Like any father trying to stay ahead of his responsibilities, Don Hardge faced plenty of tension-filled, fist-pounding days as he juggled family, work and social commitments. Life as an Oak Cliff drug dealer and gang member was muddled with fights, drug deals and crack-addled customers to confront. At 18, Hardge had to move fast to stay ahead of it all. Still, he says, the money was decent and most days passed without anything going bad — or at least nothing bad enough to end up in a police report.
One Saturday three years ago, though, was really crappy, Hardge recalls. The afternoon kicked off with yet another bickering match with his baby's mother and then a brawl with a crackhead, and soon a rotten afternoon bled seamlessly into a horrific night. Before day's end, a spray of bullets — maybe from Hardge's gun, maybe not — would leave a 15-year-old girl dying on an Oak Cliff street.
But don't blame him for that, Hardge says, whatever the cops may say. Yes, he emptied an assault rifle as he stood amid a panicked crowd that night, and yes, a girl died, but that doesn't make him a murderer. Not even the justice system could call him a murderer, at least not technically.
The girl who died? Don Hardge feels sorry for the family, but he takes no responsibility.
On July 5, 2008, Hardge popped four Xanax just after lunchtime and went to see his baby girl, 4-month-old Damayia, who lived down the street with his ex-girlfriend Breanna Henderson. Hardge, called "Dunn Dunn" on the streets where he was a member of the DFW Mafia, says he visited Damayia daily, staying for 45 minutes or so to play with her or packing her diapers and toys and bringing her to his mother's house.
Hardge's own mother, like his grandmother and the mother of his child, had her first baby as a teen. For most of Hardge's life, his father was imprisoned for murder and selling drugs. Nevertheless, for reasons unclear to even him, Hardge deeply admired his dad, beginning from the first time he visited him in jail as a small child.
Hardge preferred not to stay long at Henderson's home, since his ex's mother didn't like him, and he didn't like her. On this Saturday, tension also fell between Hardge and his ex. He wanted to go out that night, leaving Henderson to tend their daughter, even though he had been at Club Cirq in downtown Dallas with his gang the night before. The pair fought, and Henderson swiped his ID from his pocket to stop him from going to a club.
It didn't matter. Hardge had other plans.
He headed home to Bella Vista Apartments in South Oak Cliff, where he lived with three friends. Here, he was on his turf. People either bought drugs from him, were intimidated by him or both. Hardge and the DFW Mafia guys didn't take much shit from anyone.
Hardge met up with a friend and walked to a corner store nearby, where they often hung out to kill time. On the way back, his friend started calling a crackhead standing in their complex a snitch, taunting him for returning from jail after only a few hours. Enraged, the crackhead, fueled by drugs sold by Hardge, snatched up a wooden fence plank and started swinging. Hardge grabbed the stick from him so his friend could tee up a punch. When the crackhead hit the ground, Hardge got on top of the man and beat him until his friend hit the crackhead with a brick. The fight's only casualty was Hardge's busted $450 watch, a beauty with a white gold face, diamond detailing and black leather band. The timepiece was a trade from a desperate customer. "Dope heads, they'll bring anything," Hardge says from jail, recalling the scene three years later. The previous day, the drug barter system — plus $50 — had landed Hardge an AK-47 assault rifle, which he intended to keep as protection for the drug house.
So far, this summer Saturday had been a bust, but the day was looking up. Another friend was stopping by to pick him up for a 17th birthday party at a rented party space called JeRenee in the 1100 block of East Red Bird Lane. "The party of the year," Hardge remembers his friend calling it.
The cushions of Hardge's brown and black checked couch covered the AK-47 until he moved them out of the way to show it off. He was used to being around guns — at least one person in almost every group of teens he knew carried one, but this was his first. Hardge smoked some pot and left in his friend's car, the rifle in the trunk.
The pair pulled up to a nearby hotel where the DFW Mafia guys were getting ready to party at Club Che, their usual spot in Northwest Dallas. Most weekends, Hardge would have been right beside them smoking weed and getting dressed, but this weekend he had no ID, needed to save money for watch repairs and had no clothes fit for a club. Dressed in a white undershirt, baggy shorts and red and black Air Force 1 sneakers, he felt better suited for the more casual party. Plus, his girlfriend was going, along with a slew of other women who would potentially come home with him.