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Wanda

Moore County News Press publisher charged with assault

Above: Moore County News Press publisher Wanda Brooks has been charged with Assault by Contact stemming from an incident that occurred in August 2017, according to court and police documents.

Editor’s Note: This report has been editied to clarify the defendant’s responsibility to answer to the complaint alleging assault.

The publisher of the Moore County News Press will have to contact the Dumas Municipal Court before Monday to answer to a complaint on assault charges or risk being arrested, according to documents obtained by the Journal.

Courtney Brooks filed the charges against Wanda Brooks, her mother-in-law, alleging she punched her in the face and choked her on or about Aug. 5, 2017. Wanda Brooks is charged with Assault by Contact in the Dumas Municipal Court.

The alleged assault stems from an incident that occurred when Courtney Brooks and her husband, Jeremy Brooks, were in Dumas for a family wedding. Courtney Brooks said that during the rush to get ready for the wedding, for which they were running late, Jeremy Brooks left their infant son in the car for about 15 minutes. She said when she realized the baby was left in the car, she immediately got him out, but he was red and crying. Courtney Brooks said Wanda Brooks tried to prevent her from taking her son to the hospital, and it lead to Wanda Brooks punching her in the face and then choking her.

Although Wanda Brooks is charged only with Assault by Contact according to a letter the Municipal Court sent her, the Texas Penal Code defines the enhancement for assault family violence by choking or impeding breathing from a Class A Misdemeanor to a Third Degree Felony. Dumas Police Sgt. Jordan didn’t immediately respond to the Journal’s request for an explanation about the decision to charge Wanda Brooks only with a misdemeanor.

Courtney Brooks said she tried to communicate with the Dumas Police Department during the two months after the incident to ask about the delay in charging Wanda Brooks, but her calls and emails weren’t returned.

Wanda Brooks has worked for the News Press as a bookkeeper and is currently the publisher. She didn’t respond to the Journal’s request for a comment, nor did the News Press’ corporate office respond to a request for a comment.

The Journal will update this story as developments occur.

DirtyDancing

Dirty Dancing: Texas Rangers, City of Dumas, City of Panhandle, Dawson Forensic Group

People who have minimal business with city government don’t understand what requests for qualifications, requests for proposals or the Professional Service Procurement Act mean or why they should care about them, so let’s talk about it.

The Journal recently reported on the validity of the city of Dumas’ procurement and engagement of Lubbock-based Dawson Forensic Group to look into allegations of fraud and theft by former city employee Holly LaFever. The focus of the Journal’s on-going investigation, however, took a screaming turn Monday when news broke about Sunray city manager Rob Roach’s arrest for alleged theft from his previous employer, the city of Panhandle. Those allegations are the result of another audit performed by Dawson and a Texas Rangers’ investigation, a collaboration that is showing a pattern that should concern everyone.

The Professional Service Procurement Act is important for citizens and the professionals named in it because procurement laws in Texas are designed to remove the appearance of impropriety and corruption by government while giving professional companies the opportunity to be chosen on their qualifications and then negotiating a fair price.

The city of Dumas didn’t follow any industry standards in preparing a request for qualifications, presenting a list of qualified candidates to the City Commission. Dumas city management, alone, selected Dawson with recommendations from the Texas Rangers whose focus should be an independent and unbiased investigation.

In reviewing the city of Panhandle’s minutes from their May 14, 2015, City Council meeting, it appears that city did move to publish requests for auditor qualifications and send proposals to nine companies based on a list they received from the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission. The minutes from their June 11, 2015, meeting show the City Council voted to engage the firm of Doshier, Pickens and Francis, LLC to perform the audits. We can appreciate the city of Panhandle for following the law, but we must hold off on any applause. There is no evidence in their city council minutes that show Doshier, Pickens and Francis, LLC, who were selected to perform the audits, actually did them. So who did? Enter Dawson stage right. Panhandle Mayor Doyle Robinson said during an open meeting on May 14, 2015, the city called the Rangers before they called Dawson, and the Rangers told the city they needed a forensic audit. Guess who performed that audit. The city didn’t clarify in subsequent meetings why they used Dawson after they voted to use Doshier Pickens and Francis, LLC, and Robinson didn’t return a call from the Journal to answer questions.

Since 2013, when former Gov. Rick Perry vetoed funding for the Public Integrity Unit after a dispute with Travis County district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, public corruption crime investigations have been vested with the Texas Rangers. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety Texas Ranger’s website, the Public Corruption Unit was formed in the 81st Legislature by HB2086. “The Texas Rangers are committed to fighting public corruption, as it relates to public officials and others who hold a position of public trust,” the website says.

That appears to be a noble mission, but who investigates the Texas Rangers when they aid in recommendations, inject their own “experts” in what should be an independent and unbiased audit? The result of what is looking like the Rangers’ relationship with Dawson Forensic Group violates the very public trust they are charged to defend and circumvents state procurement laws that are written to eliminate collusion and corruption in professional services.

Given that it’s been 30 years since Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey starred in Dirty Dancing, I’m wondering who’s going to play the roles of Johnny and Baby in the new, high-stakes romance between the Texas Rangers and Dawson Forensic Group. Regardless of who does, it looks like the only ones who seem to be “having the time of their lives” in this Dirty Dancing remake are local governments, the Texas Rangers and Dawson Forensic Group.

JimNelson

Report says Dumas Police Chief Nelson created ‘atmosphere of mistrust and hostility’

Above: Dumas Police Jim Nelson has a history of disrespecting his police officers and showing anger toward them, according to a report that accompanies a write-up placed in Nelson’s personnel file.

Editor’s Note: The Journal doesn’t disclose the identity of the former Dumas police sergeant named in the report detailed in this story because he is working for another law enforcement agency. This story isn’t about the sergeant. It’s about Dumas Police Chief Nelson’s behavior toward him and other police officers.

A report the Moore County Journal obtained through an open records request says 18 Dumas police officers have resigned after Jim Nelson was appointed police chief. Most of those officers said they don’t want to work for Nelson in “an atmosphere of mistrust and hostility.”

The report begins with an incident that happened Nov. 3, 2016, when Nelson “basically lost it” because a police sergeant didn’t take the trash out, causing Dumas city manager Arbie Taylor to issue Nelson an Employee Warning Report. Nelson went to Taylor’s office, according to the report, and told him he ‘‘‘did something he promised he would never do’, which is basically lose his temper with an employee.”

But he did more than lose his temper. Taylor said in his report the sergeant told him Nelson “took a very aggressive stance … and was in his face yelling.”

“(The sergeant) said that he told the Chief that he did not appreciate his stance, and the fact that he was in his face made him very uncomfortable,” Taylor said in his report.

The incident occurred in Lt. Trejo’s office, while other officers had gathered in the squad room, and “Lt. Trejo told me that (the sergeant) actually told the Chief twice that he was uncomfortable with his actions during the incident.”

Taylor’s report goes beyond explaining the incident with Nelson losing his temper and taking an aggressive stance with a sergeant over not taking out the trash. It says Nelson’s behavior isn’t an “uncommon occurrence”, and there have been several occasions where the Chief has shown his anger toward his subordinates.” Not only have 18 officers left since Nelson became chief on April 1, 2013, but Taylor said several of the ranking officers in the police department also are looking for other employment.

“Whether that is entirely true or not, or whether that is only a part of the reason, it is heartbreaking to think we have lost good officers due to an atmosphere of mistrust and hostility,” Taylor said in the report.

Taylor’s opinion in the report, however, doesn’t align with the position of support for Nelson he took in an email to the Journal on June 16, 2017. He said, “… his (Nelson’s) way of running the PD may not be the ideal ‘Millennial’s’ work environment, but he has never given me an inkling of doubt that he cares for this community and his officers and has done everything he can to make sure they are well-equipped, well-trained and ready to perform the way the citizens of Dumas expect their police officers to perform.”

Yet, 18 police officers have resigned, ranking officers are looking for jobs, and Taylor couldn’t talk the sergeant who was uncomfortable with Nelson’s aggression out of resigning. In the email, Taylor continues to support Nelson and blames the exodus of police officers on other factors.

“I know the issue of turnover is the 800-pound gorilla in the room, but I honestly think the vast majority of our police officers use this Department for training and experience and then are able to move into higher paying positions when they are qualified to do so,” Taylor said.

Taylor didn’t respond to an email from the Journal, asking him why he supports a chief who he says is responsible for creating an “atmosphere of mistrust and hostility.” In the email, the Journal also asked why is Nelson still in the chief’s position, given that so many officers have left because they don’t want to work for Nelson, and Taylor is aware of those facts.

In the June 16, 2017, email, Taylor said “I think they (department heads) all know I believe in them and support them, but I think they also know I expect the highest level of dedication to the people of Dumas and the highest level of respect and loyalty to their respective employees.”

Taylor’s report, however, shows Nelson has a history of not showing respect toward his staff. The sergeant told Taylor that Nelson’s blow-up wasn’t an isolated event, and Nelson “has had an attitude toward him since he left the SWAT team about two years ago.”

In his report, Taylor said he counseled Nelson and “asked him to re-evaluate his demeanor and work at being less an authoritarian and more of a coach and mentor.”

“I understand he has been going through a lot of personal issues lately, but that is no excuse for disrespecting his employees and disciplining them in public when he is angry,” Taylor said.

Taylor doesn’t explain in his report on Nelson how he found out 18 police officers have resigned because they can’t work under him, although the city’s response to another open records request submitted by the Journal shows he wouldn’t have learned it from exit interviews. The city, Taylor said, doesn’t do them, not even when the records show 41 Dumas Police Department employees, including police officers, resigned between Jan. 1, 2013 to Jan. 4, 2017. Without documentation from exit interviews, it’s not certain how many of the other employees who resigned did so because of the hostile atmosphere Nelson created, but the high turnover rate still didn’t move the city to formally ask those employees why they were resigning.

“The City has not conducted exit interviews, historically, but it is something I have discussed with the Human Resources Director,” Taylor said in an email.

Given the high turnover rate and Taylor saying he knows the police officers are leaving because of Nelson, he issued him only a “warning” in response to his aggression toward the sergeant. The type of violation is listed as Unsatisfactory Behavior Toward Subordinate, and is documented as a warning. That unsatisfactory behavior led to the resignation of one more employee, a police sergeant.

“He (the sergeant) said he can no longer work for Chief Nelson,” Taylor said in his report.

JimNelson

Report says Dumas Police Chief Nelson created ‘atmosphere of mistrust and hostility’

Above: Dumas Police Jim Nelson has a history of disrespecting his police officers and showing anger toward them, according to a report that accompanies a write-up placed in Nelson’s personnel file.

Editor’s Note: The Journal doesn’t disclose the identity of the former Dumas police sergeant named in the report detailed in this story because he is working for another law enforcement agency. This story isn’t about the sergeant. It’s about Dumas Police Chief Nelson’s behavior toward him and other police officers.

A report the Moore County Journal obtained through an open records request says 18 Dumas police officers have resigned after Jim Nelson was appointed police chief. Most of those officers said they don’t want to work for Nelson in “an atmosphere of mistrust and hostility.”

The report begins with an incident that happened Nov. 3, 2016, when Nelson “basically lost it” because a police sergeant didn’t take the trash out, causing Dumas city manager Arbie Taylor to issue Nelson an Employee Warning Report. Nelson went to Taylor’s office, according to the report, and told him he ‘‘‘did something he promised he would never do’, which is basically lose his temper with an employee.”

But he did more than lose his temper. Taylor said in his report the sergeant told him Nelson “took a very aggressive stance … and was in his face yelling.”

“(The sergeant) said that he told the Chief that he did not appreciate his stance, and the fact that he was in his face made him very uncomfortable,” Taylor said in his report.

The incident occurred in Lt. Trejo’s office, while other officers had gathered in the squad room, and “Lt. Trejo told me that (the sergeant) actually told the Chief twice that he was uncomfortable with his actions during the incident.”

Taylor’s report goes beyond explaining the incident with Nelson losing his temper and taking an aggressive stance with a sergeant over not taking out the trash. It says Nelson’s behavior isn’t an “uncommon occurrence, and there have been several occasions where the Chief has shown his anger toward his subordinates.” Not only have 18 officers left since Nelson became chief on April 1, 2013, but Taylor said several of the ranking officers in the police department also are looking for other employment.

“Whether that is entirely true or not, or whether that is only a part of the reason, it is heartbreaking to think we have lost good officers due to an atmosphere of mistrust and hostility,” Taylor said in the report.

Taylor’s opinion in the report, however, doesn’t align with the position of support for Nelson he took in an email to the Journal on June 16, 2017. He said, “… his (Nelson’s) way of running the PD may not be the ideal ‘Millennial’s’ work environment, but he has never given me an inkling of doubt that he cares for this community and his officers and has done everything he can to make sure they are well-equipped, well-trained and ready to perform the way the citizens of Dumas expect their police officers to perform.”

Yet, 18 police officers have resigned, ranking officers are looking for jobs, and Taylor couldn’t talk the sergeant who was uncomfortable with Nelson’s aggression out of resigning. In the email, Taylor continues to support Nelson and blames the exodus of police officers on other factors.

“I know the issue of turnover is the 800-pound gorilla in the room, but I honestly think the vast majority of our police officers use this Department for training and experience and then are able to move into higher paying positions when they are qualified to do so,” Taylor said.

Taylor didn’t respond to an email from the Journal, asking him why he supports a chief who he says is responsible for creating an “atmosphere of mistrust and hostility.” In the email, the Journal also asked why is Nelson still in the chief’s position, given that so many officers have left because they don’t want to work for Nelson, and Taylor is aware of those facts.

In the June 16, 2017, email, Taylor said “I think they (department heads) all know I believe in them and support them, but I think they also know I expect the highest level of dedication to the people of Dumas and the highest level of respect and loyalty to their respective employees.”

Taylor’s report, however, shows Nelson has a history of not showing respect toward his staff. The sergeant told Taylor that Nelson’s blow-up wasn’t an isolated event, and Nelson “has had an attitude toward him since he left the SWAT team about two years ago.”

In his report, Taylor said he counseled Nelson and “asked him to re-evaluate his demeanor and work at being less an authoritarian and more of a coach and mentor.”

“I understand he has been going through a lot of personal issues lately, but that is no excuse for disrespecting his employees and disciplining them in public when he is angry,” Taylor said.

Taylor doesn’t explain in his report on Nelson how he found out 18 police officers have resigned because they can’t work under him, although the city’s response to another open records request submitted by the Journal shows he wouldn’t have learned it from exit interviews. The city, Taylor said, doesn’t do them, not even when the records show 41 Dumas Police Department employees, including police officers, resigned between Jan. 1, 2013 to Jan. 4, 2017. Without documentation from exit interviews, it’s not certain how many of the other employees who resigned did so because of the hostile atmosphere Nelson created, but the high turnover rate still didn’t move the city to formally ask those employees why they were resigning.

“The City has not conducted exit interviews, historically, but it is something I have discussed with the Human Resources Director,” Taylor said in an email.

Given the high turnover rate and Taylor saying he knows the police officers are leaving because of Nelson, he issued him only a “warning” in response to his aggression toward the sergeant. The type of violation is listed as Unsatisfactory Behavior Toward Subordinate, and is documented as a warning. That unsatisfactory behavior led to the resignation of one more employee, a police sergeant.

“He (the sergeant) said he can no longer work for Chief Nelson,” Taylor said in his report.

StudentsEricksonVigil

Thornburg’s sentencing in Coach Erickson’s death set for Monday

Above: Dumas High School students mourn the death of Coach Ryne Erickson at a memorial organized a few hours after he was killed by a hit-and-run driver Sept. 11, 2016. (File photo)

Almost a year after his death, Coach Ryne Erickson’s clothes still hang in his closet. His favorite blanket, emblazoned with the logo of his beloved Chicago Cubs, spills over a chair in the home he shared with his widow, Jamie, who will probably never depart with it.

“Some of Ryne’s things are sort of half-way packed, but they’re kind of random stuff,” Jamie said. “I took four boxes of his personal books, the ones he used for teaching, to the school’s history department. I thought they could use them, but other things are still here as he left them. I kind of commandeered the Cubs blanket a long time ago, so that’s something I’ll keep.

Coach Erickson was killed by a hit-and-run driver at the intersection of East 7th Street and Melinda Lane in Dumas at about 3 a.m. Sept. 11, 2016. Officials arrested Kaden Thornburg, who was 19 years old at the time, later that day for the crime, and on Monday, he will be sentenced in the district courtroom at the Moore County Courthouse. Jamie, along with several family members, will be there, some to testify, others there to buoy up the emotional strength Jamie will need to speak openly about Ryne’s death. It will be the first time she will see Thornburg.

Thornburg pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident that caused seriously bodily injury or death, and his plea bargain calls for a sentencing range from probation to 15 years in prison, an agreement Coach Erickson’s uncle, Don Haydon, calls offensive.

“When I heard probation was on the table, I couldn’t believe that an individual who did what he did could be considered for probation,” Haydon said. “I don’t see the probation option as one of being in synch with what I saw in the community after Ryne was killed. I saw a community in anguish, a student body deep, deep in grief. I couldn’t believe there was a chance Mr. Thornburg could get probation for what he did.”

Coach Erickson was 30 years old when he was killed and had begun his ninth year with Dumas ISD. He taught history and coached cross country, track and basketball. His sudden and violent death plunged students into grief. Some of them organized a memorial later that morning at the scene of the hit and run, placing flowers and messages of love for their coach and teacher. Later that evening, a large crowd of students led a candlelight vigil at the scene, the beginning of what turned out to be a period of mourning that lasted weeks.

The sorrow that struck the student body and the community also reached rival teams in area cities. The athletic community pulled in and offered comfort to the Dumas athletes, putting up posters in their gyms when they played Dumas. The Palo Duro volleyball team presented a rose to each Demonette before their game began, and in Dumas, the student body at the football games wore red in memory of their coach.

“Ryne was the definition of what it means to be a good human,” Haydon said. “His best years were on the horizon, and to say that you leave that experience with a scorched heart is an understatement.”

Haydon, frank and transparent, says he wants Thornburg to go to prison. He isn’t content to wait for any divine justice; he wants it “now and right here.” Coach Erickson’s mother, Kittye, gets through her days of missing and mourning her son by relying on her unshakeable Christian faith, and it’s that faith she says helps her accept whatever sentence the court determines. Jamie also wants Thornburg to go to prison, but she says she doesn’t think about him.

“I don’t think I’ve forgiven him, but I haven’t given him a whole lot of thought,” Jamie said. “He killed my husband, but to me he’s just that kid over there. I don’t want to mix my memories of Ryne with Kaden Thornburg.”

The possibility that Thornburg would take his case to trial horrified Jamie. His guilty plea spared her that, but the sentencing won’t be any easier, she said.

“I was in shock when Ryne was killed, and it was probably not until January that the reality of his death hit me,” Jamie said. “It took me awhile before I was outwardly emotional, and then I would just cry randomly.”

Shock protected Jamie from severe emotional pain during the first few months after her husband’s death, but then it wore off, leaving her vulnerable to the news given to her in July that Thornburg would be sentenced Aug. 21. It sent her reeling.

“It hurt worse,” Jamie said. “Knowing I would be in the courtroom and testifying at Mr. Thornburg’s sentencing sent me back to how I felt in January.”

Jamie and Coach Erickson had been married two years and were making plans to start a family. She teaches at Green Acres Elementary School, and Coach Erickson was working on his master’s degree. Both of them loved their jobs, Jamie said.

“I have no plan now, and the fact that I don’t know what to do is out of character for me,” she said.

Preparing for Thornburg’s sentencing worries Jamie because she says she has never had any dealings with the judicial system, but it’s the reality of being in the same room with Thornburg that causes her more angst.

“I want to remember Ryne with me,” Jamie said. “I want to remember him as my husband. I’m afraid that seeing Mr. Thornburg is going to change that. I know it’s important that I be at the sentencing, but my heart and brain are fighting each other.”

Although Jamie has prepared herself testify at Thornburg’s sentencing, she says she has nothing to say to him.

“I’m just trying to focus on the things I loved about Ryne instead of how he died and how he was taken from me,” she said. “I don’t want to pick at the wound.”

Thornburg’s sentencing is set for 9 a.m.

TuckerTelphoneArt

The Tucker Redemption

ABOVE: The “Tucker Telephone” was a torture device invented in Arkansas and regularly used at the Tucker State Prison Farm. The Tucker Telephone consisted of an old-fashioned crank telephone wired in sequence with two batteries. Electrodes coming from it were attached to a prisoner’s big toe and genitals. The electrical components of the phone were modified so that cranking the telephone sent an electric shock through the prisoner’s body. The device was reputedly constructed in the 1960s by, depending upon the source, a former trusty in the prison, a prison superintendent, or an inmate doctor; it was administered as a form of punishment, usually in the prison hospital. In prison parlance, a “long-distance call” was a series of electric shocks in a row.

I don’t know what to tell you first. Should I begin with the suffocating fear that was heavier than the humidity fueled by the muddy waters of the nearby Arkansas River? I don’t think my clothes ever dried. The fear drenched me in cold sweat, and the dank air was like a moldy quilt I couldn’t peel off me. It smothered me in the summer and froze me in the winter.

But then there was the hunger. How do you describe hunger to someone who has never experienced it? I don’t mean the temporary pangs that remind you you’re late for lunch. I’m talking about the needle-pointed claws that rake your stomach every second of the day. You go to bed hungry, and you wake up hungry. It makes people angry and ignites the barbarism that lies dormant in all men until the pressures of survival launch it to the surface like magma.

Still, it had to be the loneliness that was the worst. It was the loneliness that almost got me killed, and even though I was surrounded by a few hundred men all day and night, I had never felt so deserted. I could battle the fear. I could teach myself to ignore the hunger, but the loneliness gnawed at my soul. It ravaged my spirit.

In early summer of 1981, a deputy sheriff from Pope County, Arkansas, dropped me off at the Diagnostic Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction. I was 23 years old. The court had sentenced me to five years for writing hot checks, behavior that stemmed from bipolar disorder that wasn’t diagnosed yet and had laid siege to my life since my senior year in high school and then the PTSD that resulted from military service. It would be another six years before I knew the enemy had a name. Six more years of destructive behavior that destroyed my name and my mind. Six more years of other prison sentences for the same crime.

Within a few minutes of arriving at the Diagnostic Unit, a prison guard reduced my identity to a series of numbers — 76873. For the next year, I would identify myself by those numbers when a staff member asked me who I was. It was even stenciled in black ink on my white prison uniform. Thirty-six years later, I still haven’t forgotten that number.

I wasn’t prepared for prison. I had known loneliness since childhood, but not the forlornness the prison doled out, the isolation from any kind of love and kindness. Desperate for friendship, I listened to men who turned out to be predators of one sort of another. Altruism was as alien in that environment as water on the moon. Kindness was viewed as weakness, and the wolves could smell it 100 yards away. They hunted in packs, always looking for the one they would isolate from the herd and then attack. I was lonely, but I wasn’t going to be anyone’s bitch. Of that I was certain. I was circled many times, but I fought with the determination that when I would look at myself in the mirror, I would see a man owned by no one. My eyes might have been blackened, but I wouldn’t surrender.

For the first two months, I was assigned to the Diagnostic Unit, which was the Beverly Hills of the prison system. Life was easier there. The violence was limited to words because no one wanted to be shipped out to the insanity of the larger Tucker and Cummins prison farms. Brutality was part of life at those prisons, so no one assigned to Diagnostic risked a transfer. But then some of us were transferred. About 20 of us from Diagnostic were moved to Cummins for some time to make room for inmates coming in from Little Rock. The Pulaski County sheriff’s impatience with the prison wore out after he was told for months the prison couldn’t take his inmates. There wasn’t any room for them; the prisons were full. Well, so was the Pulaski County Jail.

The sheriff responded by taking his inmates to Diagnostic and handcuffing them to the gate. He left their court and commitment papers in boxes alongside them and waved goodbye to the armed guards in the towers whose jaws were on the ground. Hasta la vista, baby.

The inmates thought it was hilarious that one law enforcement agency would give another agency the finger, but we stopped laughing when some of us were told to pack up. We were going to Cummins to make room for the men handcuffed to the gate. Cummins was a dreaded place. It was like going from the Warsaw Ghetto to Auschwitz. People died at Cummins, a reality supported by the discovery in 1968 of about 200 bodies of murdered inmates buried at the prison. Court-ordered prison reforms had stopped a good deal of the abuse, but not all of it. There was enough of it remaining that Cummins, among Arkansas’ inmates, was synonymous to hell.

In a book I’ve long been working on, “I Can See Clearly Now”, I go into more detail about the time I was at Cummins. A time of insanity. A time of fighting. But I want to get back to the loneliness and how it influenced me to do something that could have put me in one of those graves. The only thing that saved me was that I paroled before the prison officials found out what I did.

Shortly after I returned to Diagnostic from Cummins, I was permanently transferred to Tucker. Cummins wasn’t the only Arkansas prison with a storied past. The “Tucker Telephone” was a well-known and much-feared device in use at the prison.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture describes the Tucker Telephone as “a torture device invented in Arkansas and regularly used at the Tucker State Prison Farm. … The Tucker Telephone consisted of an old-fashioned crank telephone wired in sequence with two batteries. Electrodes coming from it were attached to a prisoner’s big toe and genitals. The electrical components of the phone were modified so that cranking the telephone sent an electric shock through the prisoner’s body. … In prison parlance, a “long-distance call” was a series of electric shocks in a row.”

Welcome to Tucker. For the first week, I was assigned to one of the hoe squads. It was August. It was hot, and the humidity sent the heat index well into the 100s. Men fainted. The hoe squad system was a carry-over from how slaves worked on plantations before the Civil War. Every Southern state’s prison system used it, and every inmate dreaded it. You were given a heavy hoe, positioned in a line and then worked furiously to strip a field of everything in it. It doesn’t sound so bad until you do it. After an hour, the hoe weighs 100 pounds. The hoe squad riders, guards on horseback, insult you and order the lead rows, the inmates in charge of the hoe squads, to beat any inmate who can’t keep up with the pace. When we went back to the unit for lunch on the first day, my legs and arms shook so much from exhaustion that I just laid down on the ramshackle gym’s dirty floor. I knew I wouldn’t be able to maneuver a spoonful of the disgusting food to my mouth.

At other times, the inmates performed other fieldwork, such as picking cotton, still at that frenetic pace that could cause men to drop in their tracks. Inmates were basically used as slave labor, and those who didn’t pick 300 pounds of cotton were beaten at the end of the day. I saw it.

I knew I had been transferred to Tucker to be a clerk, but the ungreased wheels turned slowly, so I worked in the fields before moving to an office job. And it wasn’t just any office job. It turned out that I was to be the major’s clerk, the most coveted and the most powerful position an inmate could have. My appearance made me a target for the inmates, but I also drew the attention of the staff. I didn’t look like the typical inmate. I was clean cut and quiet. I had something of an education, and when someone asked me if I could type, I said, “At about 100 words a minute.” It saved my life. Thank you, ninth-grade typing class.

No one dared touch the major’s clerk. No one dared get on his bad side. The prison system was going through court-ordered reforms, but some of the old ways of doing business still existed. Inmates were still in security positions. At Tucker, inmates manned two of the four guard towers. At all times. There were still inmate guards, called turnkeys, and the prison had only recently stopped inmates armed with rifles to keep order. By the time I arrived, Tucker wasn’t relying as heavily on inmates to run its prisons as Texas was, but inmates still had a lot of power. And at Tucker, I had the majority of it, thanks to my job.

My primary job as the major’s clerk was to be in charge of the disciplinaries. When a guard or a staff member wrote an inmate up for a rule infraction, the disciplinary form went to me. I decided who went to disciplinary court and who didn’t. Going to disciplinary court was serious because if found guilty, which they always were, the inmates lost good time, their jobs or good housing. I was the inmate everyone wanted to be friends with because I could tear up a disciplinary if I wanted. It would go no further.

Many perks came with the job, but it heightened my loneliness. Because I had all the disciplinaries in my office, I worked alone. No inmate could come to my office, and I had a workload that required me to work about 16 hours a day. The office was a small, windowless room in the newer part of the prison. The walls were concrete, with one narrow strip of drywall. That drywall later became famous.

A lot of work went into one disciplinary. The guards would submit their hand-written disciplinary form, and I would have to type it up on a new form. Then I’d have to formally notify the inmate who had been written up, and I had to do this within so many days of the write-up. Otherwise, it wasn’t valid. Just notifying an inmate of his disciplinary was daunting. The majority of the inmates who were written up were the constant troublemakers, and they were mean. They didn’t take kindly to me showing up with an orange form and telling them they would be going to disciplinary court. They’d try to buy their way out of it. They tried to intimidate me into tearing it up. When they didn’t work, they’d threaten me. Sometimes we fought. But fighting with the major’s clerk only made an inmate’s bad situation worse.

After I notified the inmate, I’d ask him if he had any witnesses. If he did, I’d have to find those witnesses and get their statements. Those had to be typed as well. I gathered all the information for disciplinary court and then scheduled which inmates would appear. There was a staff member whose job was to head the disciplinary court, and he would drag other staff members or guards in to comply with the court-ordered prison reforms.

After they finished, they returned everything to me. I would have to type everything that was said in court, including the findings and punishment. One disciplinary would end up being about three inches of paperwork. Then I was supposed to take them to the front office where the records secretary would put the information in the computer, detailing an inmate’s loss of good time, job or whatever punishment the court doled out. It was a lot of work.

Larry May was the building major. There also was a field major, but Major May had the power. He was a Napoleon, short and taciturn. He didn’t think inmates were worth speaking to, and when he did deign to speak to a convict, he showed his distaste by either screaming or grunting at them. I was his clerk, and he barely spoke to me.

Major May was from the Texas prison system where violence toward the inmates was still rampant. He was young, in his 30s, and thought inmates were nothing more than inventory to be moved from one place to another. No inmate was a person to him. No inmate was human in his eyes. I go into more detail about Major May in the book, but here I just want to point out that my job deepened the loneliness. I was depressed to the point where I thought about suicide every day. I just didn’t know how to go about it. I had already tried to do it by cutting the veins in my arms while in the county jail, but it didn’t work. I actually sawed at my arms with a razor blade, creating deep, wide cuts, but they clotted. I have the ugly scars to remind me of that night.

So after a couple of months of typing 12-16 hours a day, the depression and loneliness started to take its toll. I still typed up the disciplinaries, but little by little I stopped typing the reams of documents needed after disciplinary court. They started to pile up on my desk. Big piles. Several of them. That went on for a couple of months.

One day, Major May called me — I had a phone in my office — and told me he wanted to see me in his office. He said the records secretary had just told me that I hadn’t turned in any of the disciplinaries for some time. I had to think fast. If I told him there were about 500 of them piled up on my desk, I would have been shipped to Cummins but not before he and his goons beat my ass. He wouldn’t have cared that I was so depressed I was trying to think of ways to kill myself. So I lied. I told him I had been taking the disciplinaries to the front office, and if they weren’t there, I didn’t know what the front-office secretaries had done with them. He spat tobacco juice into the trashcan and told me to get out of his office.

I walked down the hall to my office. Quickly. What was I going to do with all of those disciplinaries? The rumblings of an investigation were already beginning, and I had to get rid of them. I couldn’t throw them in the trash. I couldn’t take them out of my office. I couldn’t tell another inmate I had the disciplinaries because he’d use the information against me, snitch on me to win favors with the major. So I stood in my office, staring at a three-foot high pile of paperwork that Major May was now screaming down the hall had better show up. I could hear him coming toward my office.

As I said, the walls in my office were concrete, but there was that narrow strip of drywall. I acted quickly. I kicked a hole in the bottom of that wall and began to stuff the disciplinaries inside it. When I had finished, I had nothing to cover the hole up with, so I taped paper over it and moved my typing stand in front of it. About two minutes after I did that, Major May opened the door.

He screamed. He threatened. If I didn’t come up with those disciplinaries, whatever was left of my body after he kicked the shit out of me would be taken to the river bottoms to rot. I’d better turn over those disciplinaries — fast. But he underestimated me. He thought I was just a weak inmate who would cave in the face of a tantrum. Please, I had an idiotic assistant high school principal who threw more impressive fits than he did. I wasn’t about to surrender.

I told Major May in a steady voice he could do whatever he wanted with me. In fact, I told him to lock me up in the hole while he ran his investigation. I told him to transfer me to Cummins, but I wasn’t going to take the blame for the loss of the disciplinaries. And then prison office politics came into play and saved me. Captain Wagoner walked in, and I knew he had a beef against some of the secretaries. Now was his chance to serve them up.

Captain Wagoner told the major he had seen the front office porters take boxes of orange-colored paper to the incinerator, and he was now certain those were the missing disciplinaries. He said the secretaries were just lazy and didn’t want to process them. The major didn’t say a word. He just spit more tobacco juice on my office floor and walked out.

The ensuing investigation almost did me in mentally and emotionally. They turned Tucker upside down looking for the documents. Every inch of the prison was searched, except the one place where they should have started. They didn’t look in my office. I lived in fear they would, but they didn’t. The worst scare occurred when the guards announced a lockdown early one morning because they were going to search the prison again. This time I was caught in the barracks and couldn’t get to my office. This time the director of the Arkansas Department of Correction was there to help with the shakedown. I knew I was breathing my last. They would find the disciplinaries and beat me to death.

After almost a full day of searching, the lockdown was lifted. No one had summoned me to the major’s office as I had expected. I just knew they were going to find the disciplinaries in my office, but, again, they didn’t go in there to look. The next day, Major May told me I was going to have to listen to the disciplinary court’s taped recordings of the hearings and retype all of their findings. My response showed either my stupidity, or it mirrored Major May’s arrogance. I had had it with him treating us like we were something to be wiped from the bottom of his boots. I told him I wasn’t going to retype anything. I didn’t lose the disciplinaries, and I wasn’t going to do it. Have the front-office secretaries do it. Incredibly, he didn’t kill me. He just told me to get out of his office. I was happy to leave.

I wasn’t fired. I wasn’t shipped to Cummins. The warden came to my office and questioned me, but after a couple of minutes, he left. By this time, I had given performances worthy of several Oscars. You might be asking if I felt bad for lying to Major May, that my dodging responsibility was a sign of social dysfunction. No, it wasn’t. Let me tell you why.

I clearly remember a young white boy named Steve (not me). He was tall, had red hair and was clean cut. He was a target. A group of black inmates raped him, and when he fought back, the guards wrote him up. For defending himself. He was charged with fighting. That meant he would stay on hoe squad, and he would continue to be housed in a violent barracks where he would be assaulted again and again. The staff didn’t care he was violently raped by six inmates. The inmates victimized him, and staff did nothing to help him. Instead they wrote him up for fighting. I tried to help him all I could.

Many of the disciplinaries were for infractions that should have been handled differently. Yes, as I said, a majority of the write-ups were because of inmates who always screwed up, but the system created the environment that nurtured the screwing up. Inmates were supposed to play by free-world rules, but we lived in a violent, dog-eat-dog world where playing by free-world rules would get you killed. Be kind to someone, and see what would happen to you. You were pegged as weak, and that evening you could bet a group of men would appear at your bunk, demanding your property or, worse, your body.

As an inmate, I was treated as less than human by the staff. I was called names, ridiculed and humiliated. When I asked for help to try to figure out why I had written the hot checks, I was insulted and told I was scum. Seriously. The disciplinaries became my revenge. Right or wrong, it was how I fought back for the staff’s abuse. I had about six months left before I was eligible for parole, and I lived in fear every day they would find the disciplinaries in my office, but they never looked. Then two days after I paroled, they did look in the one place they should have focused on from the beginning.

I received a letter from one of the inmates, telling me what happened. They had assigned another inmate to take my place as the major’s clerk, and they decided to move his office. Of course, when they moved the typing stand, they saw the hole. When they looked in the hole, they found the disciplinaries. The inmate who wrote to me was a clerk in education, and he said the major and warden were trying to find a way to get my parole revoked and have me sent back. They couldn’t. If they had succeeded, they might not have killed me, but they would have made sure that every day I wished for death. Without those disciplinaries, they had to restore most of the inmates’ good time because they didn’t have the documentation to substantiate the offense.

It’s not quite “The Shawshank Redemption”, but I’m sure 36 years later, Major May and Warden Campbell are still smoldering over how a “stupid, piece of crap inmate” got one over on them.

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Multiple agencies respond to fire north of Dumas

Above: Dumas Fire Department Capt. Galen Davis prepares a water supply line to help fight a fire on the north side of Dumas on Friday.

An alliance of personnel from two city fire departments, Moore County EMS and other Moore County employees fought a fire on the north side of Dumas that burned 10 acres and several junk vehicles, according to the Dumas Fire Department.

Dumas Fire Chief Pray said welding in the area caused the fire that began Friday afternoon, and firefighters from the Dumas and Cactus fire departments had difficulty accessing the blaze because of an abundance of junked vehicles.

“The fire is currently contained, and crews are working on overhaul to ensure complete extinguishment of the fire,” Dumas Fire Chief Pray said. “They are having difficulty because of all the vehicles and debris in the area.”

Firefighters from the Dumas and Cactus fire departments, Moore County Road and Bridge and Moore County EMS assisted in battling the fire. No injuries were reported, Pray said.

CityHall

To the city of Dumas: Get a clue

Two years ago, I called the Dumas Fire Department to ask for the health inspections of the restaurants and other businesses that sell prepared food in the city. The inspections are public record, and many newspapers print them. I’ve worked for papers that received them from the inspectors without having to ask.

I was told the request would have to go through then-Fire Chief Paul Jenkins. I spoke with him, and he said he’d have to speak with the city manager. I told him the inspections are public record, but he still wanted to clear it with the city manager. After about two weeks, he told me I could have them, but I’d have to file an open records request. Seriously? For records everyone knows are public? I said fine.

Jenkins then told me there weren’t many health inspections conducted during the summer. That was strange, I thought. I asked him why, and he said the city’s then-code/health inspector Holly Lafever was busy with weed control. So what happens if a restaurant’s health permit expires during the summer? They just have to wait until the fall to get a current one? What if someone gets sick eating at that restaurant? Failure to conduct required inspections could put the city at risk of lawsuits.

So I began to look at the health permits around town, and I found many of them were expired, some of them long expired. I started asking questions and that led to another discovery. And then another. And then another. When Lafever committed one especially egregious act related to health inspections and health permits, I called a couple of officials, one city and one county, to tell them what all I had found. At that point, the city of Dumas got involved, and the Journal stepped up its investigation. Since then, the one request for health inspections has turned into a mountain you want to scale but don’t know where to start.

The city said they were going to conduct an internal audit because they had noticed revenue from the health permits had declined over the years. Their audit determined possible theft and fraud committed by the city’s health/code inspection office. Then, and this is where it starts to go from bad to worse, the city hired Lubbock-based Dawson Forensic Group to conduct an audit. That in itself isn’t bad, but the city didn’t follow the Texas Professional Service Procurement Act that details the process the city must follow to contract with an entity such as Dawson. You know what they did? They spoke to the Texas Rangers, and the Rangers recommended Dawson. Big mistake. Huge. Taylor said, “The city was looking into a possible criminal act and openly advertising such would have most definitely tainted the investigation.” No, what taints the investigation is the fact that state laws for procurement weren’t followed in favor of the Rangers recommending Dawson.

The Texas Rangers have no business recommending any auditor, and the city had no business asking them. The law clearly states how the city must go about hiring or contracting a professional service, and accepting a recommendation from the Rangers is certainly not in the law. If that wasn’t bad enough, the city gave Dawson the results of their internal audit. City Attorney Jerod Pingelton said they did that to save the city “thousands of dollars.” It seems Dawson would use the city’s audit, the city’s word, that possible theft/fraud had occurred and bypass parts of what should have been their own investigation. At that point, Dawson should have said, “We’ll conduct our own fair and objective audit from the ground up. We appreciate your offer to help, but we’ll do our own investigation, thank you very much.”

So guess what Dawson found? That fraud and theft had probably been committed by the health/code inspection office and possibly others. Dawson gets their nice fat check from the city and skedaddles back to Lubbock, and the city contacts the Texas Rangers. But wait. The city was already speaking to the Texas Rangers. Remember, the Rangers recommended Dawson. So who does Dawson work for? The Rangers? Again, the Rangers have no business recommending any forensic auditor. The appearance of that recommendation throws up all kinds of red flags. That audit should have been procured after following the law, which the city didn’t do. Why are they circumventing the law, going with an auditor the Rangers recommended and then giving the auditor their findings from their own internal audit? Doing all of that makes it seem a fair and objective audit wasn’t a consideration. If their intention was to conduct an objective audit, they sure went about it the wrong way. So if the city didn’t follow the procurement laws, does that mean the forensic audit is invalid? We’ll cover that in one of the stories.

Beginning with this editorial, the Journal will publish a series of stories about the audit, Lafever’s subsequent arrest and indictment. The Journal filed several open records related to the incident with the city, which they turned over to the Pingelton. I’ve filed many open records with entities over the years, and never, ever have they been turned over to their attorneys. Certainly the city should use their legal counsel, but why are they paying Pingelton to answer open records requests? He isn’t the records manager. The city secretary is.

One of the charges Lafever was indicted on was theft of a vacuum cleaner. I asked for the receipts for that vacuum cleaner. Pretty simple request. Pingelton responded that information is part of an investigation. That’s what he said about other requests, too. Surely, the city could have asked his advice and have the records manager respond to the request. It might have saved the city money. But eh, what’s money? The thousands of dollars they paid Dawson seem to have been a waste, too. Lafever was indicted for theft of the vacuum cleaner and tearing up a check: Tampering With Evidence. What happened to the theft and fraud the two audits said probably happened? Theft of a vacuum cleaner? Wow.

So where was Jenkins in all of this? Taylor said on the record that the debacle was his fault. Jenkins asked the City Commission for permission to change the payment process for the health permits. The money used to be collected by City Hall, but Jenkins changed that and had his department collect the money. So where was the oversight? How is it that fraud and theft occurred under his watch for so long? That’s one story in the series the Journal is publishing. Nothing happened to Jenkins other than he retired a few months earlier than he said he would. Lafever, on the other hand, was thrown under the bus, dragged back out and then thrown under it again. The city has treated her with great disregard, fired her and burdened her with all of the legal consequences. Jenkins was given a plaque when he retired. Was he protected, and if so, who protected him?

I don’t want to write the whole story here because there’s so much to it. I want only to say there are several stories coming out about how the city handled the Lafever investigation and why it stinks.

But that’s not all. The Dumas Police Department also is a mess. I filed an open records request a few months ago, asking for the names of all the people the city has hired for the police department over the last couple of years and the names of all the people who have left the department during that period. It turns out about 40 people have left the department during a two-year period. That’s an astonishing number, but what’s more astonishing is that the city didn’t conduct any exit interviews to ask them why were they leaving. Wouldn’t you want to know why so many police officers and other personnel are leaving one department? I asked the city for the exit interviews, and Pingelton replied there aren’t any. You can pick your jaw up from the floor now.

In an email, Taylor said, “Nelson’s (Dumas Police Chief Nelson) ‘old school’ way of running the PD may not be the ideal ‘Millennial’s’ work environment, but he has never given me an inkling of doubt that he cares for his community and his officers and has done everything he can to make sure they are well equipped, well trained, and ready to perform the way the citizens of Dumas expect their police officers to perform.” I can read much into Taylor’s use of “Millennials” in quotation marks. Does he mean crybabies? I’m far past being a millennial, but I don’t want a boss who disrespects me, and if that makes me a crybaby, then give me a bottle. And as far as an “inkling of doubt.” Forty people leaving one department in two years should instill in anyone some doubt about how that department is being managed. Do not sit there and tell me that three Dumas police officers went to the city of Sunray because they were looking for more money and better equipment. They left, along with many others, because they were fed up. It’s that simple. Certainly, not all of those 40 people left because of Nelson, but many of the police officers did.

Police officers, like military personnel, don’t want to bash their supervisors on the record. It looks horrible in their files, and the reputation of being difficult and insubordinate will follow them; so they don’t say anything. They just resign and go to another city or another law enforcement agency. No one likes a crybaby, “millennial” or any age, but no one likes a boss whose management style makes you want to scour the want ads every day, either. And that’s what’s been happening. How do I know? I’ll explain in the stories.

There’s so much to cover, so it has to be broken up in parts. Taylor said in the same email he stands by his department heads. He should when they’re good ones, but he should stand by his employees when a department head isn’t good, as was the documented case of Jenkins. Ultimately, the city should stand by the taxpayers, and the PD’s high turnover is a very expensive burden for us. Something has to change. Either Nelson pulls it together and stops creating an environment that makes his officers flee or he, and the city, should recognize and accept that the “old school” way of doing things doesn’t work anymore.

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If your salary is paid with tax dollars, you will be held accountable for your behavior

Since the publication of the story about DISD employee Nicki Ames’ arrest for Assault: Causing Bodily Damage, I’ve received emails encouraging me “to get a life”, advising me to “mind my own business” and observing that I must be “board” (her spelling), a condition that must have caused me to dip into the police files and pull out a bit of news fodder with the sole purpose of destroying someone’s life. Because, according to the comments and emails, that is what I aspire to do as a journalist.

Let’s begin with what is news and what isn’t. When a public official, an educator, a doctor or anyone else in whom public trust has been placed breaks that trust, it is news. If that burden is too heavy to bear you simply don’t run for public office, become an educator or school administrator or accept any position where maintaining public trust is a requirement. It really is an easy decision to make.

Ames broke that trust when she was arrested. Even though she hasn’t been convicted of any charge, the arrest is news — because of her position as a teacher. The incident didn’t occur on school property, but that doesn’t matter. Her arrest throws her ability to act professionally at all times into question. Should she return to the classroom, she becomes a legal liability. What if she loses control of her emotions in the classroom and assaults a child, a parent or a co-worker? The district could be hit with a lawsuit, and there is an argument the district put her back in the classroom knowing she now has a documented history of losing control.

Ames’ actions became public the moment she was arrested. Are there other arrests for family violence? Of course. But again, as a DISD teacher, she broke the public’s trust. If you argue she didn’t, then I have an issue with your acceptance of behavior that leads to an arrest for assault. I have an issue that you care little or nothing about someone who was arrested for assault being in a classroom with children.

We are slipping as a community entrusted to protecting our children when we say this kind of behavior doesn’t matter. It matters a great deal. It’s a horrible model for our children when their teachers are arrested for assault, when they say to hell with my standing in the community and my career. People, grown jaded by the nastiness of reality TV and prevalent rudeness, don’t give it any thought when people in Ames’ position are arrested in a public place for assault. Instead, the press is being mean and should “get a life.”

Ames’ arrest is news. She willingly put herself in a position to be held to a high standard when she signed a contract with DISD. If she’s not able to maintain that standard, she should resign or be dismissed. Is she the only DISD employee who has broken that trust? No, but as far as I know this is the most recent incident that involved the police. Whether it is a DUI, stealing money or any offense that breaks that public trust, it will be reported.

No doubt, some DISD employees will stop speaking to me. I don’t care. The Journal’s responsibility is to the protection of our community’s children and holding public officials and employees paid with tax dollars accountable. Let me state that in bold letters. If you are paid with tax dollars, your behavior is open to the public. Period. Also, it’s unacceptable when someone tries to use his position to have an official fired for performing his duties. The Journal will file an open records request to determine if that happened during Ames’ arrest.

So I stand by the story about Ames, and I will stand by future stories about district employees with DUIs (in Dumas or in Austin) and other offenses. And to the reader who said I must be “board.” Nope. Never have been. Not even during English class where I learned the difference between a noun and an adjective.

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Dumas ISD employee arrested for family violence charge

Above: Nikki Ames (Photo courtesy Moore County Sheriff’s Department)

Editor’s Note: The story has been updated to indicate the incident is still under investigation.

Dumas police arrested a DISD employee for a family violence charge, according to Moore County Sheriff’s Department records.

A report from the Dumas Police Department says a verbal argument between Lola Nicole Ames and a man who isn’t named in the report turned into a physical altercation. Ames was arrested and charged with Assault: Causing Bodily Injury.

Ames, who is listed as Nikki Ames on the district’s web site, is a Behavior Academic Classroom teacher at Green Acres and has retained her employment, pending further investigation, Superintendent Monty Hysinger said.

“The district doesn’t have an established policy on procedures for dealing with an employee who is arrested,” Hysinger said. “We look at each case independently, and we don’t react off of emotions. We wait until we have as many facts as can be gathered and assess the incident. We have to remember we’re dealing with someone’s reputation and career.”

Hysinger stressed that the district’s foremost concern is the children.

“We expect our educators to abide by a standard that reflects the district’s high expectations,” Hysinger said. “The community trusts us with their children, and we trust our employees with them. We expect a lot out of our teachers, and we don’t take incidents like this lightly. We have investigated, and we’re waiting for more information to determine what action we will take.”

Ames was released on a $1,000 cash bond the day of her arrest. Dumas Police Sgt. Jordan said the incident is still under investigation

Copyright 2016 by Moore County Journal