Dallas police charged District 1 City Councilman Scott Griggs, who represents most of north Oak Cliff, with a third-degree felony late Friday after he was accused of yelling at and threatening a city staffer.
It all comes down to the blasted Trinity toll road, of which Griggs is a vocal and staunch opponent. He famously coined it the worst “boondoggle” in Dallas history.
The mayor was set to brief City Council on a report from the “dream team” of planners and public relations men, whom he hired to rework plans for the Trinity toll road, on April 16. So Griggs was dogging the City Secretary’s office to make sure they were following open meetings laws, which require agendas to be released at least 72 hours before a public meeting.
That’s where our drama begins.
The alleged incident occurred April 13, when Bilirae Johnson, who works in the city secretary’s office, says Griggs threatened to harm her when she was attempting to publish meeting materials related to the Trinity toll road. Her complaint, filed eight days after the alleged incident, says Griggs said to her, “You better not push those briefing materials out, or I will break your [expletive] fingers.”
No one else evidently heard the threat, and no video or audio of it has come out.
Later, another staffer complained to police that she overheard Griggs screaming at Johnson over the phone, when Johnson says Griggs yelled “this is bullshit.”
There is something very basic here that does not add up.
The meeting materials were time stamped 12:39 p.m., which the Dallas Morning News reports was shortly before the alleged Griggs blowup. He is being charged with coercion of a public servant, which is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. If the meeting materials were published before the blowup, and 72 hours in advance of the April 16 meeting, what was coerced?
The law says it is illegal to influence or attempt to influence a public servant to violate his or her legal duty. As the Observer said, the law “doesn’t say you can’t shout and use bad language.”
On Saturday, City Councilman Philip Kingston and other supporters held a press conference for Griggs, who is running unopposed in the May 9 election. It was revealed that Griggs had submitted to and passed a polygraph test related to the accusations. As the Observer put it, giving proof to his cause “Maury style.”
The Dallas Morning News has put out two editorials on the case. One says that Griggs doesn’t seem like a guy who would threaten to break someone’s fingers, but even if he did, is that really enough for a felony charge? The other suggests that the evidence out there so far doesn’t seem likely to hold up to a grand jury. Both editorials point out that Tennell Atkins was caught putting his hands on a staff member, and he was charged with a class c misdemeanor.
The next step would be for the case to go before a grand jury, which will decide whether there is probable cause to formally charge Griggs in an indictment.
Some supporters have started a petition at change.org asking Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk to decline to present the case to a grand jury, which would kill it.
The petition states: “Scott Griggs is our champion of transparency and accountability and the very embodiment of integrity. Do not allow your office to be used by his political enemies to silence an essential voice against corruption and for the people.”