How a Mall Fight Led to Courtroom Drama, a Prosecutor Quitting and an Alleged Cover-Up
Prosecutor Dodds quit and accused District Attorney Craig Watkins of playing politics.
It started out as a case that wasn't very dramatic or high-profile. Latoya Scott, a 26-year-old woman, was arrested by the Irving Police Department for an alleged fight at a mall. Prosecutors said Scott hit and scratched a woman she was dating. She was charged with family violence assault,
a felony a Class A misdemeanor.
But now that assault case has turned into the minor backdrop for another fight, a weird feud between the county attorneys on the case and the judge overseeing it. Rebecca Dodds, the former chief of the misdemeanor division in the Dallas County District Attorney's Office and the main prosecutor on Scott's case, insisted that Scott pleaded guilty to the assault charge back in April. But Judge Elizabeth Frizell said that wasn't true and tried to hold a jury trial for Scott on September 2.
As the jurors waited outside that day, Dodds told Frizell that there was no way a trial could go forward because Scott already pleaded guilty. "The case has already been pled and disposed of," Dodds told the court.
Scott's attorney wanted a trial that day, the transcripts show, and Judge Frizell sided with the defense. "Well, it's not true," Frizell curtly responded to Dodds' claim that the case was over. "So are you ready to go to trial on this case?"
Dodds refused. "The State will not participate in a jury trial," she said. Transcripts show the two arguing for awhile, with the same back-and-forth of Frizell trying to go ahead with a trial and Dodds insisting it wasn't going to happen. The fighting continued the next day, court transcripts show, eventually devolving into a long, confusing argument about missing paperwork.
COURT: You just told me you had your file yesterday.
DODDS: I'm not suggesting to you that we don't have the file. I don't have it with me.
COURT: Okay. Well, do you have the file? Do you have it within your possession?
DODDS: Not right now.
COURT: Okay. Care, custody, and control is possession. Do you have it within your possession?
DODDS: I don't have the file on me, Your Honor.
COURT: So did you intentionally not bring it to court?
DODDS: I did not intentionally not bring it to court.
COURT: Okay. Well, I'm ordering you to get the file and turn over the evidence to the Defense. Can you do that?
DODDS: (Shrugs shoulders). We'll see, Your Honor.
COURT: Is that a yes or a no?
DODDS: I'll try to find the file.
COURT: Okay. You're saying find it. You told me David Alex [from the DA's office] had it yesterday. Does he have it or do you have it?
DODDS: I don't know, Your Honor.
COURT: Within whose possession is it?
DODDS: I don't know.
Around the time all this was happening, Scott's attorney from the public defender's office, Loren Collins, accused another county prosecutor on the case of secretly recording the attorneys. According to a motion Collins filed, assistant district attorney Jason Hermus "was observed removing a smartphone from his pocket and intentionally turning on its recording device" as the attorneys and judge were all talking off the record. Hermus then played it off by saying, "I'm trying to get this to work," Collins' motion claims. (Collins declined to discuss the case, and Judge Frizell's court coordinator hasn't yet responded to a request for an interview).
As far as Scott is concerned, her case has more or less been resolved. The DA's office ultimately gave into the defense, took Dodds off the case and agreed to dismiss the charges against Scott if she agrees to sticks to a conditional dismissal
Dodds, however, is not going quietly. She resigned from her job last week and shortly after went on WFAA, telling reporter Tanya Eiserer that she resigned because she felt that Watkins was trying to sweep Frizell's alleged judicial misconduct (for possibly lying about the guilty plea) under the rug in an election year. "I ultimately came to the decision that I just couldn't be a part of a district attorney's office that would put something that's political in front of seeking the truth," Dodds said on the station.
No matter who is telling the truth, the workplace drama over missing plea deals and the case file suggests that if you're ever facing charges in county court and depending on paperwork for your freedom, you should definitely make extra copies.