Billy “Hollywood” Groves speaks during time set aside for “Comments from Audience or Council” at Monday’s meeting and announced he has sent his complaint against Cross to the State of Texas.(ALTON PORTER | HCC)
Dr. Ianthia Fisher and her brother, Billy "Hollywood" Groves, have leveled separate complaints alleging Crockett Police Chief David "Buddy" Cross was too harsh with them in his handling of a situation in which he told them "please do not talk during the meeting" when he believed they were speaking too loudly and being a distraction when conversing with each other during a Crockett City Council meeting Jan. 8.
Fisher, wife of former Crockett Police Chief Jimmy Fisher, read her complaint to the city council at a meeting Monday Feb. 5, Groves, candidate for mayor in last year's City of Crockett election, also spoke during time set aside for "Comments from Audience or Council" at Monday's meeting and announced he has sent his complaint against Cross to the State of Texas.
Cross, who presented the Crockett Police Department's monthly Manpower & Criminal Incident Report for January 2018 after Fisher and Groves voiced their complaints, was unavailable for comment after adjournment of Monday's meeting.
The five councilmembers heard the complaints but took no action as they are not legally permitted to act on matters presented during the comments part of the meeting. Mayor Joni Clonts was absent, and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Marsh, councilmember for Precinct 5, presided of the meeting in her absence.
"I'd just like to share a few points that I filed against the chief of police in regards to the incident that happened (at the Jan. 8) council meeting," Fisher said opening her remarks. "And I'm basically just going to read what I've written. Is that acceptable?
"I am addressing this as a letter of complaint against Chief Buddy Cross for his inappropriate behavior and conduct unbecoming an officer assigned to respect the rights of all citizens."
Fisher continued, "While attending the Jan. 8 council meeting, I was shocked ... at the outburst he (Cross) made during the presentation of the fire marshal. His outburst was loud, unprovoked and can only be considered offensive.
"While a comment was being made to me by my brother, who was sitting directly next to me, stating that the fire chief was doing a great job..., it was in no way disruptive, due to the fact that we were at the back of the room and I was sitting next to him.
"As he was making the comment, I heard someone yelling from the opposite side of the room. And I'm not sure, but (it was) something to the effect about not talking. Maybe I missed something, but it appeared that we were discriminatorily singled out and disrespected in such a manner, with the sole intent to humiliate.
"Subsequently, I believe his (Cross) yelling was much more of a distraction than our private conversation. By the way, if quietness in the council meeting is such a valued commodity, I would think that the quietest way to handle an imagined infraction, would be to address the person or persons doing the talking personally, hence not disrupting the entire council meeting.
"Furthermore, I would not have taken issue to the yelling by Buddy Cross if it wasn't a common practice of visiting community members to share a personal comment among themselves throughout the council meeting.
"If talking during the meeting was a problem, I did observe several other people, including the guest who were here who were having a strong conversation while sitting in front of him (Cross). At no time did I hear Buddy Cross yell or indicate it wasn't acceptable to talk in the meeting while other business issues were being discussed." Fisher said, "Additionally, I know that the police are at the council meetings by request and are there to carry out the law enforcement instructed by the mayor or council. I am aware that disruption is determined by the mayor of the council and not by the law enforcement serving as security for the meeting.
"There was never an indication by the mayor or of the councilmembers that a disruption was taking place. And I am unclear why Buddy Cross felt the need to enforce his authority on one select group of citizens. This in and of itself appears to be selective enforcement beyond the scope of his authority."
She added, "In an attempt at the end of the (Jan. 8) meeting to find out what had happened, I asked the question, 'Who was doing the yelling on my side of the room?' And in a very combative and angry manner, Buddy Cross approached me from across the room (and) came to the edge of the aisle and started saying something about his authority. "I'm not sure what else he was saying, but it appeared to be a threat and I felt frightened. I'm sure that most of what was said at that point was observed by the remaining people in the room.
"I will state that, at this point, Buddy's approach was of such a nature that I felt extremely threatened by it. I feel it's a sad day for the City of Crockett when the citizenry is treated in such a disrespectful manner by one who has sworn to protect the rights of the people in the community.
"Therefore, I am requesting that the members of the council address this manner with Buddy Cross."
Groves said, "I filed the same complaint on Buddy Cross. I sent mine to the state. I've been talking to attorneys all over the country. ... The man (Cross) overrode his power. He's trying to intimidate people, but you will never be able to control God's people because I'm fearless. I'm not going to be intimidated by a cop.
"The cops have a job to do and we respect them. But, when (they) break the law, when (they) run over the people, (they're) not the law anymore. (They've) disrespected everything. I'm asking the city to put on the agenda to remove this guy, Buddy Cross, from police chief.
"I wrote a letter. I sent it to (City Administrator John) Angerstein. I hope you all (city councilmembers) will go through it, talk over it, discuss it and take it into consideration. We're going to pass a petition at some point to have this guy (Cross) removed because it's not right.
"Crockett is predominantly black and we only have one or two black police officers. It doesn't make sense. It seems like it's very vindictive ..., and we need to do something about it because we represent thousands and thousands of people who work hard every day, who come to this town expecting fair treatment.
"We want to let the people know, and we will not be silenced by anybody because we represent a democracy. It's called America."
The Crockett City Council approved the planned demolition of an asbestos-contaminated building it owns, located at 704 E. Goliad Ave., as part of a project in which another building next door owned by a private individual also will be torn down at a council meeting Monday, Feb. 5.
A motion to approve the asbestos abatement and demolition of the old Waller Building, 704 E. Goliad Ave., and the second structure located at 702 E. Goliad Ave. as part of the same project was offered by Precinct 1 Councilmember Butch Calvert and seconded by Precinct 3 Councilmember Ernest Jackson. It unanimously passed. The cost of tearing down the buildings will be a little over $25,000, according to City Administrator John Angerstein.
After the matter was placed before the councilmembers by Mayor Pro Tem and Precinct 5 Councilmember Mike Marsh, who presided over the meeting in the absence of Mayor Joni Clonts, Angerstein told them, as part of the city's energy performance contract with Johnson Controls, some $75,000 was set aside in contingency funds for the council to use at will.
"There was enough savings within the performance contract that they (Johnson Controls) gave an additional $75,000 to use," he explained. "The mayor's wish initially, from what I've received back from council, was that it would be used toward demolishing the (old) hospital building (located across the street in front of City Hall) and the demolishing of the Waller Building.
"At this time, the hospital and this property are being advertised for receiving sealed bids. So, that will be saving all the money that was going to go toward the hospital." Angerstein added, "We do still have the Waller Building, that's the green building across from (First United) Methodist Church and beside the (Crockett Public) Library. It is contaminated with asbestos. I do have a quote ... from a consultant ... (who has) surveyed the building. And their total fees were $11,925 (for demolishing that building alone).
"If we did it in conjunction with a neighboring property that also was recently purchased and they (owners of the 702 E. Goliad Ave. property) need to do an asbestos abatement on their property, the total cost together (for demolition of the 702 and 704 E. Goliad buildings) was $25,148 (if done as part of the same project)."
Angerstein said a savings of $2,400-plus would be realized by demolishing the two buildings as part of the same project because it would cost $27,573 to raze them separately. About $1,500 of the savings would be realized by the city and almost $1,000 by the private property owner as a result of tearing down the two buildings in a joint project, he said.
The city's 704 E. Goliad Ave. property could be converted to a parking lot for the library "or whatever the city wants," Angerstein said.
In other business, the councilmembers: • Heard a brief report from Executive Director James Gentry of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation (CEIDC), who noted he was informed Monday that the prospective owners of the planned Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram of Crockett auto dealership were meeting with Prosperity Bank loan officers with whom they've been negotiating seeking the 15 percent of financing of their proposed facility that isn't covered by the 85 percent of financing that was pre-approved by Chrysler Capital; • Were reminded by Precinct 2 Councilmember Darrell Jones that a seat on the CEIDC Board of Directors left empty by Board Member Wade Thomas, whose term recently expired, remains vacant, even though the seat recently vacated by former CEIDC Board President Ansel Bradshaw was filled by Michael Brenner at the council's last meeting held Jan. 22; • Passed, on a unanimous vote, a motion made by Jones—seconded by Jackson—to table, until research can be done, action on an offer made by Executive Director Jeannie Julian of the Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce on behalf of the chamber to donate Brewer Park, located on East Goliad Avenue near downtown, to the city; • Unanimously voted to pass a motion made by Jones—seconded by Jackson—to accept a bid of $300 for tax trust property that had a tax judgment of $7,078 against it and was taken possession of by local government entities in a suit styled Houston County v. Clyde Randolph (No. 11-0016); • All voted to pass a Jackson motion—seconded by Jones—approving a request by Executive Director Glenn Barnhart of Piney Wood Fine Arts Association on behalf of the association to close 3rd Street (Camp Street) between Goliad and Fannin Avenues from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. Friday, Mar. 23, and that same street as well as Goliad Avenue between 2nd and 4th Streets from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. Saturday, Mar. 24, for an annual music and arts festival; • Unanimously voted to pass a motion made by Calvert—seconded by Precinct 4 Councilmember Rita Rodriguez—authorizing Angerstein to execute a sale-purchase agreement and to purchase a good-condition 1990 Ford dump truck for $6,000 from Houston County Precinct 2, represented by Commissioner Willie Kitchen; • Passed, on a unanimous vote, a motion offered by Jackson—seconded by Calvert—approving a list of surplus items that no longer serve any useful purpose for the city to be listed on Rene' Bates Auctioneers, Inc.'s, online auctioneering service or to be scrapped or destroyed; and • Were all in agreement on another motion made by Jackson—seconded by Calvert—agreeing to purchase outright self-contained breathing equipment which was previously approved as a capital expense for the Crockett Fire Department at a savings of $20,000.
The Family Crisis Center of East Texas branch office in Crockett is settling in and wants abuse, sexual assault and other victims of family violence to know they are here to assist persons victimized by domestic violence and they are here to stay.
Center staff members started seeing abused women and other non-offending family members victimized by family violence in June 2017, and held a well-attended ribbon-cutting ceremony for the facility, located at 310 E. Houston Ave., officially opening it roughly two months later on Aug. 23 last year. Since that time, Maria Rodriguez, the center's legal advocate and case manager, and other staff members have assisted various clients and are becoming entrenched in the community, Rodriguez said.
"They (daily center operations) are going good. We are being found (by abuse victims and others). People have realized that we're here. So, we have had walk-ins. And then, we've had phone calls as well. It's easier for them (family crisis victims) to find me than before."
She noted the Crockett office is very accessible, located right off the downtown square. "So, if people are needing to come into town for one reason or another, they don't have go far to find us," she said.
"So, I do feel like we are getting more clients now that I'm here. And then, the counselor (Mary Curtis) is meeting with the clients for counseling as well. So, it's been good." Rodriguez said she and other center staff members saw 19 clients in Crockett in all of 2016 when they were operating here out of the Family Crisis Center of East Texas headquarters office in Lufkin and were meeting with clients here in borrowed space.
However, they served 59 clients in 2017, the year the Crockett branch office opened. The majority of these clients' cases involved domestic violence, she said, adding, these clients needed assistance filing for protective orders and in the area of legal advocacy. Legal advocacy covers helping clients file police reports, criminal charges and divorce paperwork.
Another big service center staff members provide is counseling, Rodriguez said, noting Curtis "saw five women just today," Thursday, Feb. 1, who were in need of such assistance. "Counseling and legal advocacy are hand in hand," she said.
"We handle and assist (in any case involving a) victim or survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault." Rodriguez keeps office hours at the Crockett center three days a week—Monday, Wednesday and Thursday—from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and Curtis meets with counseling clients on Thursdays. Rodriguez said she also might be able to meet someone at the office on another day of the week if there is a special circumstance.
"I feel really good about the progress of the Crockett center (and its growing entrenchment in the community)," she said. "I feel a lot better than before when I was able to come only one day a week and put everything in one day (before the center opened here).
"So, I'm able to set up the appointments. And then, I'm able to be here and actually have somebody come in as a walk-in. Before, I had to go to the office (in Lufkin), pickup a vehicle and then come over here. So, I didn't stay all day. I only stayed from 10 (a.m.) to 3 or 4 (p.m.), which is not much. But now, I come directly here and I leave directly from here. So, I don't have to go to another office."
Rodriguez said she's seeing an uptick in clients in Crockett now that the center has its own set office in the city. "I have walk-ins that come on their own, and its for counseling or legal advocacy," she said. "They have more options. It used to be one day and it was hard for some of the people to get off work. But now, they have more options as far as the time and the days (they can come in)."
Rodriguez said she and Curtis are the two staff members who are at the center most of the time. However, other staff members who travel from Lufkin to the Crockett center as needed, are a housing specialist, medical advocate, sexual assault advocate and a child advocate.
In addition, the center offers a prevention program for perpetrators of violence through its BIPP (Battering Intervention and Prevention Program), co-facilitated by Will Windham and two other people, which meets at the Houston County Adult Probation Office in Crockett.
She said the center owes a debt of gratitude to members of the community, as well as Kalin's Center, a child advocacy center located in Crockett that serves both Houston and Trinity counties, for making referrals to the family crisis center.
She added, "I really just thank the community because I think that's how they (victims) are finding me—by word of mouth. Other agencies and individuals are giving information about where we're located. We appreciate the partnership we have with Kalin's Center very much."
In furtherance of providing legal advocacy and counseling, Rodriguez said she and other family crisis center staff also provide information and referrals to other services and resources in the community, accompany clients to court hearings and proceedings and prepare clients for such occurrences.
In addition, she said she goes with clients to the police station, sheriff's office and other law enforcement entities to file the charges or reports if they (clients) have not done so, and does any needed follow-up.
Likewise, "I am able to education them (clients) on their rights as victims and the services and options that are out there for them," Rodriguez said. "I work with (the Texas) Crime Victims' Compensation (Program)—CVC. If they qualify, I assist with (completing and filing) the applications and impact statements.
"And then, I help them if they need attorneys. We go through Lone Star Legal Aid. If they don't qualify through Lone Star Legal Aid, we go through our own attorney. If they already have attorneys, I still am able to accompany them to court for divorce and (to obtain) child custody."
Rodriguez added, "And then, any other services that they might need (are available). Besides a shelter in Lufkin, we have a transitional program. If they qualify and want to relocate to Lufkin, we can do that. They can live there a year and a half and don't have to pay rent. But, they have to work on goals and save their money, so when they go out on their own, (they will be prepared).
"Other services available to victims through the crisis center, include utilities'—telephone, electricity and natural gas—waivers for those who are starting over and need to start their own accounts. In addition, the center has a thrift store in Lufkin. The only thing is I wish we had a thrift store close by (in Crockett)."
Rodriguez said she is trying to build up a food pantry and toiletry storehouse in Crockett "so I can have them here. So, when somebody comes in and they need anything like that (they will be available)." Community residents may donate food and toiletry items to the crisis center for this project, she said.
She said the need for food and toiletry items and the need for someone to care for children while their parents attend support group and counseling sessions are the biggest things lacking at the center at this time.
"I'm hoping to find a volunteer who can watch the children as I do the support group once a week," she added. "We have individual counseling and peer support group, as well. I'm also looking for a volunteer who would answer the center's hotline."
The Crockett office hotline and office phone numbers are 936-546-0023 and 936-544-2151. The center's 24-hour crisis hotline phone number in Lufkin is 1-800-828-7233. The center's web address is www.FamilyCrisisCenterofEastTexas.com.
The message Rodriguez sends to the community is: "If you're in a situation where there is domestic or family violence or sexual assault, there is help. We are here."
As for the future, she said, "I see that we will be able to provide both the Spanish-speaking support group, English-speaking support group, and that we also will have support group for the children."
The two current national and state level leaders representing Houston County and a former leader from the area have joined forces to support local officials in their efforts to have the county's hospital reopened.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas, 8th Dist.), Texas Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Dist. 57) and former U.S. Rep. Jim Turner (D-Crockett) met with members of the Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) Board of Directors and other local leaders, including Houston County Judge Jim Lovell and Crockett Mayor Joni Clonts, and were led on a tour of the county's hospital building Tuesday, Jan. 23.
All three leaders reaffirmed their commitment to support the HCHD board and the principals of Crockett Medical Center, LLC, (CMC) who are partnering to reopen the facility, hopefully as soon as around mid-May.
In remarks before introducing Brady to and audience of the local leaders and hospital reopening supporters from the community at a gathering following the tour, Turner said, the hospital's new operators (CMC executives) were to "go to the state licensing office Friday (Jan. 26) and get the permit for operating a hospital that has been held in abeyance and not revoked, ever since this hospital closed, through the hard work and efforts of Rep. Ashby." Drawing applause and verbal shouts of approval, Turner told Ashby, "We're very grateful for what you did." Turner explained, "We all know it was unprecedented for (Charles Smith), the (executive) commissioner of (Texas) Health and Human Services to not revoke our license. The state regulations say very clearly that 10 days after a hospital is closed, the license shall be surrendered. And Trent persuaded him (Smith) that this one shouldn't be surrendered. And so, our new investors (CMC executives) are going to be able to recover it Friday (Jan. 26) when they go in to visit the appropriate officials.
Turner introduced the two investors—Dr. Subir Chhikara and Dr. Kelly E. Tjelmeland, both of Austin and who were present—to the audience.
Turner said Chhikara and Tjelmeland "will operate, as I recall, under the name of Crockett Medical Center going forward.... These two gentlemen, along with another investor—maybe more—who has been a silent partner in this effort, have committed the funds necessary to reopen this hospital.
"And, as most of you can appreciate, when you've had a hospital close and you have to try to reopen it, you don't even get to collect any billings from the federal government or from these big insurance companies for five or six months, even after you get a provider number so you can claim the money.
"So, we all know it's going to take someone with deep enough pockets to sustain the reopening of this hospital. And we're very grateful that these two gentlemen, and the commitment they've made, will allow that to happen. And this board (the HCHD board of directors) is committed to working very closely with them to ensure the success of what has to be a true partnership between this community and these hospital investors and physicians who have come to us. So, we're very pleased and we thank both of you (Chhikara and Tjelmeland) for having faith in Houston County and the future of healthcare here."
Then, Turner yielded the floor to (Brady), calling him "our guest of honor" at the Jan. 23 tour and reception. "We're very pleased that Congressman Brady would take the time to come to visit this hospital," Turner said. "We're very grateful. Kevin and I started out in the Texas Legislature together. We went to Congress at the same time. And I don't think I have a better friend in Congress than Kevin Brady.
"We gave Kevin a very short briefing on where we stand and the things we need. We were most encouraged by what he had to say to us and I want him to share a few thoughts with you."
After thanking Turner for his leadership and friendship through the years, saying Turner "sort of set the standard for public service," Brady said, Turner's "leadership today is one of the reasons why this hospital is going to reopen." Then, Brady said, "This (reopening the hospital) is crucial for the community—crucial for the future of Crockett and Houston County.
"You have a lot of good things—actually remarkable things—going for you. One, the commitment from the community. A lot of communities would have rolled over at this point and just said, 'They'll never open up.' "Between your board, this commitment from the mayor, the judge and county commissioners, the community that is fighting to bring healthcare back permanently to this area is really remarkable. And I know that Trent called ... You called me over the holidays ... Thanksgiving, I think, about the importance of responding now to make sure this hospital could reopen. So, you've got a remarkable commitment from the community.
"Secondly, I don't need to tell you this. This is an amazing facility. We were talking about it as we were touring. There are few facilities with this type of technology, potential anywhere in a rural community in the country, much less Texas. And so, you've got, I think, a remarkable potential beyond what other communities have in healthcare. "And thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, you've got two investors who know what the potential is for this medical center and this hospital. So grateful for your taking such a hard look at this facility, recognizing what this can be and the importance for the community. Making that investment speaks a whole lot to you gentlemen (Chhikara and Tjelmeland) in what you know you can deliver."
Brady added, "And as we were walking (during the tour), doctor, you said you're not interested in just opening the facility. You're interested in bringing top-notch quality care long-term to the community. That's a big difference, and we so appreciate the investment you're making.
"What Jim and the team has asked us to do—we've had the pleasure of working on this issue for some time. But now, it really is critical with this (lease) contract (between the HCHD board and CMC executives) being signed that we get through the paperwork sooner rather than later so that the reimbursement can flow, so we get the right designation so this facility long-term can provide quality care for Crockett and Houston County.
"I'm just telling you, I'm committed to doing everything I can to make that happen. I know how important this hospital is for the community. And your (people in the audience) presence here, from the prayers that occur each day here, the commitment you're making, we need to help deliver with you on that. And so, I will do everything I can to help this hospital reopen and stay open for the long-term."
Turner told Brady, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, "We are very proud of the accomplishments you have as a member of Congress, the position to which you have been elevated. I don't think we've ever had a chairman of the Ways and Means Committee representing Houston County.
"So, we're very proud of that and what you're doing. And thank you so much for the commitment you have made to us to help us through these very difficult and perilous times."
Turner added, "Between Kevin Brady and Trent Ashby, we cannot fail."
Two employees of Crockett E-Z Stop, a convenience store located at 501 W. Goliad Ave., Crockett, were robbed Wednesday night, Jan. 24, by two people armed with handguns, according to Crockett police.
Thursday morning, Jan. 25, police were investigating the holdup, which occurred just before 10 p.m., the previous night, and were attempting to develop leads on the suspects.
According to a Crockett Police Department news release, one of the suspects demanded that a store clerk put money from one of the store's cash registers and a drop box into a backpack. The second suspect reportedly held a gun on another Crockett E-Z Stop employee inside the store.
The suspects walked to and fled the store on foot, taking an undetermined amount of money. Police gave these descriptions of the alleged robbers. Suspect No. 1 had a slender build and was dressed in black clothing. He/she wore a red bandanna over his/her face. Suspect No. 2 is of a heavier build and wore a black shirt and gray sweatpants at the time of the alleged holdup.
Any person with information about this incident is asked to call the Crockett Police Department at 936-544-2021. Such person, who desires to remain anonymous can call East Texas Crime Stoppers at 936-639-TIPS (8477).
UPDATE: Lt. Clayton Smith told the Courier as the paper went to press Tuesday, Jan. 30, no one has been arrested in connection with the incident. However, an investigation is continuing and "we're following up on leads in regards to the robbery," Smith said.
"We've been getting some tips and we encourage anyone who has information to contact East Texas Crime Stoppers (at the phone number shown above)," he added. "Everyone will be kept anonymous and could be eligible for a cash reward. They also still may call us here at the police department (at the above number) and speak with me."