You needn't stray far from where where the Texas Horse Park's barn and activity building are going up off Pemberton Hill Road to start finding goat skulls. A couple of feet into the mesquite trees should do; the bleached white bone is impossible to miss against the underbrush.
Not so long ago, the land was home to Progresso Farms, a slaughter operation catering to the Hispanic community and sidelining in ritual Muslim goat slaughter. The city of Dallas bought the land in 2008 to become part of the horse park but allowed Progresso's owners, David and Zolia Jasso, to stay, the better to scare off vandals and illegal dumping.
In May 2012, the city changed its mind, canceling the lease the Jassos had signed two years earlier and ordering them to vacate the property. The reason, city attorneys wrote to the couple, was that a recent search warrant had revealed that they were running an illegal slaughter operation on the land, among other violations of city code.
The ensuing legal battle, which has been simmering for the past two years, escalated last month with the city and the Jassos filing competing claims, each accusing the other of various misdeeds and leaving the general impression that the Texas Horse Park is a complete mess. This after Unfair Park revealed that the city entrusted the park to an accused horse abuser.
Peruse the legal filing below at your leisure; they're pretty extensive, totaling 100-plus pages. But the basics of the dispute are as follows.
According to the city, they had no idea the Jasso's were operating a slaughter operation until they executed their search warrant in May 2012 and found, among other things, that:
- "Animals are being killed or slaughtered within the city for the purpose of selling, bartering, donating, or using the animal's flesh for any form of human consumption."
- "Vegetable or animal matter or slop, or any filth of a character likely to affect the public health or to produce offensive smells has been deposited or placed on the premises."
- "The carcasses of your dead animals are being allowed to remain in or the property more than six hours after their deaths."
They also found other solid waste, some of which contained asbestos, and detected the excessively high levels of "polyaromatic hydrocarbons," which are common pollutants that sounds pretty harmful but whose toxicity depends entirely on the specific polyaromatic hydrocarbon in question.
When the city demanded $300,000 to pay for cleanup and environmental remediation, the Jassos wouldn't pay. They also kept on slaughtering goats and violating various city codes on a piece of land they still own right next door, including having a non-residential use on property zoned residential.
The Jassos' version of events is markedly different. The city knew they were slaughtering goats on the horse park site way before 2012. As proof, they offer an inspection report dated March 6, 2009 in which an environmental health inspector visited "Progresso Farm" in response to a complaint.
"Establishment do (sic) have a permit from TDH for Meat & Poultry Slaughter/Processing establishment," the inspector wrote, including a copy of their license from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
It didn't become an issue, the suit says, until more senior city officials and horse park bondholders began touring the site, "making derogatory remarks and disgusted gestures related to the (Jassos') operation of the facility, the customers, and the property's use." The city began a campaign of harassment, followed by the termination of the lease.
The Jassos say the city's fraud and illegal business dealings have caused them $500,000 in damages, not including the $89,000 in relocation fees it had promised to pay then abruptly -- and, the Jassos say, illegally -- revoked.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.