Paris Texas (Lamar County) District Attorney’s office/Gary Young part of the problem, not the solution

In Monday morning’s Dallas Morning News, Richard Abshire follows up on the death of Brandon McClelland in Paris, Texas. Two suspects are in custody for running over Brandon and dragging him after a night of drinking. Richard worked on this story for weeks, and though there’s not a lot of new ground here for Dallas South readers, there are some things that stuck out to me. Read Black man’s death reopens old racial wounds.

Here are a few excerpts:

  • District Attorney Gary Young, who is white, said there’s no evidence that the killing was a hate crime. But his office welcomes any information on the case, he said.
  • “Gary Young decided from the start it was not a hate crime,” said Brenda Cherry, who is black and a co-founder of Concerned Citizens for Racial Equality. “They’re not going to do anything to make Paris look bad. That’s the main thing around here.”
  • “(The Shaquanda Cotton case) was a wake-up call,” said Pike Burkhart, who is white and president of the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t perceive ourselves as a racially divided community. We want to make sure we have more dialogue between our black and white communities.”

  • Ms. Cotton spent a year in a juvenile lockup and was freed after protests alleging racial bias. Still, authorities insist they followed the law. “We did nothing wrong,” said district attorney spokesman Allan Hubbard.
  • “The fact that they were white and he was black does not alone constitute a hate crime,” said Mr. Hubbard, the district attorney spokesman. “We can’t act on speculation, and there’s too much of that going on by people on blogs and elsewhere who are treating rumor as fact.”

Anyone in Paris, Texas who is concerned about the perception of Paris, Texas should point straight to the District Attorney’s office. Ms. Cotton is right, they have more interest in image than justice. I can understand the Chamber of Commerce or City Hall having this attitude, but it has no place in the court system.

What the Dallas Morning News article leaves out are the circumstances that lead to suspect Shannon Findley’s manslaughter conviction, a crime for which he served about two years. Let’s revisit those facts as told by the Chicago Tribune and Howard Witt:

  • Lamar County District Atty. Gary Young, who five years ago, before he was elected prosecutor, served as Finley’s court-appointed defense attorney when Finley pleaded guilty to manslaughter for shooting a friend to death.
  • Although the victim in Finley’s 2003 manslaughter case was white, race played a role in the incident. Finley told police he was sitting in a pickup with his friend in a park when two gun-wielding black men supposedly walked up alongside and tried to rob them. Finley said he grabbed his friend’s handgun and fired at the robbers, but instead shot his friend. An autopsy determined that the victim suffered three gunshot wounds to the head.

Before Mr. Hubbard points fingers at “people on blogs and elsewhere” he should look at his own office and how it distributes justice. They should also look into a report that I received last week of perceived swift jury selections that respect the process. Parisians should be thankful to “people on blogs and elsewhere” for helping to expose what could be easily be swept under the rug.

While “people on blogs and elsewhere” learned of the ShaQuanda Cotton case from the newspaper (reported first nationally by the Tribune), the newspapers (both the News and Tribune) learned of Brandon McClelland’s death from “people on blogs and elsewhere.” Who’s to say that this wouldn’t still be investigated as a hit and run were it not for “people on blogs and elsewhere?”

The flippant nature in which Mr. Hubbard -the D.A. office spokesperson- dealt with the media during the Cotton case was off putting to many. If his quotes in the Morning News are any indication, he hasn’t learned from . His CYA stragtgy may be good for the D.A’s office, but it’s terrible for Paris.

Back to the Shannon Finley manslaughter case. I have friends and classmates in Paris who spent years and years in jail for much less than putting a gun to someone’s head and pulling the trigger. Of course most of them were involved in the drug game and much of that deals with U.S. drug laws I get that.

But Gary Young and his team apparently went with Finley’s “two gun-wielding black men” defense. And look at the reward that you get in America for shortening the sentence of a murderer to manslaughter: District Attorney. Shannon Finley should never have been walking the streets, and were he black he would not have been.

I’m not bothered by the D.A.’s office reluctance to prosecute this murder as a hate crime, but I’m pretty pissed at how insensitive the D.A.’s office has been to the family’s desire to have it investigated as such.

I’m even more upset by the quotes this morning from Mr. Hubbard which follows a pattern that he set last year. And the fact that America can’t see a case like Finley’s as pure evidence of the unfair, racially biased distribution of justice in this country makes me sick.

Paris, you need to blame the D.A.’s office and your courts for the public relations fallout you are about to be subjected to. Not “people on blogs and everywhere.”

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1 Response

  1. Skipper Steely says:

    Recently had a civil trial McClelland vs.Wesco Trucking. Where were you for that one? It was interesting, but who killed Brandon is still undetermined, sadly.

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