By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
What began as an old-fashioned family feud in JP court culminated last week in U.S. District Court when jurors found that controversial Oak Cliff Justice of the Peace Thomas G. Jones conspired with Oak Cliff funeral operator Sandra Clark to arrest Inez Clark without probable cause.
Although the jury only awarded Inez Clark slap-on-the-wrist damages of $25, and Judge Barefoot Sanders dismissed the civil rights case against Jones after he pleaded judicial immunity, jurors still believed that Jones used the authority of his office to engage in a conspiracy to deprive Inez of her civil rights. The verdict seemed paltry, but the victory, says Inez, vindicated a principle that she had been zealously fighting for since 1995.
"I really don't want the woman's money," claims Inez. "My whole issue was that [Sandra] dragged me through the courts for no reason at all...You don't make false allegations against people because you don't like them."
Dallas Observer readers may recall a series of articles that appeared in the summer of 1995 detailing the exploits of an out-of-control JP and the people who suffered from his abuse of authority. Among the allegations that surfaced against Jones were that he had a tendency to wrongfully arrest some people, while summoning others to his court when they had no cases filed against them. He improperly held mass truancy hearings in South Dallas schools and heard criminal cases that arose outside his jurisdiction. But it was his entanglement in the Clark family drama that nearly led to his undoing.
Sandra Clark, who declined to be interviewed for this story, is the ex-wife of longtime Dallas funeral director Nat Clark. Inez is his present wife. Nat and Inez own and operate the Clark Manor Funeral Home, a stone's throw from the funeral home that Nat and Sandra once owned and operated together (now called the Sandra Clark Funeral Home and Flower Shop). The two women grew to hate each other, largely because of a bitter child-support battle between Nat and Sandra that dragged on throughout the early '90s. "[Sandra] didn't take too kindly to the fact that a man walked away from her, left millions of dollars, and just said, 'To hell with you,'" claims Inez.
Yet on September 19, 1994, calmer heads seemed to prevail when Nat and Sandra settled their differences without going to trial. Nat agreed to pay $350 a month for the support of their two minor children.
But that same afternoon, two Dallas County deputy constables arrived at the Clark Manor Funeral Home armed with an arrest warrant for Inez. Judge Jones had issued the warrant, which alleged that Inez had threatened to harm Sandra Clark and her property. A perplexed Inez was placed in a squad car and immediately taken before Judge Jones. Sandra Clark had come to Jones' court about an hour earlier, seeking a peace bond against Inez--a judicial remedy akin to a restraining order. JPs do have the authority to issue peace bond warrants, but only if there is an immediate threat to someone's person or property--and that was not the case here.
In her complaint, Sandra alleged that she had received a phone call from the director leasing her funeral home who "telephoned me...to inform me that Mildred Inez Clark had been on my property several times, taking pictures and discussing incorrect information concerning my property."
Inez says that she did go to the funeral home on one occasion, but only to take photographs in connection with the child support case so the judge might see that Sandra earned enough money to support her sons. Besides, Inez took them from the sidewalk, she claims, and never trespassed.
Although Jones placed Inez under a peace bond and released her immediately, Inez felt she had been illegally arrested and took the matter up with just about anyone who would listen. She went to the Dallas District Attorney's Office and asked that Jones be indicted for official oppression; she added her complaint to the others filed against Jones with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct; she went to the FBI and the Commissioners Court, and sued both Jones and Sandra Clark in federal court.
In March 1995, a grand jury, considering the official oppression charge, heard Jones testify that Inez was laboring under a big misunderstanding: He had not issued an arrest warrant at all, but had only summoned her to his court. Conflicting testimony, however, from the arresting constable and Jones' clerk supported that Inez had, in fact, been arrested.
Inez suspected that the judge's true motive for having her arrested was his desire to help Sandra, who she claimed was the judge's friend. Jones swore under oath that he did not even know Sandra Clark before she appeared before him. However, Jones' own clerk, Gloria McMahon, would later testify that Jones' wife and Sandra Clark were old acquaintances from their days at Bishop College.
In 1995, when Jones was interviewed by the Observer, he claimed that Sandra had told him that Inez might harm her or her property. But, in the same article, Sandra denied Jones' account of their conversation. "No one said she was going to kill me. No one said she was going to beat me up. We didn't say that. I didn't want her arrested. I just wanted a restraining order."