Former Dallas County DA Craig Watkins Responds on Forfeiture Cash, Hawk

Craig Wakins speaks.EXPAND
Craig Wakins speaks.
Dallas County District Attorney's Office via Flickr

Tuesday, the Texas State Auditor's Office released the findings from its long-running investigation of how the Dallas County District Attorney's Office's used forfeiture funds when Craig Watkins was DA. Wednesday, Watkins gave us a call to tell us why the auditor's report wasn't worth the (digital) paper it was printed on, a little of what he thinks about the ongoing saga of his successor, Susan Hawk, and to hint at whether he'll take a shot at winning back his old office in 2018.

"Obviously, [the auditor's report] is a smoke and mirrors thing to divert attention from Susan Hawk's problems and put them back on Craig, because they think I'm going to run again," Watkins says. "I'm trying to run a business. I'm not in politics anymore. Obviously, the auditor is a Republican. You've got [state Representative Jason] Villalba, who is also a Republican, calling for the attorney general to investigate me. This is just politics when there is no cause for it."

The meat of the auditor's report concerns a February 2013 car wreck on the Dallas North Tollway. Watkins, driving a 2013 Ford Edge taken in a forfeiture case, rear-ended another car. The then-district attorney was on his way to give a speech and would later admit that he was looking over his remarks on his phone when the wreck occurred. Repair costs for both cars were paid with forfeiture funds, as was the nearly $50,000 settlement given to the other driver. State law allows repairs to county vehicles to be paid for with forfeiture funds. The money can also be used on legal fees, which is the reasoning Watkins and his office has cited for the settlement payment being legit. The auditor's report says Watkins crossed the line because the settlement in the case, in addition to releasing him from responsibility in his capacity as district attorney, indemnified him personally for further legal action. Watkins says the language about letting him off the hook personally was just boilerplate, standard stuff in a settlement.

"I didn't lie like the current DA, I admitted, 'Yeah, I had an accident,' and basically I resolved it without taxpayer dollars," Watkins says. "Those are the issues that I think should be displayed in articles."

Watkins says Hawk has been given special treatment by the media as she's admitted to seeking treatment for painkiller addiction during her race with Watkins and as she disappeared from public life for more than two months to seek treatment for severe depression in Houston.

"[The media] has basically coddled Susan for her issues and blamed everyone else but her for what she did, in certain media outlets," Watkins says. "They've basically said, 'Oh, we should embrace her and give her an opportunity.' She had her opportunity when she ran for DA. Just think if I were in that position. Where would I be today? Would I have The Dallas Morning News or any other media outlet calling for compassion?"

Under Watkins, the district attorney's office had to get creative with the use of forfeiture because, according to Watkins, it wasn't given enough funding from the county.

"That was my biggest fight [with the Dallas County Commissioners], saying that 'You need to increase the budget of the DA's office, because we are falling behind,'" Watkins says. "The criminals in Dallas County are winning this war, and they will continue to win this war if we are not funded correctly. The only other option I had was to look at the [forfeiture] statute and the forfeiture money that we had and say, 'OK, we need to use these resources, that we do have to protect the citizens of Dallas County and to have the resources to compete with criminal activity,' so that's what we did."

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