Earlier this week, the Dallas County District Attorney's office mysteriously dropped all felony charges against Columbia Packing Co. and its vice president, Joseph Carl Ondrusek Jr., for dumping pig blood into a tributary of the Trinity River in January 2012. Counting last month's dismissal of the charges against Donny Ondrusek (another vice president and Joseph's cousin), 30 counts of criminal water pollution and evidence tampering vanished.
In exchange, the company pleaded guilty to "unauthorized discharge," a misdemeanor, and agreed to pay a $100,000 fine.
It's a stupefying end to what has seemed like a slam dunk case from the time a hobbyist's remotely controlled aircraft first photographed a ribbon of scarlet flowing into the Trinity. Councilman Dwaine Caraway is stupefied, charging that the two-plus year investigation conducted by Dallas County Health and Human Services, Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency, was "mishandled."
Attorneys for Columbia and the Ondruseks maintain the discharge was accidental and that Tuesday's dismissal of charges is proof of that.
One of the few people who can say definitively why the charges were dropped is District Attorney Craig Watkins, and he's not talking.
Susan Hawk, the Republican former state district judge challenging Watkins for his seat in November, took the opportunity to fire the first legitimate public volley of the general election campaign.
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"Our citizens deserve more than a 'no comment,'" Hawk said in a press release. "These are serious charges that deal with the health and welfare of thousands of citizens, and for the District Attorney to request dismissal without any sort of explanation to the public shows a complete lack of accountability."
Maybe "complete lack of accountability" is overstating things, but it's hard to argue with the broader point. If the charges were dropped because someone screwed up, you should say so. If it was, as the Ondrusek family says, all just an accident, why'd you try to throw the book at them in the first place?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.