By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
It was a disappointment, as far as protests go. Animal rights activist Lydia Nichols had sent out a press release promising a "major disruption that could get confrontational" outside the downtown Neiman Marcus on September 27, 1997. But the media didn't show up, and neither did the protesters--save for her, her boyfriend, and two other anti-fur activists. So much for spoiling Neiman Marcus' 90th anniversary celebration, when the luxury retailer, buoyed by the comeback of fur in the fashion world, was promoting "90 furs for 90 years."
Undaunted by the turnout, the small group passed out leaflets bearing the photo of a wet, puppy-faced fox, and the message, "Neiman Marcus doesn't want you to know that animals are gassed, anally electrocuted and even have their necks broken so they can fill their stores with fur-trimmed coats."
At 28, Nichols, standing only 5 feet 4 inches and looking gaunt at 115 pounds, handed out flyers to Neiman's Saturday shoppers, most of whom politely accepted but otherwise paid scant attention to the piece of paper. Monitoring the situation for Neiman's was its head of security--Rodney Lewis, a well-coifed man in plainclothes who weighed in at a hefty 230 pounds. As he sat in a chair observing the spectacle, he occasionally chitchatted with Nichols, seemingly friendly and at times even curious about her devout vegetarianism.
J.P. Goodwin, Nichols' boyfriend, stood nearby but kept his distance. A lanky 25-year-old with a crewcut, Goodwin first encountered security chief Lewis while leafleting Neiman's at a demonstration a few weeks earlier. At the time, Goodwin had waxed bombastic about owning the sidewalk with his tax dollars and how his forefathers had died for his First Amendment rights.
But this time, when Goodwin took off to put more money in the parking meter--as Lydia Nichols tells it--Lewis suddenly changed his tone toward her.
"Has anyone ever been hurt during a protest?" she recalls him asking. "If anyone comes into my store, somebody's going to get hurt."
Nichols says she felt threatened, and when her boyfriend returned, she told him it was time to leave. As they crossed the street, she heard Lewis shouting out, "Lydia! Lydia!" Several fast paces later, she said to Goodwin, "I think there's someone following us."
It was Bernard Tonquest, another Neiman's security guard. The couple say they stopped and pleaded for him to leave them alone. After some discussion, she recalls Tonquest saying, "OK, I guess I can tell my boss you got on the train and lost me," and he turned back toward the store.
As she and Goodwin got into her car, they noticed Rodney Lewis driving off in a Jeep Cherokee. Somehow she ended up behind him at a red light on Akard and Elm streets, three blocks away from Neiman's. Clearly upset by Lewis' presence, Nichols got out of her car and knocked on his car window, which he rolled down.
"Why do you keep following us?" she asked. Next to Lewis sat Kim D'Angelo, Neiman Marcus' department manager for sportswear. She was holding a piece of paper with Nichols' license plate number. Although Lewis would later claim that Nichols hit him repeatedly on the chest, Nichols says she only told him, "Hey, I want my license plate number back," and reached into the Cherokee to grab the paper. Then, she says, Lewis rolled up the window, trapping her hand, which was jolted loose when he opened his door.
"He got out of the car and punched her in the face and choked her and slammed her to the ground and kicked her," recalls boyfriend Goodwin, who, in response, got out of her car brandishing a hammer. Lewis had called someone on his radio, and before Goodwin could take a swing, Bernard Tonquest came sprinting from around the corner and tackled Goodwin. "We wrestled for a long time," Goodwin says.
"I wasn't sure what was happening--I was blacking out," Nichols says. "I just remember telling J.P., 'I can't breathe.'"
When Dallas police arrived, a semi-conscious Nichols was on the ground with red handprints on her neck, bruises on her ribs, and three lumps on the back of her head. Goodwin also lay on the ground injured, and had been handcuffed by one of the two security guards involved in the scuffle. Lewis was standing near the cars, and a woman from Neiman's brought him some bottled water.
Nichols refused treatment from the paramedics at first. But 20 minutes later, she felt as if she were about to pass out, and the ambulance returned, transporting her to Baylor hospital, where she was diagnosed with a concussion. Police interviewed several witnesses waiting at the nearby DART rail stop. After three said they would testify that the man in the suit and tie assaulted Nichols and beat her severely, police arrested Lewis at the scene.
The September street brawl made Dallas an overnight hotspot on the anti-fur map of America. Previously, the only notable occurrence here happened when an activist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) threw a pie into the face of designer Oscar de la Renta at a charity fashion show in 1996. But now, the animal rights contingent has found itself a new enemy, and Neiman Marcus has found itself on the front lines of a war that only seems to be growing more virulent as the fashion industry embraces the fur trade for the first time in several decades, unfettered by what might have once been considered politically incorrect.
After the incident, Rodney Lewis kept his job and faced no disciplinary action, as Neiman's denied any wrongdoing. The legendary retailer, of course, wanted to keep things quiet. "There is no story here," says Kelly Patrick, a Neiman Marcus spokeswoman. "We have no comment. We don't want to talk about this. There really is no story here." Other Neiman's employees, including Lewis, were instructed not to talk about the incident. The company has been trying to deal with the problem through the justice system and has portrayed Nichols as a radical terrorist with a history of confrontational tactics and civil disobedience. What Neiman Marcus doesn't seem to realize is that it is also making her a martyr in her own movement.
An underground militant group calling itself the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) first grabbed headlines for the animal rights movement in the 1970s by using vandalism and violent tactics to draw attention to its crusade. Activists set fire to seal-hunting boats and broke into university laboratories, destroying documents and freeing lab mice. They shocked fur sellers when they bombed a Harrod's department store in England. Reportedly opposed to physical violence, they were nonetheless willing to inflict any kind of economic pain on people and businesses who they believed were abusing animals.
In the 1980s, ALF began shooting out store windows and throwing paint on fur racks as well as people who were simply walking down the street wearing fur. In 1984, ALF raided and trashed a lab at the University of Pennsylvania. Some of the public seemed to forgive the group's tactics when the evening news aired videos stolen from the lab showing researchers crushing the heads of baboons with concrete blocks and running blow torches across the skin of live pigs. More mainstream animal rights groups such as PETA often got behind ALF--seldom employing ALF's more extreme tactics, but certainly publicizing them. In 1989, the FBI added the ALF to its list of terrorist organizations.
By the late 1980s, the fur business was dying. Some industry analysts choose to believe the economy was the real culprit: People won't spend $5,000 on a full-length mink coat when they're worried about job security. But in more ecologically minded times, where species are suddenly endangered and animals seem to have the same rights as people, it not only became unfashionable to wear fur, it was viewed as downright unethical. And for the fur ranchers and retailers--at risk of having ALF operatives let loose their livestock or vandalize their businesses--fur became unprofitable. "We had to quit the business," says one former furrier who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. "The customers got scared. The animal rights people are so fanatical. They killed the business all around the world."
But by helping furs go out of fashion, anti-fur protesters lost their cause. "No one had any real focus," J.P. Goodwin says. "People were just taking on small, individual incidents of animal abuse." Some got into supporting high school students who didn't want to dissect animals, while others tried to limit the expansion of hunting grounds.
Only in the last three years has fur begun to make a comeback. An aggressive marketing campaign by the fur industry has helped convince designers and consumers alike that fur is acceptable again. The Fur Information Council of America has joined forces with the Fur Council of Canada to produce school material carrying the message that fur is natural, that the species are not endangered, and that animals are killed humanely. Vogue magazine says its fur ads are at a 10-year high. Even supermodel Naomi Campbell, who once posed nude for an ad that read, "I'd rather go naked than wear fur," strolled down a runway last year in a sable-lined coat.
Just lastmonth, The New York Times ran a story about the resurgence, quoting a Neiman Marcus fashion executive who said, "Young designers...have blown a fresh wind through the fur world, not only bringing in younger customers, but also inspiring older designers to look at fur from a fresh viewpoint." She lauded new fur designs for next fall--incorporating fur into blazers, jackets, cardigans, and vests--less expensive "ready-to-wear" apparel.
The fur renaissance has both alarmed and galvanized animal rights groups in this country. ALF once again began burglarizing mink farms and liberating the livestock, allowing millions of dollars worth of minks to escape into the woods. In 1993, its members tossed battery acid and paper-bag bombs into the Chicago outlets of Marshall Field's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus. Last year they attacked a Syracuse furrier's house, smashing windows and spray-painting walls. Many of the approximately 400 animal rights groups in the United States, each with its own acronym, are trying to find a way to make their organizations as visible as their ALF predecessors.
Most of these groups are small, consisting of a couple of leaders and a handful of volunteers. About a dozen such grass-roots organizations exist in Texas today, with four headquartered in Dallas. Some are splinter groups that formed during the fur-lull five to 10 years ago, while activists were disagreeing on how to get out their message. Thus, fur retailers have had a difficult time figuring out who the true leaders of the movement are, which makes the ever-shifting animal rights fronts a bit more dangerous--since any crackpot with a website and a can of paint can organize trouble.
"Now they will do anything they can to get publicity," says Sandy Parker, publisher of the Sandy Parker Report, a furrier trade journal. "They are people who need to get noticed."
Animal Liberation of Texas (ALT), which is headed by Lydia Nichols, and Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade (CAFT), which is led by Nichols' boyfriend J.P. Goodwin, share the same headquarters--the small, secluded one-bedroom apartment in northeast Dallas where the couple lives. Nichols pays the rent, Goodwin pays the utility bills. CAFT is in the corner of the living room; ALT is 25 feet away in the corner of the bedroom. Here, on two computers, the two zealots churn out their press releases and propaganda-toned logs of life in the animal rights movement. Nichols has a full-time job as an executive secretary for a commercial real-estate company, but spends 30 hours a week running the business of her non-profit organization--writing newsletters, brochures, and press releases, keeping track of donations, and rallying her troops who, she claims, number more than 250 members. She says only 10 percent of her efforts are dedicated to actual protesting.
ALT's mission is front-line action. CAFT, on the other hand, focuses on developing the animal rights cause itself, helping small groups throughout the country organize and network. Goodwin does animal rights work full time, living off the largesse of contributions to his cause made by a handful of CAFT's 450 volunteers.
Next to Goodwin's particle-board desk are 12 neatly stacked milk crates of files and a small wastebasket with a shredder attached to it. The fax machine doubles as a copier. On the desk are copies of Fur World magazine and some books, one titled The Road to Victory: The complete guide to winning political campaigns. Another is a cookbook: Diet for a New America. Nichols and Goodwin maintain a strict "vegan" lifestyle: Not only do they not eat meat, dairy, or egg products, but there are no animal products whatsoever in their home--no leather goods, furniture, or clothes--fake leather shoes are as close as they come.
The couple have a caller ID box on both phone lines. "We started getting lots of hang-ups from Neiman Marcus," Goodwin claims. On the coffee table are pictures of his chest and face, scraped and bloodied during a protest--all in a day's work. They have a pet--a three-legged chinchilla named Libby. Chinchilla rodents are bred for their softer-than-silk pelts and are being showcased on the runways of Paris and New York.
Goodwin got involved in animal rights during high school in Memphis. At the time, his issue was music censorship. In 1989 he went to Oxford, Mississippi, to see a punk band called Dead Silence. The group had an animal rights agenda and passed out literature that convinced him that humans are herbivores, not the carnivores we are socialized to be. Two years later, using the $1,000 that his grandmother promised each of her grandchildren who never touched cigarettes, he went to Wisconsin for a mink farming convention. Posing as an aspiring mink farmer, he got all sorts of information that he then distributed to various animal rights organizations. He founded CAFT in 1994 to teach organizational skills to fledgling activist groups.
Lydia Nichols was always an animal lover, living on the rural outskirts of Houston with snakes, rats, hamsters, rabbits, cats, even an owl as pets. But it was as a college student that she became involved in animal rights--after watching the notorious Faces of Death video, where she saw for the first time how beef was farmed and heard the wails of cattle being led to slaughter. The next day she was eating a cheeseburger when those bovine moans began to haunt her. It reminded her of the time she was eight and witnessed a neighbor shooting a stray dog. "He kept shooting him and shooting him and he wouldn't die," she says. She then joined a campus animal rights group, where she was horrified to learn the methods used to kill animals. "These animals live in horrible conditions. They have their necks broken. They are in pain--for the sole purpose of fashion. There is no justification for it."
Nichols met Goodwin at an animal rights conference in Washington D.C. almost three years ago. Shortly afterward, Goodwin moved CAFT out of his parents' house in Memphis and relocated to Dallas so he could be with Nichols. It was 1996 when they first got arrested together, during a campaign against Macy's, for handcuffing themselves to the store doors while chanting anti-fur slogans--"Boycott Macy's! Fur is dead!" They saw it as successful civil disobedience, since soon afterward Macy's shut down all 15 of its fur salons west of the Mississippi River. Macy's dismisses any correlation between the protests and what they call a regional business decision, but Nichols and Goodwin claim it as their greatest victory to date.
The Macy's protests were organized by TEAR--Texas Establishment for Animal Rights--a group from which Nichols broke off to form ALT. She wanted fewer meetings and congressional letter-writing campaigns and more protests in the streets. Regardless of the acronym, the four animal rights organizations headquartered in Dallas (ALT, TEAR, CAFT, and ACT--the Animal Coalition of Texas) all work together. Goodwin says there are about 150 animal rights activists in Dallas, about 25 of whom are serious about the cause.
CAFT has grown into an international operation, with 10 chapters in cities from San Diego to Atlanta to Boston to London. "My goal is to become more involved on the political level, to create an animal rights interest group that operates like the NRA [National Rifle Association]," Goodwin says. "I want CAFT to have influence on elections and basically to say animal rights is something you don't want to mess with." Though CAFT has grown rapidly, and though Goodwin has become a more prolific activist since his girlfriend got beat up, his business is still small-time. Tax records indicate the group took in less than $25,000 last year, $11,000 of which went for his personal expenses. Goodwin also designs T-shirts for his cohorts, such as the one that says "Furs are Lethal Luxuries" in a red, dripping-blood font.
In addition to coordinating protest actions among 50 animal rights groups and spreading information about the movement, Goodwin trains CAFT volunteers on legal matters regarding civil disobedience. Anti-fur advocates tend to wear their arrests like Purple Hearts, and he teaches them what they can do to ensure that the police will cart them away from a protest--blocking a store doorway or driveway, refusing to leave the store's premises after being asked. But Goodwin says that recently he has noticed some overzealousness on the part of police and security officers. "CAFT is finding the same thing happening around the country that happens in Dallas whenever they protest Neiman's," Goodwin claims. Protesters simply standing in picket lines are being snagged and thrown into paddy wagons along with those who plan on getting arrested.
Two days after the September incident with Neiman's, Nichols became Goodwin's cause celebre, and he milked her alleged assault for all the propaganda value he could. He sent out a press release, and KRLD-AM, in turn, ran a story about Rodney Lewis' arrest. Goodwin posted news of it on his website and sent an e-mail account of the fight to 150 animal rights leaders across the country, encouraging them to focus their attention on Neiman Marcus. Anti-fur contingents in San Diego, Minneapolis, and Washington D.C. began weekly protests outside Neiman's stores there. And in Beverly Hills, an animal rights group redirected a campaign aimed at Bloomingdale's to target Neiman Marcus. For Lydia Nichols and J.P. Goodwin, the local institution had become the incarnation of evil they were seeking to further their crusade.
Fort Worth attorney Don Feare learned of the September skirmish between Nichols and Lewis on KRLD and contacted Nichols by phone. She and Goodwin had heard of him, most likely from his work with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, so they met with him at his office. After discussing details of the skirmish, Feare agreed to file a civil suit against Neiman's, attempting to force the retailer to compensate her for damages--both actual and punitive.
Feare, who lives on a wildlife refuge for waterfowl in an unincorporated nook of southern Tarrant County, wrote a letter to Gerald Sampson, president and CEO of Neiman Marcus. In it, he recounts the incident and some of the conclusions Feare had reached. "Rod Lewis...was assisted in this attack by another man who previously informed my clients that your store had paid him to follow them," read the letter. "The persons who attacked my clients were acting in their capacity as employees of your company." Left unstated was the fact that any physical contact Lydia might have initiated against Lewis was insignificant when measured against the violent behavior of someone twice her size.
Last October 1, Nichols and Goodwin met with detective Evelyn Mayfield, a Dallas police liaison between protest groups and their targets. They discussed the assault case with her, as well as their concerns about their cars being broken into at other protests. Goodwin showed the detective a small foam microphone cover that he claimed he'd found in his car; he believed someone was trying to plant a bug. Mayfield said she would inform Neiman Marcus that the protesting would continue, and she promised Nichols that Dallas police officers would be present to monitor the events. Nichols gave her a schedule which included an ALT protest outside Neiman Marcus just about every week. The group also left room for an occasional demonstration against someone else--Kroger grocery stores, for example, which was targeted for refusing to only sell dolphin-free tuna.
Figuring she had nothing to hide, Nichols also volunteered to take a lie detector test. On October 28, she went to police headquarters and sat in the room next to the machine. For an hour before getting polygraphed, she says, an officer grilled her with questions. Did you punch Rodney Lewis? She said no. Have you ever hurt a member of your family? The questions seemed odd to her. "I didn't know what they meant," she says today. "The only time I ever hit someone was my brother when I was five." Have you ever been in a physical confrontation? When she said no, she was asked, "Isn't that what you do? Have you ever been confrontational with someone at a protest?"
"Of course we're confrontational," Nichols says, "but I don't think we mean it the same way they were asking. When we say 'confrontation' or 'disturbance' in a press release, we say it to get the media's attention. We don't believe in violence."
When she was finally hooked up to the lie detector, she was asked the same questions she'd just answered. Detective Latonya Kennedy, the DPD officer investigating the assault, watched through a window. After the test was over, the examiner told Nichols to sit in the lobby. Kennedy emerged, and according to Nichols, said, "From the test, we believe you're being deceitful."
Nichols threw a fit. "How dare you call me deceitful when I didn't lie! Screw you!" She then stomped out of the police station. Although Goodwin says he later phoned to volunteer for a lie detector test himself, the police weren't interested.
On November 21, the case was presented to a Dallas County grand jury, a procedure generally reserved for felonies rather than the misdemeanor assault with which Rodney Lewis was charged. As Nichols sat alone in the witness room--with no lawyer or boyfriend beside her--she had no idea what she was about to face. Most of the questions, she says, were not directed at the events of September 27, 1997. The grand jury, instead, asked a lot about the organization she heads, Animal Liberation of Texas, and the one Goodwin leads, Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade. The jurors wanted to know if there was any connection between those groups and the Animal Liberation Front, the controversial organization that crosses the line from civil disobedience to criminal violence.
They asked her about Utah, where earlier in the year an activist firebombed a fur-breeding co-op, sparking a blaze that burned for five hours and did more than $1 million in damage. They read to her some explosive rhetoric pulled from her newsletters and Goodwin's website. They pointed out that she and her boyfriend have encouraged support for everything from spray-paint vandalism to illegal mink emancipations to window smashing. And they wanted to know why CAFT published the communique from the person claiming responsibility for the Utah firebombing. To Nichols, it seemed clear that the grand jury was investigating her, not any criminal case where she was the victim.
As Nichols remembers it, one grand juror said, "You look like you're fine now." She was asked about being arrested at demonstrations against Macy's in 1996, and about initially refusing medical attention after the altercation with Lewis. ("I was worried about my car in the middle of the road because J.P. can't drive a stick," she explains.) And one person, she says, asked her, "Did you fail a lie detector test?"
No further questions.
The hostile examination continued for about an hour. None of the DART-stop witnesses were present. Police said they couldn't find them or that they refused to cooperate and give affidavits. But one of the witnesses, Terrence Duty, a fraud investigator for a credit card company, tells a different story. A female detective did contact him a couple days after the incident, he says, and asked him to give a statement. But he and the detective had a scheduling conflict, and that was the last he heard from her. Duty, speaking from the lobby of the office building where he works--just four blocks away from DPD headquarters--says he and the other witnesses were all concerned about the woman. "He was smacking the shit out of her. She was a helpless female. He kicked her and he pushed her and he was on top of her. It was clear from where we were standing."
The arresting officers were not there to testify. Lewis ended up getting no-billed, meaning at least nine of the 12 grand jurors agreed there wasn't probable cause to send him to trial for sending Nichols to the hospital.
One week after the grand jury hearing, Nichols was arrested outside Neiman Marcus at an event called Fur Free Friday. She was serving as the local coordinator for the annual nationwide anti-fur protest on the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year. Neiman's was the main target--in Dallas and around the United States. This time, plenty of protesters showed up--nearly 50 men and women carrying signs and banners and chanting through megaphones. "Forty dead animals, one fur coat!...How'd you kill your fur today? Gassing, trapping, anal electrocution!"
About 20 minutes into the protest, a van pulled up, and five ALT members jumped out, locking their arms together in metal pipes that were secured with chains. They created a human barricade in front of the Neiman's entrance. More than a dozen cops showed up within minutes. Police tried for nearly an hour to figure out how to undue the pipe contraption before picking up the entire line of people and sliding them away from the door--stirring the other protesters into a vocal frenzy.
That's when Nichols and Goodwin say they got nabbed from behind--placed under arrest, they would later be told, for interfering with a police officer. As Goodwin was seized by an officer, he used a civil disobedience tactic that he learned at a workshop in 1995, and went limp as officers tried to carry him away. He says the police threw him to the ground and stepped on his face as they handcuffed him--and he was later treated at the jail hospital for scrapes and bruises. A video of the protest shows Nichols being grabbed by an officer, then dragged on the sidewalk as she screams for help.
During the melee, Rodney Lewis stood stoically in the doorway; two off-duty cops were beside him. Channels 4, 5, and 8 were all rolling tape for a story that would precede an evening news feature about the opening day of the Christmas shopping season. CNN also picked up the protest story, which only made the demonstration that much more effective in the eyes of Nichols and Goodwin.
The following week, Nichols received a piece of mail from the Dallas Police Department. It was a criminal complaint alleging that on September 27, Lydia banged on Rodney Lewis' car window in an attempt to break it and "started punching [him] on the upper part of his body with a closed fist," which caused him "minor discomfort." Apparently, Rodney Lewis was now pressing assault charges against her.
On May 18, 115-pound Lydia Nichols had to face the criminal charge of assaulting 230-pound Rodney Lewis. Nichols sat with Goodwin in the front row of Municipal Court No. 2. In the back row was Lewis, flanked by Bernard Tonquest and Kim D'Angelo, all three dressed in stylish business attire.
Judge Victor Ortiz, a Montel Williams lookalike, explained his no-nonsense approach and let people know they couldn't plead stupidity in his courtroom. When he called his docket and acknowledged Nichols and Lewis, he said under his breath but into the microphone, "Now there's a match."
Don Feare sat at the tables in front of the court, chatting with an assistant city attorney, who, during a recess, informed Lewis that he would be filing a motion to delay the trial. The prosecutor wanted more information before trying to prove Nichols guilty of simple assault, which would carry a fine of up to $500. He first wanted to talk to police and some witnesses before presenting the case to a jury. Feare was happy to let the case wait, because he had been trying unsuccessfully to get police to supply him with a list of witnesses.
Witness Terrance Duty would gladly recount what he told the officers who arrested Lewis--if only he were asked. "She did not assault him. That's not true," Duty says. "She touched his vehicle. But she did not touch him. She tapped on the glass. She definitely just tapped. She was just trying to get his attention. He got out of his car and started beating on her."
Paramedic Ray Padilla, who treated Nichols at the scene, would also give his impressions of the incident if asked. "I had a gut feeling this was one of those cases, one of those you know is going to end up in court," Padilla says. "It seemed so weird that this security guy is following people away from Neiman Marcus. And he's acting so cocky...cocky enough to tell police, 'I'm not worried, I know people downtown.' He seemed to think he was in the right, but I haven't figured out how."
Nichols and Goodwin, as well as a protester who videotaped the demonstration on Fur Free Friday, were in court again last week, this time on charges of interfering with a police officer. In front of the same judge who'd dismissed charges against them once before and saw them acquitted another time, the couple faced potential jail sentences. A Neiman Marcus security guard showed up with the store's own videotape of the demonstration and arrests.
The lawyers and judge watched the tape, which, according to Nichols' defense attorney, Randy Turner, "...shows clearly that [the protester with the video camera] was doing nothing wrong. You see her simply filming the police and then getting grabbed from behind and handcuffed. But they won't dismiss the case. Why? Because of tremendous political pressure from Neiman's."
When Turner and assistant district attorney John Gussio (who did not return phone calls regarding this story) tried to work out a plea bargain, Turner says he was astounded by the role the Neiman Marcus representative was playing. "The DA said let me go ask Neiman's. He shuttled back and forth between the defendants' lawyers and the Neiman Marcus person. What does that say? Technically, the victim in this case is the Dallas Police Department, but they weren't being consulted...The prosecutor told me that Neiman's goal is to put an end to all this stuff in front of their store, and that they wanted to get both J.P. and Lydia because they are the ringleaders."
The case was reset for a later trial date.
The two police officers who arrested Lewis--and allegedly told witnesses and paramedics that Lewis was at fault and that they were getting irritated with his cocky attitude--did not return phone calls for this story. Detective Kennedy, who was assigned to investigate the case, referred all questions to Sgt. Ken Sprecher, who was not available for comment.
Although Rodney Lewis no longer works at Neiman Marcus, he did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. Tonquest became the downtown store's new loss prevention manager until last week, when he was moved to a new position. The former security guard is now an assistant in the cosmetics buying department.
Neiman Marcus continues to have no comment on the matter. All questions were referred to one PR person, who passed them on to another PR person, who referred them to the company's attorney, who referred them back to the second PR person.
"This is not the Stanley Marcus method of doing business," says attorney Don Feare. "This is sordid conduct that never would have been approved of in the old days. She was beaten to a pulp simply because she is who she is. Apparently, Neiman's is saying it is OK for their employees to follow someone off premises and then do with them as they may."
Settlement negotiations broke down with Neiman's last December (Neiman's attorney cites Lewis' no bill, his passing a polygraph test, Nichols' arrest record, and her activism for denying liability), so last week, Feare filed a six-figure civil suit against Neiman Marcus. He says he is looking forward to finally getting some answers.
"[Lewis] was acting on store business. I want to know what was he going to do with that license number? What you obtain from a license number is a home address. One has to question what Neiman Marcus would want with that information. I can only assume it was not to send her a credit card.