multi-day celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day's news, curated by The Texas Tribune's award-winning journalists. Learn more.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/08/23/dallas-arrest-allen-west-angela-graham/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.