STRONG SUPPORT FOR WOMEN’S CENTER
The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office did it again.
For the 11th year in a row the DA’s Office took home the award for the “largest team” during the annual Victory Over Violence Walk/Run, which benefits The Women’s Center of Tarrant County.
The Women’s Center is dedicated to empowering women and families who have been stricken by violence, crisis or poverty. The organization helps survivors of sexual and physical abuse and other violent crimes heal emotionally and resume productive lives.
The DA’s Team – “Above Average Joes” which was lead by prosecutors Sean Colston and Betty Arvin – is proud to be one of the organization’s strongest supporters.
FREEZIN’ FOR A REASON
About a dozen members of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office took the “Polar Plunge” on Saturday morning at NRH2O in North Richland Hills to raise money for Special Olympics. Assistant District Attorney Christy Jack led the team – “Jumpin’ for Jack in Our Jammies” – in honor of her son, Jack, who has Down syndrome.
This is the fourth time the DA’s Office has participated in the event, but this year the team raised more than $3,500 – more than ever before. (Click here to find out how to donate.)
The team had a blast and the event was capped off by a solo plunge by guest of honor – and future Special Olympian – Jack.
Check out the slide show below!
CHRISTMAS CAME EARLY FOR CHILLI
When Chilli Vasquez and her family returned home from church Sunday afternoon, they found a house full of Christmas surprises.
A decorated tree was up in the living room. Presents were everywhere. An electric wheelchair was waiting in the entryway – a gift from a stranger who was touched by Chilli’s bright smile and spunky personality.
“There are no real words to express how thankful we are,” Chilli’s mother said later. “God bless every single person that contributed to making this a special Christmas for my kids.”
In November the country fell in love with Chilli after she wrote a letter to the drunk driver who left her paralyzed from the chest down three days before her eighth birthday. He left her body broken, but not her spirit.
“I would like for you to meet me and my family,” she wrote to the defendant. “I have 2 sisters and 2 brothers, mom and dad. We have lots of fun and there are days that are bad because I have a hard time getting around.”
Chilli’s story was featured on local and national news programs, and donations and letters started pouring into the DA’s Office, which “adopted” Chilli and her family for the holiday season.
Strangers from New York, Nevada, Arizona, California and Toronto mailed checks from $15 to $500. A middle school class in New Jersey wrote Chilli letters. A Pennsylvania woman sent her gifts from Avon.
The local and corporate community also stepped in. Red Barn BBQ hosted a benefit for Chilli and donated 10 percent of the proceeds as well as a $1,000 check. During that benefit Bruce Lowrie Chevrolet also made a $10,000 donation.
And it didn’t end there. Sam’s Furniture donated bunk beds and a big screen TV, and Lowe’s Home Improvement is building a wheelchair ramp on the family’s house. Some of the donated money will also be used to send Chilli to Project Walk, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries through intense exercise-based recovery programs.
On Sunday about 20 members of the DA’s staff and their families went to Chilli’s house while she and her family were at church. In addition to leaving the tree and presents for Chilli and her four siblings, they transformed Chilli’s room into a little girl’s paradise. They set up bunk beds so Chilli’s sisters could share the space, complete with bright new bedding and a big pink doll house.
Afterward they left a final treat: Cakes from Nothing Bundt Cake and wings from Wingstop – Chilli’s favorite place to eat.
The volunteers slipped out before the family arrived home so they could just enjoy the spirit of Christmas.
STOMPING OUT DRUNK DRIVING
Back in the day, when members of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office wanted to participate in a MADD walk, they had to drive to Dallas to do it.
Three years ago, after persistent lobbying by Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert, Mothers Against Drunk Driving created a Fort Worth version of its Walk for MADD fundraiser. This year the event, dubbed the “Mother of All Walks,” was held at Ridgmar Mall and was bigger than ever.
On Oct. 12, 2012, hundreds of people laced up their shoes and hit the streets to raise money and awareness to stop drunk driving. The District Attorney’s team “No Refusal” – which had more than 115 participants – raised $11,620, easily surpassing their $10,000 goal. (Overall, the event has raised more than $40,000 for MADD.)
“I could not be more proud of our team and its efforts to raise money for a worthy cause and to raise awareness about our continued fight to keep our streets safe,” said Alpert, who captains the team. “This year’s walk was great and next year’s will be even bigger and better.”
TARRANT CELEBRATES NATIONAL NIGHT OUT
It’s a time for strangers to become neighbors.
Each year Tarrant County residents come together during National Night Out to get to know each other and celebrate their commitment to crime prevention.
The nationwide event, which is marked by block parties, cookouts and ice-cream socials, is designed to heighten crime awareness, strengthen neighborhood spirit and to let criminals know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
The idea behind the event, which began in Pennsylvania in 1983 and was held Oct. 2, is that crime goes down when neighbors know and care about one another.
The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office is a strong supporter of this event and, each year, dozens of prosecutors, investigators and support staff drop by neighborhood events across Tarrant County to answer questions, interact with the community and show their support for law enforcement.
“National Night Out is a great opportunity for prosecutors and law enforcement officials to gather in neighborhoods with residents and community leaders to take a stance against crime,” said Assistant District Attorney Art Clayton, who coordinates National Night Out for the District Attorney’s Office.
20,000 SPAGHETTI DINNERS DONATED
Recently a ginormous load of spaghetti and sauce was delivered to the Tarrant Area Food Bank – compliments of Tarrant County employees.
This year Tarrant County employees raised $25,300 – yes, you read that number right – as part of their annual food fund drive to benefit the Tarrant Area Food Bank. Employees raised money through an online auction, food sales, donating their lunch money – even paying for the privilege of wearing jeans and sneakers to work.
The money was used to purchase enough spaghetti and sauce to provide 20,000 spaghetti dinners.
“Not meals – dinners – enough to serve a family of four,” said Ann Farmer, the County’s Community Resource Coordinator. “That is one huge load of pasta and sauce. I’m so excited.”
Susan Greer, who spearheads efforts within the District Attorney’s Office to raise money for the campaign, was equally thrilled.
“Knowing that we are able to provide 20,000 meals to families in need makes all the hard work worth it to me,” Greer said.
By the way, this is the fourth consecutive year that the County has worked to fill a tractor-trailer full of food for the Food Bank, which is devoted to eliminating hunger in Fort Worth and 13 surrounding counties. Last year the County raised $23,000, which filled a semi full of mac and cheese, green beans and corn.
RUNNING WITH THE RIGHT CROWD
Some walked the 5K course. Others ran it for time.
A few took a shortcut.
But no matter whether they were fast, slow, young or old, everyone who participated in the 16th Annual Victory Over Violence Walk/Run did so for one reason: to support the Women’s Center.
The Women’s Center of Tarrant County is dedicated to empowering women and families who have been stricken by violence, crisis or poverty. They help survivors of sexual and physical abuse and other violent crimes heal emotionally and resume productive lives.
For the 10th year in a row, the DA’s Office took home the award for the “largest team” – keeping up the tradition of being one of their strongest supporters.
“The Women’s Center is a valuable resource to the women of our community,” said Assistant District Attorney Sean Colston, chief of the Family Violence Unit of the DA’s Office. “They provide valuable services to crime victims and women in need in our community. Because of this we support the Women’s Center in their endeavors.”
CHILI COOKIN’ FOR A GOOD CAUSE
They came, they cooked, they conquered.
Assistant District Attorneys Jim Gibson, Colin McLaughlin, Shelly Messerli and Marty Purselley – also known as team “3G Chili” – were named the 2012 Chili Cook-Off Champions on Saturday during the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Third Annual Spring Festival and Chili-Cook Off.
The group, which prepared a traditional-style chili with smoked ground beef, pinto beans and a few secret ingredients, beat out 14 teams and won over the palates of celebrity judges Mayor Betsy Price, NBC 5 news anchor Deborah Ferguson, WBAP sports anchor Steve Lamb and Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy.
“We serve justice cold and chili hot – with a touch of cilantro and crema Mexicana,” said McLaughlin, whose team also took home the title of “Best Dessert” for their Buttermilk Pie and Mixed-fruit Cobbler.
The 3G team won a Blue Ray DVD player, a winery tour and wine tasting at Times Ten Cellars, and bragging rights for a year. But they weren’t the only ones celebrating.
The “Fan Favorite” award went to the Fort Worth Police Association; “Best Table Decorations” went to Jail House Chili (Retired River Oaks Police Chief Dan Chisholm); and the “Most Creative Chili” went to Ditch Docs (MedStar).
Everyone was cooking for a great cause. The event, which was spearheaded by ADAs Richard Alpert, Ashlea Deener and Bryan Hoeller, raised more than $4600 which will help the DA’s Walk Like MADD team reach its goal this year of raising more than $10,000 for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
The five-hour festival, which was held at River Ranch in Fort Worth and featured music by County Criminal Court Judge Brent Carr and his Cowtown Music Club, also had plenty of activities to fire up the kids, including games, a bounce house and a petting zoo.
“With a big thank you to MADD and our fellow competitors, we were able to pull some Gs with our 3G chili – made with a touch of smoke, crema de casa and a heap of fun,” Purselley said.
See ya there next year!
FIGHTING FOR BABY EUPHRATES
In 2007 when Euphrates was rescued from his father’s home, he was seven months old and weighed 8.3 pounds.
The baby boy was starving to death.
Today Euphrates has been adopted and is happy and healthy. His father, Michael Foster, is behind bars serving a life sentence for his crimes.
Although this story has a happy ending, the road to justice was a long and difficult one.
In 2009 Foster was convicted of injury to a child for starving Euphrates and sentenced to 50 years in prison, but that verdict was overturned after Foster argued he was denied the right to defend himself. During his retrial in December – in which Foster represented himself – he was convicted again and this time received a life sentence. (Click here to read a previous press release about the case).
It was a hard-fought victory for prosecutors Kevin Boneberg and Kim D’Avignon, but their work was not yet done.
Last month Boneberg, D’Avignon and forensic interviewer Lindsey Dula traveled to a nationally-recognized child abuse symposium in Huntsville, Ala., where they talked in detail about the prosecution of Foster and the challenges they had to overcome. Their case study – “The Difference: A Case Study Regarding the Human Will to Live” – was presented at the National Symposium on Child Abuse before multiple disciplines, including police, Child Protective Services, counselors and forensic interviewers.
The presentation was a huge success and received high ratings from their peers. “Nice Job!” wrote one participant. “Best session yet,” said another.
Boneberg said they hoped sharing their experiences would assist others with similar investigations and prosecutions.
“We were excited to share the story of this difficult case with our peers in the child abuse field, hoping that they would not only see how we prevailed over several obstacles but also how overcoming those obstacles eventually became keys to our successful prosecution,” Boneberg said.
MOCK TRIAL EXPOSES KIDS TO LEGAL PROFESSION
Mamas may not let their babies grow up to be cowboys, but what about a prosecutor, a defense lawyer or a judge?
Recently, students at North Ridge Elementary School in North Richland Hills played the roles of all three legal professions during an entertaining mock trial put on by the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office. The mock trial is part of a daylong “Idea Explosion,” a career day of sorts for the North Ridge students. The event marked the 12th time that the DA’s Office has turned the school’s library into a makeshirt courtroom in an effort to expose 3rd, 4th and 5th graders to the criminal justice system.
This year Assistant District Attorneys Richard Alpert, James Teel, Allenna Bangs, Brian Epps, Nikki Nickols and Kendre Henderson put on the trial – State vs. Big Bad Wolf. (Alpert and Teel conceptualized the event 12 years ago and have organized it since.)
The concept is simple: The students are given roles – juror, judge, prosecutor or defense attorney. With the help of the DA staff, they then pose questions and present evidence to the story book witnesses. At the end of the trial, the jury decides whether the Big Bad Wolf – played by Alpert – is guilty of murder for eating little pigs. Most of the time they find him guilty.
The mock trial is funny, and fun, and one of the most popular “Idea Explosion” classes. It’s repeated a total of five times throughout the day for various grades.
Now, that’s a lot of huffing and puffing.
FREEZIN’ FOR A REASON
Talk about cool.
For the past three years employees of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office have been participating in the Polar Plunge at NRH20 Water Park in North Richland Hills. This year prosecutor Sherry Whelchel led the team, Reasonable Suspicion. Last year, prosecutor Christy Jack piloted the team dubbed Jumpin’ For Jack, in honor of her son who has Down’s Syndrome.
Whelchel credits J.B. Hendrick, legal secretary for the Gang/Homicide Unit, with coming up with the idea to get involved in 2010 with this particular charitable event. That year the team was called P.J. Plungers.
“She suggested that a bunch of the girls from the office get involved and we all thought it would be fun, so we did,” Whelchel said. “Since Christy’s son has Down’s Syndrome, it seemed like a perfect cause to support.”
HELPING THE HUNGRY
When litigation specialist Susan Greer was growing up her mother sometimes turned turned to area food banks to help feed her three daughters.
”My mom was a single parent and there were many times if it wasn’t for a food bank we wouldn’t have had food, especially during the holidays,” said Greer, who has worked for the DA’s Office for 13 years. “It’s a cause that is near and dear to my heart.”
Since 2002, Greer has captained the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s food drive team, which works year-round to raise money for the Tarrant Area Food Bank. From selling breakfast burritos each month in the lobby of the courthouse, to filling an 18-wheeler with canned goods during the holidays, Greer and her army of volunteers have proven that every bit helps when it comes to helping the hungry.
Since 2002, the DA’s Office has donated – drum roll, please – about $57,000 and about 500 frozen turkeys to the Food Bank. That’s not small potatoes.
RINGING IN THE HOLIDAYS
It was cold and wet on the morning of the Jingle Bell Run, but Tarrant County employees refused to let dreary weather dampen their spirits. After all, they were supporting an important cause: The Arthritis Foundation.
About 150 employees, including about 40 from the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, joined thousands of other runners and walkers during the Dec. 3 Jingle Bell Run in Fort Worth’s Trinity Park.
Many donned Santa hats, bells and colorful socks for the occassion, but the district attorney’s Victim Assistance Unit brightened up the race in yellow shirts that read, “Joe’s Angels.”
The Tarrant County team – which was captained by Dawne Kite, the lead secretary in the Misdemeanor Unit of the DA’s office who was born with arthritis – raised more than $3,400 in the fight against the disease.
REMEMBERING VICTIMS OF DRUNK DRIVING
Each year, the North Texas’ chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving hosts a “Vigil of Remembrance and Hope” in memory of family members and friends who have been killed by drunken drivers. The event, which was held in November at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, provides a forum for victims and survivors, who light candles and view a slideshow of those killed and injured on local roads.
Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert, who is one of the state’s leading DWI prosecutors and is an expert in the prosecution of vehicular intoxication crimes, spoke to the victims at the event about their loss and the commitment by the DA’s Office to keep our streets safe and hold offenders accountable. Alpert asked them to work with him to change the public’s attitude about drinking and driving. The event served as a reminder for drivers to safely celebrate this holiday season.
For speaker requests, contact Janet Barnett: 817-884-1644 email@example.com
TAKING IT TO THE STREETS
In April, members of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office laced up their running shoes and hit the streets in an effort to stomp down violence.
Criminal District Attorney Joe Shannon’s team – named the “Above Average Joe’s” – was the largest to participate in the 16th Annual Victory Over Violence Walk/Run, which benefits the anti-violence programs of The Women’s Center.
The Women’s Center serves over 95,000 people annually, helping survivors of sexual assault, sexual abuse, domestic violence and other violent crimes heal emotionally.
The Women’s Center is an integral part of the criminal justice community and the Criminal District Attorney’s team, co-captained by prosecutors Sean Colston and Betty Arvin, was glad to show its support.