The Dividing Line Police vs. Blacks in East Texas MIC Dixon’s death outraged East Texas blacks who in the previous month had seen two black men die in police custody and another by a gunshot wound later ruled to be accidental. Eight days earlier, on January 21, Demetrius Caddell had died in the Smith County Jail. An inquest produced a Tyler jury verdict that the 19-year-old man died after suffering an asthma attack, but officials of the local chapter of the BY JAMES CULLEN AND CAROL COUNTRYMAN Longview, Tyler ANNIE RAY DIXON apparently was asleep in her bed when an East Texas drug task force burst into her house shortly before 2 a.m. this past January 29. As the 84-year-old invalid slept, a gunshot from a Kilgore police officer’s semi-automatic pistol killed her while the officer was rushing into her bedroom. Officer Frank Baggett Jr. kicked through the door as other task force members searched the rest of the house. His .40-caliber pistol apparently discharged when he tripped or stumbled through the doorway into the dark room. He later testified that he did not realize he had shot the woman until he tried to console her about breaking into her room and noticed the bloodstain on her nightgown. No illegal drugs were confiscated during the raid of the house, which is west of Kilgore and just inside Smith County. Nobody was arrested in the raid, but Smith County District Attorney Jack Skeen said a small “crack cocaine-type pipe” was found. The police were acting on a warrant issued after an undercover officer allegedly purchased a small amount of crack cocaine at the house earlier that evening. They knew that some of the occupants of the house had previously been arrested for drug offenses and at least one was known to have carried a gun, Skeen added. Dixon’s family filed a lawsuit in Smith County against the Gregg County Organized Drug Enforcement Unit, the cities of Kilgore, Longview, Gladewater, White Oak and their police departments and the Gregg County Sheriff and his department. Members of the task force reportedly thought Dixon’s house was in Gregg County. At a recent inquest into the death, Baggett testified that he had his finger on the trigger and his gun was pointed straight ahead at waist level when he tried to kick open the door. The door opened easily, which he said caused him to lose Carol Countryman is a teacher and a freelance writer living in Athens. balance and fall forward, with his right arm and shoulder striking the door. The gun discharged when he hit the floor. While other officers testified that they usually pointed their guns down when they broke through doors, Baggett testified that instructors taught him to be ready to shoot when he broke through the door. A mistrial was declared in the inquest June 5 after the jury deadlocked 4-2 over whether to rule the death an accident or refer it for criminal prosecution. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were not satisfied and charged negligence on the part of jailers. During the inquest, the jury heard conflicting testimony involving Caddell’s access to asthma medication and treatment while in jail. Testimony by a sheriff’s investigator showed that Caddell was issued a “blue card,” which noted serious medical problems and authorized medical treatment when requested. Jail trusty Diana Sherrell, who worked in the jail’s infirmary, told the jury Caddell requested medical treatment several times. She said she was concerned about conversations she overheard between two nurses which had made her feel a “lack of concern.” Caddell received treatment three times at the infirmary within 24 hours of his death. The emergency room physician, Dr. Kenneth Hackney, testified that Caddell was clinically dead upon arrival to the hospital. One month prior to Caddell’s death, Michael Rose also died in the Smith County Jail. Agreeing with Texas Ranger Steve Black, Justice of the Peace Mitch Shamburger of Tyler ruled the December 13 death accidental. In an inquest, a pathologist testified that Rose, 35, died due to an “intoxication by the ingestion of cocaine” which he allegedly swallowed during his arrest. Ben Clay, a detention officer, testified that he escorted Rose to the restroom where Rose began to tremble and “lose control.” He said he handcuffed Rose and restrained him to keep him from kicking. A nurse then gave Rose an injection of Thorazine to calm him down. Rose was taken back to his cell where he stopped breathing. He was transported to East Texas Medical Center HAEL ALEXANDER where he was pronounced dead. Early on the morning of December 22, 1991, a burglary suspect died after a Longview police officer’s pistol discharged while the officer was trying to handcuff the man. Police said the suspect, Cornell Lockridge, 28, of Longview, was fleeing officers when Lockridge tripped and fell. As Officer Joe Wilson knelt to hand cuff the suspect he was putting his pistol in his holster when Lockridge reportedly rolled 6 JUNE 19, 1992
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.