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Democratic Dallas County DA challenger criticizes Creuzot’s record on police brutality, bail reform

Elizabeth Frizell said she is seeking a rematch against John Creuzot because the incumbent broke two key campaign promises.

Elizabeth Frizell, the Democrat challenging Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot in March’s primary election, says she is seeking a rematch against Creuzot because the incumbent broke two key campaign promises.

Elizabeth Frizell
Elizabeth Frizell

Frizell, speaking to The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board Friday, accused Creuzot of failing to address police brutality and to reform the cash bail system in the first three years of his term. Creuzot, who also took part in the virtual interview, said he has prosecuted police officers and is limited in the power his office has to eliminate cash bail.

“They were very important to me because I made those promises also and I know they’re important to the community,” Frizell said.

Frizell, who like Creuzot is a former state district judge, narrowly lost the 2018 Democratic primary to him. The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican candidate Faith Johnson, who is unopposed in her primary.

Frizell said she was concerned about specific cases in which law enforcement officers accused of brutality and public officials accused of corruption were not prosecuted by Creuzot’s office.

She cited the cases of Tony Timpa, an unarmed man who died after he was restrained by Dallas officers, facedown in the grass with a knee in his back for 13 minutes, and Kyle Vess, a homeless, unarmed man who was hospitalized after a Dallas-Fire Rescue paramedic kicked and punched him.

John Creuzot
John Creuzot

Creuzot dismissed the misdemeanor deadly conduct charges against the Dallas officers who had been indicted in Timpa’s death, and he said his office “dropped the ball” on investigating the firefighter who kicked Vess before the statute of limitations expired on potential crimes.

But Frizell incorrectly claimed that Creuzot had prosecuted “zero” officers.

Creuzot pointed to cases including that of Amber Guyger, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing Botham Jean, an unarmed man who was in his own apartment she said she mistook as hers.

Creuzot said he intends to present more instances of Dallas police misconduct during the 2020 George Floyd protests to a grand jury but is trying to gather more evidence to bolster those cases.

His prosecutors failed to obtain indictments against a sergeant who was caught on camera firing pepper balls into the breast of a Black Lives Matter protester and a senior corporal accused of shooting a protester in the face with less-lethal ammunition. In the second case, Creuzot’s office decided to pursue a misdemeanor assault charge, which does not require a grand jury decision, against the officer.

In most cases stemming from the protests, prosecutors face a statute of limitations this year, and Creuzot said his prosecutors are deciding whether to present the remaining cases to the grand jury with what they have. Last week, Creuzot held a news conference seeking help from people who were at the protests who might have videos and photos of officers’ actions.

“We are doing all that we can,” Creuzot said.

However, Creuzot also said during that news conference this month that he does not recommend grand juries indict officers, even though prosecutors do make recommendations to grand juries about other types of cases. Creuzot said he has no control over the secret panels but works to present cases in a “forthright manner, and honestly.”

Frizell also said Friday that she’s seen no evidence Creuzot has attempted to reform the state’s bail bond system that disproportionately keeps nonwealthy people in jail while awaiting trial. She said she is opposed to a cash bail system and said she would assign prosecutors to the jail who can be available for bond-setting hearings around the clock.

“If you don’t have a lot of money, you shouldn’t be stuck in jail,” she said. “If you happen to have a lot of money and a bond was set very high appropriately for the facts, you shouldn’t be able to get out just because you have money.”

Creuzot argued that absent an amendment to the state constitution, a cash bail system will always exist. He also correctly pointed out that judges — not prosecutors — decide a person’s bail amount. He said his office has tried to be involved in hearings where judges set bonds, but that the county does not fund having public defenders in the jails at all hours. Constitutional law prohibits prosecutors from being in hearings without a person’s defense lawyer present.

“We still have it as a concern to be there and an objective to do that but we don’t have the power to do it,” Creuzot said.

Dallas County is the subject of a pending federal lawsuit that challenges the cash bail system. The county has been ordered to stop using fixed bail amounts without considering alternatives that would allow a person’s release from jail. State law says bail should not be oppressive, just that it should be used to reasonably assure a person returns to court.

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