Monday, September 17, 2012

Special prosecutor needed after murder of Hearne civil rights activist

Photo via The Texas Observer.
Charles Workman, a Baptist minister, former city council member, and civil rights advocate in Hearne, Texas, was mysteriously murdered last week. According to news reports he was shot in the head and his car was found set on fire. Among local legal observers, fears have arisen that the Robertson County District Attorney, John Paschall, won't aggressively pursue the case because Workman had become an influential nemesis of the long-time DA in the aftermath of the infamous Hearne drug stings, which contributed to the ultimate de-funding of Texas system of narcotics task forces statewide, including one led by Paschall. (At the time the episode occurred, Paschall had "final authority for the policies, practices and/or customs of the Task Force," according to the lawsuit [pdf] filed by the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation project, which the county eventually settled.)

The drug sting in Hearne made national headlines, contributed to passage of multiple pieces of state legislation, and was depicted in a feature film, American Violet, directed by Tim Disney. Workman was among the most active Hearne family members fighting both to free those accused by confidential informant Derrick Megress and to get the state to regulate (and eventually abolish) Texas' network of regional narcotics task forces. A 2005 Texas Observer story recounted that, "Charles Workman understands the dynamic of Hearne-style justice as well as anyone. Paschall has a vendetta against his family, he believes, as his stepson and nephew were both arrested in the sting." Paschall tried, and failed, to prosecute Workman on voter-fraud charges soon after the Hearne case ended.

Making matters even more worrisome, Paschall has been accused by a former Hearne police sergeant of interfering with local law enforcement in another murder - that of a man named Hank Johnson, in which Paschall's brother in law was a key suspect. See local TV coverage of that case, including a recording made by the detective in charge accusing Paschall of interfering with the investigation, to which Paschall responded by threatening him.

I haven't seen Charles since 2005 - when we worked together to pass a statute regulating Texas' regional narcotics task forces - and certainly have no knowledge of the circumstances surrounding his death  But I don't trust John Paschall to disinterestedly prosecute, nor to avoid interfering with the investigation. Grits would feel much more comfortable if a special prosecutor were appointed in any criminal proceedings that arise from Workman's death and Paschall stayed completely out of the matter.

Charles Workman's funeral was on Saturday and regrettably I couldn't attend, but Grits extends sincere condolences to his family and friends. From our interactions over about a five year span following the sting in Hearne, I always found him to be a good and honorable man. May he rest in peace.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

According to news reports he was shot in the head and his car was found set on fire.

Let us not overlook the person who actually did this. That murderer has some responsibility here. Maybe someone will break tradition and come forward with information on this crime.

Anonymous said...

I am not holding my breath to wait for this to be solved. As someone once said, "You may beat the rap, but you won't beat the ride."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:26, I'm not overlooking the person who did it, I fear Paschall's beef with Workman will keep that person from being caught and prosecuted. Check out the story about his interference with the Hank Johnson murder investigation - be sure to watch the TV news clip all the way to the end - and perhaps you'll understand why.

Anonymous said...

It seems that DA's in this state are rotten criminals who operate with total immunity!

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase commenter Philip Baker, small town Texas is creepy. This place is straight out of the film Roadhouse. "Let's see boss, we got motive, shouldn't be too hard to track down the murderer". Except that the motive points to the LAW! Texas criminal justice is the laughing stock of the world, Hollywood puts out cheeky films mocking our corruption, and the "tough" people of Texas just bend over. This should be a good one, where's my popcorn!

Anonymous said...

Let's hope the Special Prosecutor does not come from the Texas Office of the Attorney General....seen that uncover nothing before when law enforcement is investigated. TEXAS is still living in Dixie.

Anonymous said...

Is it time to get all worked up because we are afraid that District Attorney, John Paschall won't aggressively pursue the case? We just imagine that he will do this or that so we get worked up?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:32, nobody's "worked up," I just said somebody else should be appointed to handle the case.

Anonymous said...

Worked up? Are you kidding? A black, civil rights activist has been murdered in the town that re-elected John Paschall. It's past time to get worked up. It's time to call the Justice Department.
Paschall will handle it....? This is an outrage. There will be no justice in Hearne under that DA.

Anonymous said...

District attorneys and prosecutors are the logical targets. They are big targets.

Anonymous said...

As someone who grew up in Hearne, it saddens me to see the state of this town. There is still a distinct divide between the 'white' and 'black' sides of town. The cemeteries are still segregated. We can't even rest in peace after death. The things that go on in Hearne would never pass anywhere else. It is time to DEMAND a change.

Anonymous said...

I agree anon from Hearne. I plan on doing everything I can to get him out. He actually has someone running against him this year. People are afraid of paschall. It is long past time for him to go. BTW I actually am doing more than voting against him. I am going to do my damndest to expose him.

Anonymous said...

I recommend reading the article on the murder of Hank Johnson (posted above by Grits). The primary suspect was Paschall's bro-in-law followed by coverups and the resignation of the investigator who dared cross Paschall. What does it take to get an objective, thorough investigation of this DA? Texas is creepy. And it's the State Government's lack of interest that perpetuate's unlawful activity by law enforcement. Does anyone care? Where's the coverage? Someone call the Civil Rights Division of the Federal Government!

Anonymous said...

Maybe a witness will come forward--not likely.

Anonymous said...

Well Paschell is out of office but how much has been solved? The city of Hearne has always been corrupt from the city Managers to City Secretaries and officers of law. Nothing has changed! They run over citizens, intimidate women, take easements without asking, and as much as they can to terrorize the people of the town. Funny how the Mayor's family all new about business possibilities and bought into commercial properties before hand or have you noticed how much everyone's electric bills have gone up? The entire city needs to be investgated!

Anonymous said...

well, I just watched American Violet & wanted to get the real story. So disappointed to read this news following watching the film. However, I am not really that surprised. I am from Texas and it is pretty rampant with racism. I would hope that in 2013 that it wasn't but, sadly it is. The FED should wipe that whole administration down there out. Totally disgusting that it continues to live on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

This is true! It happens all the time and continues to happen. I can vouch for it because I am one property owner that is fighting over an easement the city cut across my land. Now, they are trying to intimidate us. I hired an attorney and we will see.
This town is as crooked and dirty as any small town can get.