By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Reagan and his family lost that war as a judge ordered the supposed civil rights activist to have nothing more to do with Wildenthal or UT Southwestern. But from the rubbles of this rogue protest Reagan and the Black State Employees Association inexplicably became players in southern sector politics and development. Over the years, Reagan would be party to nearly 10 more lawsuits. Just this past fall, in addition to his federal indictment, Reagan was ordered to pay a $200,000 judgment to a bank after a shopping plaza that he helped develop went bankrupt. Now Reagan claims that he can't afford a lawyer to defend himself against the federal indictment.
Shaw, a longtime journalist in Dallas, lost a lawsuit to Reagan after writing a column alleging that he shook down developers in 1999. Seemingly vindicated by the spirit of the indictment, Shaw says that Hill should have known better than to have anything to do with someone like Reagan.
"You would think a guy running for mayor, a guy who was touted as the next mayor of Dallas, a guy who trended out in early polls as neck and neck with Laura Miller, you would think someone like Hill would not involve himself with Reagan," Shaw says.
Shaw, 57, can't seem to come to terms with how his friend could be so foolish. This was a guy he knew for years, talked politics with over dinner at his home and could criticize in print without worrying whether Hill would take it personally. Now Hill's on the cusp of ruin, Shaw believes, because of his bad choice of cronies.
"What hurts Don in the black community more than any FBI investigation or any tapes was his association with Darren Reagan," he adds. "We were prepared to go to the mat for Don, but his association with Reagan has given a lot of us some pause."
Still, Shaw says that many of his neighbors date the change in Hill's behavior to the arrival of Sheila Hill. By that accounting of Hill's fall from grace, it was the new, younger woman who introduced Hill to a new set of friends and a new way of life. Hill married her within a year of divorcing his first wife.
"I don't want to give the impression this woman has done something wrong, but there is a lot of negativity out there about the influence she had on Don Hill," Shaw says. "I don't know if it's true, but it's certainly out there."
Culbreath seems to hint that Sheila Hill, or someone else, is responsible for her friend's change in behavior.
"I think somebody introduced Don to a new way of living," she says. "And I'm not going to say who."
When Hill divorced his first wife, he elicited relentless gossip and stinging rebukes in the churchgoing circles of black Dallas. Even Hill's former law partner, Don Hicks, obliquely criticized Hill's marital conduct at a mayoral forum at Friendship West Baptist Church. Others, meanwhile, seemed eager to shift the blame to the new wife, a smart, attractive woman who developed a reputation for targeting men of status.
"She's attracted to power and money," says Ed Okpa, the former mayoral candidate who attended the Hills' wedding. "I'm not saying she's a gold digger, but if you have those two things, she'll give you attention."
Speaking with Sheila Hill, you wouldn't guess both she and her husband face a federal trial that could send them both to prison. Although she declined to talk about the specifics of the case against her, she bristles at the thought that she had any type of wrongful influence on her husband.
"Don Hill, my husband, my wonderful husband, is an extremely intelligent and accomplished attorney. He is an outstanding leader in the city of Dallas. Most of all, he's a strong Christian man, so the mere notion that someone of that caliber being influenced by me or anyone is a disgrace. It's just meanness."
Besides, she says, what does that say about her?
"Anyone that knows me knows that I am a woman of integrity and I am a God-fearing woman, so the notion of me influencing him to do something that would be illegal is just out of character for me and for him."
Sandra Crenshaw, a former southern sector council member, says it's unfair to blame any of Hill's problems on his new wife. It was Hill and not anyone else who had the political experience and insider knowledge to conduct a bribery outfit in the first place.
"For those people trying to lay it on Sheila, they are in denial," she says. "They don't want to think that someone they thought so highly of could ever be capable of doing something like that, so you have to find a scapegoat to ease your pain, your own hurt and your own sadness."
Even for those not looking to assign blame, Hill's fall from grace is a southern Dallas mystery. Did he do it, and if so, why? How did their likable, honest council member fall into the same trap that's ensnared other Dallas politicians? Here was a guy who lived in a $150,000 house in Oak Cliff, who seemed to update his wardrobe every other election.