City Hall

An Idea, Seriously, for Putting the Whole Scott Griggs F-Bomb Caper to Rest

Oh, we can’t just talk about the F-word 24/7 352 F-bomb days in the year, I know, much as I would like to, but with your gentle indulgence I would like to drop a few more F-bombs here today just to get the F out of my system and also because I really believe I have come up with a solution.

So, one last thing about Scott Griggs, the Dallas City Councilmember against whom the city attorney attempted unsuccessfully to bring felony charges over an F-bomb. I think you know the back-story. Dallas City Attorney Warren Ernst aggressively pursued felony “coercion” charges against Griggs, alleging that Griggs had said an F-word to a city employee as a threat to make her do something. A grand jury kicked it out and refused to indict Griggs.

Griggs says he never said the F-word in question, and all of the witnesses but one support him. The one, Assistant City Secretary Billierae Johnson, says he did say the F-word to her. As it happens, however — and this may be the real news here for a lot of people in Dallas — the F-word is not a felony. I know! How can that be true? But it’s not against the law to say F, even here.

If Johnson had interpreted whatever Griggs said, with or without an F, as a threat designed to make her do what he wanted, then apparently that threat could have been interpreted as violating an obscure state law against coercing a public official.

The only person who knew if she took it as a threat was she, herself. She not only said she did not take it as a threat, she signed a sworn witness statement saying it was not a threat. But you knew all that already.

So what’s my big idea? I’m getting to it. But first I want to clear the decks on a few things, as a way of setting this up. You’ll see.

Last week I suggested that Elizabeth Findell, the reporter covering this story for The Dallas Morning News, had sat on some aspects of the story — failed to report them — until forced to do so by me and my coverage. I still take exception to the general tone of her coverage, which has given way too much credence to the accusations against Griggs, but the basic reporting has been thorough and straight-up on the facts. Upon closer reading, I think rather than being goaded to report things by me she actually beat me on some key elements. Therefore:

I apologize.

How about that? I mean, what a guy. Wouldn’t you say? With the apology and everything? I think I might deserve a few kudos, frankly.

Next, I want to talk about the chief of police. I suggested a few times early on in all this that I found fault with the decision of Dallas Police Chief David Brown to send the accusation against Griggs to the county prosecutor when the city attorney asked him to. The city attorney told Brown that Johnson, the alleged victim, didn’t have to interpret whatever Griggs said as a threat in order for it to be a threat.

I thought the charges were so obviously flakey that Brown should have told Ernst to take a hike. But when I looked over the email correspondence more closely, I sort of got what Brown was really saying.

He said it a couple different ways, but Brown basically told Ernst that the whole mess needed to be off-shored from City Hall because everybody involved was a city official or city employee. It was all a circle of city employees accusing other city employees and being investigated by still more city employees. Brown said they should send it to the D.A. just to get it out of the house and put it in front of somebody who could look at it arms-length.

So you know what? To whatever extent I may have misinterpreted the chief, I want to apologize to him, too.

Oh, man, can you believe it? Another apology! Can you believe me? What kind of a guy can do two apologies in one day? I mean, I am not a guy to actually brag about myself, because of my modesty (which is huge), but really, a little bit of applause is in order, would you not agree?

I feel so great. You know what? I’m going to go ahead and do another apology — no, really, I’m serious, I can do this — even though this is one I’m not sure I even totally believe in.

The other day I reported that First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers had sent an email about the charges in which he said, “(The Dallas Police Department) investigates only crimes and refers some serious crimes to the grand jury. These allegations, as described, do not sound like crimes, so it will appear weird for DPD to investigate them and weird to refer them to the grand jury.”

Bowers wrote to me after that piece appeared and asked me to do a correction. He said the email I quoted was intended mainly for a guy in the city’s public relations office who was composing a press release about the charges. Bowers told me he wasn’t saying the actual charges were weird, just that the charges would sound weird if the PR people didn’t add some language to the press release to show how serious the charges were:

“My email suggested adding the phrase ‘in violation of a penal law’ (or a similar phrase) to make it clear that DPD was investigating alleged crimes, rather than merely investigating bullying and harassment.”

OK, this is a tough apology for me to do, because I kind of think Bowers is missing the whole point. The PR guy only had to add the serious-sounding phrases because the charges were, in fact, stupid. It wasn’t a problem of phrases. It was a problem of stupid.

But you know what? This is Apology Day. I’m going to be a bigger man that. I’m just going to stand up and apologize to Chris Bowers for … whatever. Everything. I apologize for being alive. Really. That’s how big I am. Aren’t apologies great?

You know who else apologized in this thing? Early on in this affair, Scott Griggs went to Billierae Johnson, his alleged victim, and apologized for the whole mess. He didn’t confess to anything specific, because there was a plainclothes cop sitting there taking notes, but he told her he was sorry.

If I get credit for all my apologies, then it seems like Griggs should get some points for his, as well. I’m not here just to hog all the apology credit for myself.

In fact, that brings me to my big idea. You know, a lot of very tough ideas have been floating around the corridors of City Hall since the documents came out and everybody got a look at Warren Ernst’s very aggressive role in going after Griggs on felony charges even after he knew he didn’t have a single witness to support the charges.

One hears phrases like “malicious prosecution” and “State Bar grievance” being tossed about. If anything the revelations in the documents have increased pressure for some kind of inquiry into how all this happened. A bar grievance or a lawsuit might provide the needed forum. And then the whole thing just goes on forever and gets deeper and deeper.

So what about this? Following my lead, which I must say is impressive, why doesn’t Warren Ernst just apologize to Scott Griggs? You know?

He could say something like, “Mr. Griggs, I overstepped my bounds as city attorney and perhaps of the law itself in prosecuting you too vigorously and without basic fairness. I sullied your good name for no good reason. For all of this, I truly and sincerely apologize.” Or words to that effect.

Don’t you think that might put an end to it? Listen, take it from me, everybody loves a good apology. The only thing I have ever seen that people like even better is an apology accompanied by a considerable cash award. Topic for another day.

Ernst should seriously think about it. People would say, “That Warren Ernst is as big a man as Scott Griggs.” They might even say he’s as big as Jim Schutze, but he might have to apologize for a few more things first to get to that. One step at a time.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze