City Hall's Kennedy Conspiracy

Kennedy assassination author and conspiracist Robert Groden says the city's out to get him. He may be right.

And then you have what the city has done to Groden. In the past the police ticketed him repeatedly, and then the city sometimes failed to prosecute any of the tickets—just forgot about them. But last summer they hit harder. On June 13 Dallas police hauled Groden to a patrol car waiting at the curb in Dealey Plaza.

"I was thrown in the back of a police car very unceremoniously with handcuffs," he says. "I was forced to sit on the handcuffs even though I had damaged my wrists severely in a car accident some years ago."

For a soft-spoken author in his mid-60s with health problems, it was rough. He wound up spending nine hours in the county jail, even though his lawyer raced to the jail and posted his bond immediately.

Every weekend at Dealey Plaza, Robert Groden sells books and
CDs based on the House Select Committee's finding that JFK was shot from the grassy knoll.
Mark Graham
Every weekend at Dealey Plaza, Robert Groden sells books and CDs based on the House Select Committee's finding that JFK was shot from the grassy knoll.
Vendors wander the plaza selling souvenir newspapers.
Mark Graham
Vendors wander the plaza selling souvenir newspapers.

There are respected authorities in the Kennedy assassination field who do not respect Groden, viewing him as a hack and an exploiter. But even some of his harshest critics think the city has been heavy-handed and stupid in dealing with him. Author and reporter Hugh Aynesworth argues that the city's clumsiness with Groden has only served to make Groden more important than he should be.

As assassination experts go, they don't get more authoritative than Aynesworth, who was with the motorcade that day. On a recent evening at Sevy's, a wood-paneled power bar on Preston Road, Aynesworth recalls it, mainly to point out that the moment itself was chaos. "You hear shots ring out, and you don't count how many seconds there are between them."

In a separate conversation on the telephone, Aynesworth talks about Groden: "He's a nice enough guy," he says. "He's just a complete kook, and he's not honest.

"I've run across him over the years, and he's always friendly, and I'm friendly, but he's a damn fool, and he's wrong. He, like others, are making a living out of this."

But Aynesworth says the city and museum, by hounding Groden, unwittingly lend Groden a kind of credibility.

"I would never try to stop him from selling those crummy little sheets," he says. "There's freedom of speech in this country." He says of the ticketing and arrest: "That's making something out of it that makes it more important than it is."

Of course, getting tossed in jail is important to anybody, because it's getting tossed in jail. When Groden got out, he struck back. He went to municipal court to fight the tickets, and he filed a federal lawsuit for damages from the city, arguing that the city was violating his civil rights with its endless campaign of police harassment.

He says the civil suit—"on hold" while his attorneys attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate with the city—is now "back on."

In his brief in Groden's defense on the tickets, lawyer Bradley Kizzia painted the city's actions against his client as brutally absurd. First, he argued, the city had charged Broden with selling magazines under an ordinance that specifically allows selling magazines. Then realizing the mistake, Kizzia said, the city changed the charge against Groden to a violation of a different ordinance prohibiting sale of merchandise in a city park without a permit.

Two problems: Dealey Plaza is not a city park. And the city doesn't offer any permits for selling merchandise in parks anyway.

In an order last December 16, Municipal Court Judge Carrie Chavez recited Kizzia's arguments point for point, agreeing with all of them and agreeing with none of the city's arguments. She ruled, "Therefore the court grants the defendant motion to quash, and this case is hereby dismissed."

The city appealed and since has steadfastly refused to return to Groden his bond money or books, magazines, a table and other equipment seized at the time of his arrest. Kizzia says the city has offered to give Groden his property if he will sign an affidavit admitting his guilt, even though the charges against him have been dismissed by a judge.

Kizzia thinks the city feels boxed in by Groden's federal lawsuit. "In the past if you look at what has happened over the years, when they have started up these campaigns of harassment against him periodically, they ticketed him and then just dropped it. They didn't prosecute it.

"On none of the prior occasions when those tickets were dismissed did they appeal. But this occasion is different. I think because Robert filed his civil action against them, now they have decided, 'Oh, well, we've got to fight this tooth and nail.'"

But Kizzia wonders why the city ever got into a tooth-and-nail situation with Groden in the first place. "What is the city's compelling interest in trying to keep Robert from doing what he's done for 15 years to the harm of nobody and to the benefit of many?"

And for that answer, we must return to Dealey Plaza.

In 1967 one of the most famous American authors of the time and a Kennedy confidant, William Manchester, published a book called Death of a President, in which he pointed directly to the Dealey family, owners of The Dallas Morning News, in assigning blame for the assassination. More specifically, he pointed to the statue of George Bannerman ("G.B.") Dealey that rises above the Dealey Memorial at the top of the hill on the downtown end of Dealey Plaza.

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