Community Outreach

TRAPSHOOTING TOURNAMENT TO BENEFIT GRIEVING CHILDREN

Some lost their mothers, others lost their fathers. Many lost a sibling.

They were taken tragically – by illness, in wrecks, by violence.

And while their stories are all different, their pain is the same: They are children mourning the death of a loved one.

Each summer about 100 children come together at Camp Fire El Tesoro de la Vida, a week-long camp in Granbury for grieving kids. They ride horses, swim, canoe, hike – and draw on the strength and sorrow of others who are going through the same thing.

“The kids come from all kinds of backgrounds and have all different kinds of tragic deaths in their family,” said Tarrant County Prosecutor Kim D’Avignon, who is the camp’s program director and has been a camp volunteer for 20 years. “What they all have in common is that someone they loved very much died. But grief camp isn’t something families plan on having to save money for.”

The volunteer-based camp costs $645 per camper, an unforseen expense for families who may still be reeling from funeral expenses, hospital bills, or the loss of a double income. The last thing they need is a financial hardship on top of their emotional one – a fact that isn’t lost on a group of benevolent individuals whose paths and passions recently crossed at the right time.

Beginning Friday, June 20, the Fort Worth Trap & Skeet Club will host a three-day trapshooting tournament which will raise money, or “camperships” for bereaved children to go to Camp Fire El Tesoro de la Vida this summer. The first-time event – dubbed the “Wildcat Crane Handicap Tournament” – is a sanctioned tournament named for Wildcat Cranes’ owner Ron Wertz, who asked that the event benefit children in some way.

“He is a humble man and wanted to make the shoot meaningful for someone other than him,” said Jamie Becker, a senior firearms examiner with the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office who is helping organize the event. Her husband is president of the Fort Worth Trap and Skeet Club.

Becker, who frequently testifies in criminal trials, reached out to Blanca Burciaga, the Victims Assistance Director for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, to see if she could suggest a cause that helps children.

Burciaga knew just what to do. She put her in contact with D’Avignon, a seasoned prosecutor and child advocate who is heavily involved in Camp Fire El Tesoro de la Vida. In fact, Burciaga and D’Avignon regularly recommend the camp to bereaved children who have come through the court system because of the violent death of a loved one.

Becker said Wertz loved the idea of providing “camperships” for children who have been through the justice system. This weekend, a portion of tournament proceeds will help send these kids to camp.

“This is a first and we are very excited about it,” Becker quoted Wertz as saying.

D’Avignon and camp officials are thrilled and thankful.

“We want to make sure that every child who needs to come to camp can come without worrying about the financial hardship,” D’Avignon said. “Our volunteers work year round to raise money to provide “camperships” for children who have lost a loved one. Our camp motto is, `You cannot always choose the way you are hurt, but you can choose the way you are healed.’ Money donated to our campership fund ensures that we can continue to provide a safe place to heal for children in our community.”

If you go: The tournament begins on Friday, June 20 and ends on Sunday, June 22. It will be held at the Fort Worth Trap and Skeet Club, which is located at 1064 FM 2871 in west Fort Worth. Everyone is welcome at the tournament, but to compete you must be a current member of the Amateur Trap Association or fill out an application to join and pay the annual $20 membership dues. Click here for more information about the shoot.

If you can’t go: Donations are always appreciated and can be made through Camp Fire First Texas’ website. Be sure to designate that you want your donation to be used for the Campership Fund.

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DA’S OFFICE HAD BIG SHOWING AT VOV RUN, BUT NOT QUITE BIG ENOUGH

Victory Over Violence 2014_ Above Average Joes

All good things must come to an end.

Earlier this month, the Tarrant County District Attorney Office’s 12-year streak as the “largest team” at the annual Victory Over Violence Run/Walk ended when we were nudged out by “Team Carolyn.”

But that’s okay.

“Team Carolyn” epitomizes everything that the Women’s Center and their Victory Over Violence event stands for – and fights against. Here’s her inspirational story, as told on the Women’s Center’s website:

For 66 years, Carolyn lived a life free from violence. She had never been the victim of a crime, nor had anyone she knew. All that changed late one night when a stranger hiding on her porch grabbed her from behind, held her at knife point, then kidnapped, robbed and sexually assaulted her. In the span of two hours, this vibrant, busy grandmother became afraid to go out into the world. Through counseling at The Women’s Center, Carolyn was able to take back her life, telling her story and even facing her attacker in court. Today, Carolyn and her loved ones field one of the largest teams participating in Victory Over Violence. They walk and run to celebrate Carolyn’s triumph over fear and violence and to ensure that other victims get the counseling they need, too.

So congratulations Team Carolyn! You outnumbered us by 30 participants and, for that, you should be commended.

And while the DA’s team – “Above Average Joes” – lost our big-team bragging rights, we still had plenty for which to be proud. We had 184 team members, raised money and awareness for the Women’s Center anti-violence programs, and we had an individual achievement, as well.

Geri Luhring, a legal secretary in the DA’s Office, ran the 5K in 26 minutes and 42 seconds, placing third in her age group.

“I was pretty excited,” said Luhring, who beat 27 other runners in her age group. “Now, my goal is to work on getting my time to 25 minutes.”

All in all, it was a great day and a great event. Check out the pictures:

 

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LOTS OF WORK – AND EVEN SOME PLAY- BUILT A PLAYGROUND IN JUST 1 DAY

(from left to right) Kendre Henderson, Blanca Burciaga, Cynthia Gustafson, Cecilia Jones, Chris McGregor, Kris Krishan, Katie Woods

(from left to right) Kendre Henderson, Blanca Burciaga, Cynthia Gustafson, Cecilia Jones, Chris McGregor, Kris Krishan, Katie Woods

Mixing concrete and spreading mulch isn’t most people’s idea of fun.

But a lively group from the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office had a blast last week doing exactly that.

Prosecutor Chris McGregor

Prosecutor Chris McGregor

They were among hundreds of volunteers who came together to build a playground at One Safe Place, a full-service family justice center in Fort Worth that helps victims of domestic violence. The playground was designed by children and built in just one day by volunteers from CarMax, organizers from KaBOOM! and community leaders and residents.

“The experience was inspirational,” said Prosecutor Katie Woods, who is assigned to the DA’s Family Violence Unit and primarily handles domestic violence cases. “There were so many people there that donated their time and energy for such a necessary, yet underappreciated cause. The day was dedicated to children who have seen and heard more in their youth than most of us will ever know…The playground gives these kids a chance to feel and be normal in a safe place.”

Prosecutor Kris Krishna

Prosecutor Kris Krishna

Woods was joined by teammates and fellow prosecutors Kris Krishna, Chris McGregor and Kendre Henderson; Victim Assistance Director Blanca Burciaga; One Safe Place Victim Assistance Coordinator Cecilia Jones; and Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Gustafson, who is assigned to the DA’s Protective Order Unit.

Together, the group mixed around five tons of concrete – a difficult but imperative job to build the playground.

“We had a good team,” said Gustafson, whose everyday job is to represent family violence victims seeking protective orders. “Everyone just worked really hard – and had fun.”

When they weren’t mixing concrete, the group was spreading mulch, hammering and helping in the garden area. Along the way, they shared laughs and, um, apparently some dance moves.

Several hours later, a space that started out as nothing transformed into something special.

“When the playground was completed, I almost couldn’t believe it,” said Jones, who is the DA’s on-site Victim Assistance Coordinator at One Safe Place. “To watch an empty area turn into this colorful and fun playground – in just a short amount of time – was amazing. Because I am located at One Safe Place, I’ll be able to see the children who will benefit from it. Knowing that I helped build it by hand definitely makes me feel good inside.”

Victim Assistance Director Blanca Burciaga

Tarrant County Victim Assistance Director Blanca Burciaga

The project was made possible through a $4.1 million partnership between The CarMax Foundation and KaBOOM!, which will build 30 playgrounds across the country by the end of 2015. The new playground at One Safe Place, located at the corner of Rosedale and Hemphill Streets, will give children of domestic violence survivors a safe place to play and feel normal while their parents receive much-needed services.

“When I found out we were building a playground, it made me happy to think that those children would have a chance, even briefly, to just be kids and play,” said Burciaga, who oversees the DA’s Victim Assistance Unit. “Maybe for a moment, they can put aside their worries, fears and anxiety and just be kids…My teammates were awesome. No matter the role, everyone can be proud that they had a part in helping kids be kids.”

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PROSECUTOR TAMLA RAY SPEAKS AT SEC’S “STUDENT” SHADOWING EVENT 

MentoringLet’s face it. Law enforcement authorities and their no-nonsense environment can be intimidating, especially for young people.

Students wonder what their job is like and how they got there.

Last week, Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Tamla Ray shared her journey with 18 juniors and seniors from Fort Worth’s Trimble Tech High School. She was a guest speaker at “Student Shadowing Day,” a national event held at offices of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

“She described for them her own educational path and discussed the challenges she faced and lessons she learned along the way,” said Andrew Conders, Assistant Regional Director for the Fort Worth Regional Office of the SEC. “She emphasized the importance of being professional in all aspects of your demeanor, regardless of whether you are interviewing for your first job in high school or your dream job following college or graduate school.”

Conders said the goal of the program is to bring high school students from underserved backgrounds into a professional agency for a day, and expose them to attorneys, accountants and other law enforcement professionals.

“The professionals provide advice and experience on everything from college applications and finding college grants and scholarships to interviewing techniques and professional behavior,” Conders said. “Tamla was a great asset to our program this year and we are extremely grateful for her participation.”

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STOP & THINK ABOUT CYBER-BULLYING

ADA Art Clayton speaks to Castleberry High School students about bullying

Prosecutor Art Clayton speaks to Castleberry High School students about bullying

Cyber-bullying isn’t cool and, in some cases, it could be criminal.

That was the message Tarrant County Prosecutor Art Clayton gave to about 800 Castleberry High School students last week during the school’s annual anti-bullying campaign.

“Teenagers have always had a hard time growing up,” Clayton said. “In this high-tech information age, however, harassment expands beyond the school yard. Kids can be harassed and abused through text messages, emails, and message board posts. There is no retreat for these teens. One slur or taunt can be observed by hundreds of people just by hitting ‘enter’.”

For the past two years, Castleberry Independent School District has invited Clayton to come and educate students about cyber-bullying and how it can hurt students and, in some cases, ruin their lives. Clayton’s program focused on real-life examples of the ramifications of bullying, including youth who have committed suicide or been prosecuted because of bullish behavior.

At the end of his presentation, Clayton showed students pictures of a small, lanky kid with braces and asked the crowd if that’s the kind of kid that gets picked on?

When students replied with a resounding yes, Clayton revealed that that kid was him.

A student shakes Art Clayton's hand after presentation

A student shakes Art Clayton’s hand after presentation

The point was not lost on the students who cheered enthusiastically for Clayton – now a seasoned felony prosecutor who has been putting criminals behind bars for more than 14 years.

“A kiddo’s self image can easily be wrecked when a trusted person forwards private conversations, images, or information to unintended viewers,” Clayton said. “We have to remind today’s youth to stop and think before they do something hurtful to themselves or others.”
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DA DONATES $53,000 IN FORFEITURE FUNDS TO SIX NON-PROFIT AGENCIES

DonationChristmas came early for six non-profit agencies.

Earlier this month, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office donated $53,000 in asset forfeiture money to the Women’s Center, One Safe Place, Alliance for Children, the Texas District and County Attorneys Foundation, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and The Warm Place.

The organizations were each mailed a check, along with a letter from Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon, praising them for helping protect the community and making it a better place to live.

“I know I speak for all 325 of our attorneys and support staff when I say thank you and your organization for all that you do…” Shannon wrote in each of the letters.

Shannon said the donations were made possible this year because of two big forfeiture infusions – one from a gambling operation crack-down and the other from a bootleg cigarette bust. He said the state forfeiture statute was amended in recent years to permit donating asset forfeiture funds to certain non-profit organizations which assist victims and prosecution efforts.

“This is the first time such grants have been made in Tarrant County to my knowledge,” Shannon said. “This is the first time we have had the funds to do this. This is not taxpayer money – it is money that has been confiscated from criminals. We took something bad and put it to good use.”

The Women’s Center, One Safe Place and Mother’s Against Drunk Driving each received $5,000, while The Warm Place received $3,000. Alliance for Children, which has several locations, received a $10,000 check. The Texas District and County Attorneys Foundation received $25,000.

Shannon said The Women’s Center, One Safe Place, Alliance for Children, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and The Warm Place were selected for the work they do for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and drunk driving. The Texas District and County Attorneys Foundation was selected because it trains prosecutors, investigators and law enforcement officers across the state at a low cost.

The agencies were grateful for the unexpected surprise. Here’s what some of them said about the donation:

Deborah Caddy, Director of The Women’s Center’s Rape Crisis and Victim Services Program: What a wonderful holiday surprise and blessing for The Women’s Center’s Rape Crisis and Victim Services Program to be awarded this donation! This money will directly be used to continue to provide free crisis intervention and counseling services to the many sexual assault and sexual abuse survivors in our community, as well as provide free prevention and risk reduction services to thousands of children throughout Tarrant County. The 30-year partnership that The Women’s Center has shared with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office has not only helped in the prosecution of perpetrators, but has assisted countless victims as they begin their healing process from these horrendous crimes.

Ken Shetter, Executive Director of Safe City Commission: The team at One Safe Place was pleasantly surprised with the holiday donation from the District Attorney’s Office! From the beginning the DA has been an important partner in One Safe Place and we are honored to be included with other worthy recipients. The donation will be added to our capital project fund where it will be used to develop facilities for victims of domestic violence who need legal assistance. We are very appreciative and look forward to continuing to work hand-in-hand with everyone in the DA’s office to improve the lives of victims of domestic violence.

Julie Evans, Executive Director of Alliance For Children: Alliance For Children is honored to partner with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office daily to protect children from abuse. We are deeply appreciative of this heightened support of our work through the donation from the asset forfeitures and seizures. Thank you for supporting our agency and assisting Alliance For Children to fulfill its mission.

Rob Kepple, Executive Director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association: The Texas District and County Attorneys Foundation leadership was thrilled to receive a donation of $25,000 from The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office. The funds are dedicated solely to the training of Texas prosecutors and their staff, and are sorely needed to support the basic and advanced trial advocacy courses that benefit not only Tarrant County prosecutors, but prosecutors from around the state. It is this kind of leadership from dedicated prosecutors like Joe Shannon that makes the future of our profession bright.

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PROSECUTORS & INVESTIGATORS CELEBRATE NATIONAL NIGHT OUT 

Prosecutor Rainey Webb spent National Night Out at the  Woodland West Neighborhood in Arlington
Prosecutor Rainey Webb spent National Night Out at Arlington’s Woodland West neighborhood

More than two dozen Tarrant County prosecutors and investigators fanned out across North Texas on Tuesday evening to participate in National Night Out.

Prosecutor Art Clayton mingled with folks in Lake Worth, while Prosecutor Marcus Hanna visited with residents of Bellaire Park North in Fort Worth. Prosecutor Lisa Callaghan stopped by two neighborhoods in Arlington and Investigator Greg McNeese dropped in on two communities in North Richland Hills.

The list goes on.

National Night Out is a time for residents, city officials and law enforcement to come together and celebrate their commitment to crime prevention. The nationwide event, which is marked by block parties, cookouts and rallies, is designed to encourage people to spend one night getting to know their neighbors and local law enforcment.

The idea behind the event, which began in Pennsylvania in 1983 and is now recognized nationwide, is that crime goes down when neighbors know and care about one another.

The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office is a big supporter of National Night Out and each year prosecutors and investigators drop by neighborhood events throughout Tarrant County to answer questions, interact with the community and show their support for law enforcement.

“Law enforcement begins in the community,” said Assistant District Attorney Art Clayton, who coordinates National Night Out for the District Attorney’s Office. “Neighbors have to know and look out for one another. National Night Out symbolizes the partnership between prosecutors, law enforcement personnel and those we serve. Prosecutors and Investigators at the District Attorney’s Office annually participate in National Night Out events across Tarrant County in an effort to strengthen community bonds.”

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 KIDS GIVE BACK WITH BACKPACKS

Filling backbacksSchool wasn’t in session, but some local children recently received a great lesson in an important subject: Giving back.

Earlier this month, about 50 youngsters gathered at Alliance For Children, Tarrant County’s Child Advocacy Center in Fort Worth, to put together 200 backpacks and school supplies for children who have been abused or neglected. The first-time event, dubbed the Great Backpack Give Back, was designed to give young children an opportunity to help those less fortunate and raise awareness about abuse.

Stuffing backpacks“There are not many community service opportunities for young children,” said Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Alana Minton, who specializes in the prosecution of child abuse cases and helped organize the event. “This idea came about simultaneously through AFC’s Board of Directors and a group of local moms with young children who were looking for ways for their children to participate in community service projects.”

The participants, which ranged from kindergarteners to sixth-graders, received a certificate for three community service hours. In addition to filling the backpacks with school supplies (which were provided by Fost Bank employees and AFC Board Member Catherine Severin), the participants also received safety tips in an effort to reduce their risk of becoming abused or victimized.

Happy BearThe children watched an interactive presentation called P.S. It’s My Body, featuring Mascot “Happy Bear” who teaches kids how to recognize welcome and unwelcome touches. The children also watched NetSmartz, a multi-media, Internet safety presentation.

Minton hopes the Great Backpack Give Back will become an annual event at Alliance For Children, a non-profit agency which coordinates efforts between prosecutors, police, doctors and Child Protective Services as they investigate allegations of child physical and sexual abuse.

“It was a rewarding event,” said Minton, Chief of the DA’s Crimes Against Children Unit. “We got positive feedback from the kids, who had fun and learned some things about safety and giving back to their community.”

 

 

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FRIEND’S DEATH GIVES TARRANT PROSECUTOR UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE

Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Josh Ross

Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Joshua Ross

As a Tarrant County prosecutor, Joshua Ross has handled countless cases involving drunk drivers.

But seven years ago, they took on a whole new perspective.

On September 26, 2006, Ross’ close friend and fraternity brother was killed by a drunk driver. Todd Levin and his girlfriend, Raylynn Healy, had just left a Houston movie theater when a drunk driver slammed into their car at a busy intersection. Levin died at the scene. Healy died later at an area hospital.

“They were t-boned by a drunk driver that ran a red light,” said Ross who attended the University of Texas at Austin with Levin.

Suddenly, Ross – who had prosecuted many DWI, intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter cases over the years – knew first-hand the devastation caused by drunk driving. He could personally identify with victims who had lost loved ones in DWI crashes.

“It changed my approach to those cases,” he said.

Shortly after Ross’ friend was killed, Tarrant County Deputy District Attorney Richard Alpert asked Ross if he would consider giving a presentation at MADD’s Victim Assistance Training Institute (VATI) in Las Colinas. VATIs are week-long schools for MADD volunteers who want to become victim advocates. Since the early 1990′s, MADD has invited Tarrant County prosecutors to give presentations about the handling of DWI and intoxication manslaughter cases.

“I was not aware of Josh’s friend,” Alpert said. “I asked him to do it because I liked and respected him and I perceived that he had a commitment to this issue.”

Joshua Ross Speaks at MADD's Victim Assistance Training Institute

ADA Joshua Ross Speaks at MADD’s Victim Assistance Training Institute

It proved to be a perfect fit. For the past seven years, Ross has spoken at numerous VATIs. Not only does he educate participants about the law and the prosecution of intoxication manslaughter cases, but he talks about Levin and the drunk driver who killed him. Recently, Ross wrote a letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice opposing the parole of My Nguyen, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for Levin and Healy’s death.

“I’ve seen the devastation this crime causes to the families of the victims in both my work and my personal life,” Ross said.

Several years ago, Ross said he was taken aback when he looked out into the audience during a VATI presentation and saw Levin’s older brother, who was training to become a victim advocate for MADD.

“It was bittersweet,” Ross said. “It was a surreal experience to see Todd’s older brother sitting there.”

Ross said he was honored to know Todd Levin and says he’s a better man for it. He believes MADD’s education campaigns can make a difference, which is why he continues to be part of them.

“At the end of the day if you feel like the world is a better place, then it makes what you are doing worth it,” he said. “That is how I approach it. Todd, his family, friends, and everyone else that was affected by his life is the reason that I’m doing this.”

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 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.

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  FREEZIN’ FOR A REASON

They traded in their suits for jammies, ditched the courtroom for an inner tube – and braved the frigid water for a good  cause.

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!

Polar Plunge from Tarrant County DA on Vimeo.

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 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.

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STOMPING OUT DRUNK DRIVING

Some members of Team “No Refusal”

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.

Not anymore.

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.

Mayor Betsy Price speaks before the event

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.”

2012 MADD Walk, Team “No Refusal”

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TARRANT CELEBRATES NATIONAL NIGHT OUT 

ADA Theresa Austin (in bright purple) visits with members of Arlington PD and a UTA faculty member

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.

ADA Art Clayton with Fort Worth PD

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.

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20,000 SPAGHETTI DINNERS DONATED

Talk about a Spaghetti Warehouse.

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.

Tarrant employees donate more than $25,000 worth of spaghetti dinners

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RUNNING WITH THE RIGHT CROWD

DA Joe Shannon crosses the finish line

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.

One of the youngest supporters

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.”

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 CHILI COOKIN’ FOR A GOOD CAUSE

Marty Purselly, Colin McLaughlin, Jim Gibson, Kelly Willis, Shelly Messerli, Chloe Allen

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 Chili Chicks: Christy, Melinda, Nelda, Alicia

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 Celebrity Judges & The Winning Team

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.

Mayor Price and Ashlea Deener

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.

Kane Lanier enjoys the petting zoo


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!

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 FIGHTING FOR BABY EUPHRATES

Michael Foster

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.

Lindsey Dula, Kevin Boneberg, Kim D’Avignon

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MOCK TRIAL EXPOSES KIDS TO LEGAL PROFESSION 

Kendre Henderson, aka Ron Boar, tells the jury how the Big Bad Wolfe at the pigs

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.

No deliberation was necessary: the jury’s verdict was unanimous

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FREEZIN’  FOR A REASON 

ADA Sherry Armstrong takes the Polar Plunge

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.”

2011 Jumpin’ for Jack Team

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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.

Shari Stephens, Susan Greer and Trish Stegall sell burritos to benefit Food Bank

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 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.

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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.

ADA Richard Alpert

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 janetbarnett@tarrantcounty.com

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TAKING IT TO THE STREETS 

Joe Shannon, Robin Dettmer, Carolyn Poirot

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.