by Jim Shutze
The mayor of Dallas and the editorial page of The Dallas Morning News have revived an incident from 2015 in which Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs, now a candidate for mayor, was accused of violently threatening a city official, then-Assistant City Secretary Bilirae Johnson. There were never any charges. A Dallas County grand jury would not indict him.
The Morning News has suggested that the Dallas Observer and/or myself are spinning paranoid conspiracy theories by claiming that the accusation against Griggs is and always has been a concocted falsehood — a conspiracy actually — brought up again now to tar Griggs unfairly in the mayor’s race.
Below are audio recordings of Dallas Police Department interviews of witnesses made a week after the April 13, 2015, incident. Please pay careful attention to the first recording. It is of a phone call made by Lt. Eno Fite, of the Dallas police’s criminal intelligence unit, to Johnson, the alleged victim of threats by Griggs. Just beyond the one-minute mark, Johnson tells Fite she is “very upset” because there was “absolutely no incident.”
Recording No. 2 is taken from a police interview of Lindsay Kramer, an executive assistant to former City Manager A.C. Gonzalez. Kramer was on the phone with Johnson during the encounter with Griggs. She tells police Griggs was angry and yelling, but she says he was angry with a group of people in the room because he believed they were lying. She says at no point did Griggs make a threat.
This matter had to do with an effort by Mayor Michael Rawlings to hurriedly schedule a last-minute presentation to the City Council urging construction of a new expressway through the center of downtown. Rawlings had made getting the Trinity toll road built his most important goal as mayor and urged the public to judge his time in office by it. The toll road project eventually was killed by a majority of the City Council, led by Griggs.
Note in the police chronology below that five witnesses were actually present or on the phone with Johnson during the encounter — Johnson, Kramer and witnesses 3, 5 and 6. The five are unanimous in saying they did not hear Griggs threaten Johnson. Two witnesses, 3 and 5, said they thought Griggs was yelling at then-City Attorney Warren Ernst, not Johnson. In saying they heard no threat, they echo what Ernst himself wrote in a memo to file (see below) that he composed after speaking with Johnson soon after the incident. This is from Ernst’s own typewritten account of what Johnson told him:
“Bilierae asked me to call her. I returned her call at 1:03 pm and asked if she could come to my office. She did, and we discussed the matter. She said that she did not feel threatened, that other council members had also yelled and screamed, that it was just the councilmember expressing his frustration with the mayor. We discussed the matter at some length and I shared with her my concerns. I told her that I would be following up with a meeting with Chief Brown.”
The third recording is of then-Dallas City Secretary Rosa Rios, Johnson’s boss at the time, telling police that Ernst had been talking to Johnson about the incident “time and again.”
The fourth recording is of an interview of Ernst by a police investigator whose name I have not been able to determine. In it, the police investigator points out to Ernst that another investigator, Fite, had already spoken to Johnson and had come away with the impression Johnson had not felt any fear in her encounter with Griggs. Ernst, the investigator points out, had told Dallas Police Chief David Brown that Johnson felt fear. When the investigator asks Ernst to explain that conflict, Ernst pauses for a long time and then says something about “getting old.”
The fifth recording is from that same interview of Ernst, in which the police investigator asks Ernst if he “felt any concern” for Johnson when he talked to her about the incident. Ernst says no. He then goes on to volunteer that Johnson may have a problem being “forthright.”
The claim that Griggs physically threatened Johnson was made by Johnson only after her many conversations with Ernst and after multiple witnesses told police no threat had been made. Police also said Johnson had given them “conflicting information.” At that point, two police investigators went to Johnson’s home to interview her in person. Here is their account of that interview:
“Due to conflicting information provided by assistant city secretary Johnson, Lt. Fite and Lt. Junger went to her residence and conducted an in-person interview. Assistant City Secretary Johnson stated councilmember Griggs was upset concerning the legality of the posting of an agenda item. Councilmember Griggs began yelling at her and using profanity. Assistant City Secretary Johnson stated Councilmember Griggs yelled at her, “You better not push those briefing materials out or I will break your fucking fingers.” Assistant City Secretary Johnson did not feel threatened by Councilmember Griggs’ statement but found his behavior shocking. Assistant City Secretary Johnson wrote in her affidavit, “Because of the attention I may receive from the media/public, I will not pursue any charges.”
This, by the way, confirms reporting by The Dallas Morning News that Johnson declined to press charges because of her fear of publicity. But I also have been correct in stating previously that Johnson said in a sworn affidavit that she did not feel threatened. This version leaves a certain amount of mystery on the books — how a person could hear someone threaten to break her fingers and not feel threatened.
The sixth and last audio is a longer outtake from the police interview of Rios. Rios speaks with feeling about her conviction that the alleged threat never happened and about the culture at City Hall that produced this terrible accusation — Griggs was accused of a felony — in spite of the fact that none of it was true. When Rios retired in 2017, Rawlings led a successful campaign to have the City Council give her job to Johnson.
So, again, you decide. I think these tapes are a damning window on a dark culture of callous deception at City Hall and at the city’s only daily newspaper. These are people not afraid to lie to the cops and unconcerned about sending an innocent person to prison, possibly destroying a young family as collateral damage, all to get their way on a highway project. That’s just how they roll.