Thursday, January 31, 2013

Texas Prosecutor Killed

Prosecutor Shot to Death In a Town Near Dallas
Published: January 31, 2013

KAUFMAN, Tex. — A county prosecutor in this small town southeast of Dallas was fatally shot on Thursday morning near the courthouse by one or perhaps two gunmen, whom witnesses described as wearing masks, black clothing and tactical-style vests, the authorities said.

The prosecutor, Mark E. Hasse, worked in the Kaufman County district attorney’s office in Kaufman, a town of 6,800 people about 35 miles from Dallas. He was shot several times shortly before 9 a.m. as he walked in an employee parking lot about a block from the courthouse.

The authorities said the suspect or suspects got out of a Ford Taurus, opened fire on Mr. Hasse and then returned to the car and drove away. Investigators were trying to determine why Mr. Hasse was targeted and if the shooting had anything to do with cases he had prosecuted.

“I’ve been doing this 43 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said David A. Byrnes, the Kaufman County sheriff.

Mr. Hasse, 57, was the county’s lead felony prosecutor and a well-respected assistant district attorney. He received his law degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and in the 1980s served as a prosecutor in the Dallas County district attorney’s office, where he had been the chief of the organized-crime section.

Kaufman County prosecutors have been involved in investigations of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas prison gang. In November, federal officials in Houston thanked a number of local agencies for their work — including Kaufman County prosecutors — when more than 30 senior leaders and other members of the gang were indicted on federal racketeering charges.

Officials said they were reviewing Mr. Hasse’s current cases — as many as 400 of them — and previous ones for leads.

Lawyers and prosecutors throughout North Texas were stunned by the attack. The Dallas County district attorney, Craig Watkins, sent an e-mail encouraging his employees to exercise caution.

“There’s a lot of shock,” said David Finn, a criminal defense lawyer in Dallas and former federal prosecutor who knew Mr. Hasse. “Where this happened, it’s not New York City or Dallas or L.A. or Chicago. This is a very, very, very small community, and for this to happen out there, it’s a huge deal. It’s incredibly brazen.”
The Kaufman County district attorney, Mike McLelland, said his office had suffered a devastating loss. “Mark was an excellent friend and a spectacular prosecutor,” he said.

After the shooting, the Kaufman County Courthouse went into lockdown and then was closed as officers and agents from local, state and federal agencies searched the streets nearby.

Area schools, including the campuses of the Kaufman Independent School District, were also placed on lockdown.

Lauren D’Avolio reported from Kaufman, and Manny Fernandez from Houston. Clifford Krauss contributed reporting from Houston.

Kaufman Co. Asst. DA Mark Hasse Likely Targeted in Fatal Shooting: Police
$36,000 reward offered for information leading to the arrest, conviction of gunman

By Frank Heinz  Thursday, Jan 31, 2013  |  Updated 7:36 PM CS

Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down Thursday morning in what appears to be a targeted attack, police say.

Hasse was shot multiple times while walking from the parking lot toward the county courthouse at about 8 a.m., officials said. He was transported to a nearby hospital where he later died.

When asked if Hasse appeared to have been targeted by his attacker, Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes said, "I would say from all appearances it is. But we have no concrete information on that. We're pursuing every avenue right now."

"We suffered a devastating loss today. We lost a really, really good man. He was an excellent friend and a spectacular prosecutor. He will not be easily replaced. He will be sorely missed by everybody in the office," said Kaufman County Criminal District Attorney Mike McLelland. "I hope that the people that did this are watching because we are very confident that we are going to find you, pull you out of whatever hole you're in, bring you back and let the people of Kaufman County prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."

Chris Aulbaugh, the Kaufman Chief of Police, said no official arrests have been made in connection with the shooting but that they are following up on several leads, including multiple witness reports from various angles around the crime scene.

Agents with the ATF, FBI, the Texas Rangers and State Troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety are at the scene assisting local and county law enforcement with the investigation.

Police said witnesses have reported two shooters wearing all black, one or both of them possibly wearing a tactical-type vest, and driving an older, silver Ford Taurus. Aulbaugh said they have not yet confirmed that there were two people involved in the shooting and if the shooter(s) were wearing a tactical jacket as described.
Police taped off the parking lot near the Tax Assessor/Collectors office, which is near the courthouse and is commonly used by judges and prosecutors. Officers later expanded the taped-off area to include two city blocks. Several streets around the courthouse and parking lot are closed as the shooting is investigated.

Investigators said they were not aware of any threats made toward Hasse and that they didn't know of any cases that might explain the shooting, but that Hasse was aware of the dangers associated with his profession.

"Mark was fully aware of the dangers of this job. He accepted them readily and was, as I said before, an absolutely stellar prosecutor and good friend," said McLelland. "Tell the people that they have lost an outstanding man who will not be easily replaced."
Eric Smenner, a friend of Hasse's, told NBC 5's Scott Gordon that while it was too soon to say what may have led to the shooting, Hasse had dealt with cases involving methamphetamine in the county, gangs and white supremacist groups. He described Hasse as a hard-working lawyer who “loved to tell stories” and often put dangerous criminals behind bars.

Tonya Radcliffe, a board member on the Kaufman County Appraisal District whose office is adjacent to the scene of the shooting, said a staff member heard the gunshots and called police. Radcliffe said she and her staff of about 25 are in the building and under lockdown.

During the early stages of the investigation, a hospital, several schools and county buildings, including the Tax Assessor/Collector's office, were locked down as a precaution.  With Thursday being the last day for people to pay property taxes without a penalty, officials advised Kaufman County residents that they could still pay taxes using the county's pay by phone option or make payments in person at sub-courthouses and drop boxes.

A 36,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the gunman is being offered with $10,000 coming from Kaufman County Crime Stoppers, $10,000 from a local Kaufman business and donations continue to pour in from local businesses. As always, tipsters may remain anonymous. More information on the investigation and reward are expected to be revealed after a 3 p.m. news conference.

Anyone with information is asked to call Kaufman County Crime Stoppers at 1-877-TIPS-KCC.

Editor's Note: Greenville ISD was under lockdown due to a search for robbery suspects. The lockdown was not related to the Kaufman County shooting.

NBC 5's Randy McIlwain, Scott Gordon, Ken Kalthoff, Keaton Fox and Deborah Ferguson contributed to this report. We will continue to update this story with more information as soon as it's available. As this story is developing, elements may change.

Texas prosecutor gunned down; manhunt for 2 suspects
John Bacon and William M. Welch, USA TODAY
7:26 EST January 31, 2013

A manhunt was underway for two suspects after an assistant district attorney was gunned down Thursday outside a courthouse in Kaufman, Texas.

Mark Hasse, 57, was walking from a parking lot toward the Kaufman County Courthouse annex when he was shot multiple times just before 9 a.m., Kaufman County spokeswoman Pat Laney said.

Kaufman, Texas

Pat Laney, spokeswoman for the Kaufman sheriff's department, said late Thursday that no arrests had been made in the case. She said earlier reports of an arrest were in error. The Dallas Morning News had reported that Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said he understood there had been an arrest.

Hasse headed many county drug and murder cases. Shortly after the shooting, Sheriff David Byrnes said the killing was an attack on the criminal justice system."This is the next level (of crime)," he said.
Security officers and deputies closed nearby streets in Kaufman, a North Texas town of about 6,700 residents less than 40 miles from Dallas. Kaufman schools were put on lockdown.

Hasse's death raises the larger issue of security for prosecutors who are responsible sending criminals to prison, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said.
Watkins says he's most concerned that people who are out on bail and awaiting trial will target him as the face of the office or his prosecutors.

"These are people who are on the front line," said Watkins, who leads an office of 250 prosecutors. "Why isn't there security? We have a lot of individuals who have ill will toward our profession. Maybe this unfortunate circumstance will provide a wakeup call for those individuals who do hold the purse strings to make sure we're protected."

Hasse began his career as a prosecutor in Dallas County in 1982 after graduating from Southern Methodist University's law school. He worked as a prosecutor in Dallas until 1988, Watkins said. Although Watkins did not know Hasse, he said he had a reputation as a "very thorough and tough prosecutor."

Lawyer James Lee Bright told the Morning News he arrived at the courthouse just as officers began swarming the scene.

"Within two or three minutes, the whole square was literally flooded with officers," Bright said. He said he saw a woman shaking as she told a bailiff she had witnessed the shooting.

People were allowed to leave the building in groups, depending on where they were parked, he told the Morning News.

"When you hear a DA at 8:40 in the morning is gunned down by two people, I think there's a reasonable presumption that it's not random," Bright said.

Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood said the courthouse remained closed and it would be up to the sheriff to determine when it would reopen.

Wood told the Morning News he saw Hasse every day in the courthouse hallways.
"He was revered and he did an outstanding job," Wood said. "We see each other every day. … It's a very small courthouse."

"It's a horrible situation," Wood told the Morning News. "None of us would have ever expected anything like this to ever happen in our county."

The Morning News is reporting that "authorities with knowledge of the assistant DA's caseload say he had been heavily involved in the investigation of members of the Aryan Brotherhood."

The shooting took place hours before two members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas pleaded guilty in Houston to racketeering and other charges. The pleas were part of a wide-ranging investigation that included the Kaufman County District Attorney's office.
A probe is underway to determine if the shooting is connected to that investigation, the Morning News says.

The U.S. Justice Department announced those guilty pleas in a statement released Thursday.

The statement claims the brotherhood "enforced its rules and promoted discipline among its members, prospects and associates through murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, arson, assault, robbery and threats against those who violate the rules or pose a threat to the enterprise. Members, and oftentimes associates, were required to follow the orders of higher-ranking members, often referred to as 'direct orders.'"
The Morning News says Hasse was chief of the Dallas County district attorney's organized-crime section from 1985 until 1988 and a former president of the Dallas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In 1995, he suffered a skull fracture when his small plane crashed in Luray, Va. The Morning News says Hasse was flying the lead plane in "Freedom Flight America," a cross-country convoy of hundreds of planes commemorating the end of World War II. He was flying at AT-6 Texan, a World War II-era training aircraft.

His death led to warnings elsewhere. WFAA-TV in Dallas reports that the email below was sent by the Dallas County DA to his staff:

"This message is not intended to scare anyone but please be advised. A Kaufman County prosecutor was fatally shot a few minutes ago outside the Kaufman County Courthouse in Kaufman. Two masked gunmen are the suspects. They have not been apprehended yet.
Please be aware of your surroundings when leaving the building for your safety. This is probably an isolated incident but until further notice if you plan to work past dark today please be careful and ask security for assistance escorting you to your vehicles if needed. I will keep you informed as to the arrest of the suspects when I am notified. Don't panic but please be aware of your environment when leaving the building."

Kaufman Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh said the shooting would have a major impact on Kaufman.

"Any loss of life, especially someone out there protecting the community, would have that effect," he said.

Contributing: Doug Stanglin, Donna Leinwand Leger; Associated Press

12:11 PM
Update on the shooting in Kaufman County: Police and other law enforcement agencies, including the Texas Rangers, are hunting for two suspects in the death of an assistant district attorney, who was shot multiple times while walking from his car to his office.

UPDATE: Kaufman police chief, D.A. say Craig Watkins ‘made a mistake,’ no arrest made in Mark Hasse’s killing

Update at 5:04 p.m. from Ray Leszcynski: Kaufman Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh, County Sheriff David Byrnes and District Attorney Mike McLelland took a break from their own press conference to look in to media reports that an arrest had been made in Dallas.

“There has not been an arrest made yet on this offense,” Aulbaugh said upon reconvening. “Our D.A. has been on a phone call to the Dallas DA’s office.”

Mark Hasse (Courtesy Kaufman County)

McClellan said that apparently Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins was doing an interview and inadvertently referenced that there had been an arrest made in the shooting of Mark Hasse.

“He made a mistake during that interview,” McLellan said.

The Kaufman County DA’s office will remain closed Friday, according to County Judge Bruce Bell. But other county offices will reopen, including the courthouse and other downtown properties and the county library that was closed Thursday on the outskirts of town.

“The plans are to open so that we’re back to operating as normal as soon as possible,” Byrnes said.

For the foreseeable future, however, uniformed personnel will work the parking lot a block east of the courthouse during times when employees are typically coming to or leaving from work.

McLelland said that walk would be different.

“But we’ll still make the walk. We’ll show up for work and send bad guys out of Kaufman County every chance we get.”

They thanked and vowed continued use of many resources, the Department of Public Safety, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, FBI, DPS, and Texas Rangers, as well as the city police who are heading the investigation and the county sheriff’s department and constables.

“We’re in the process of running down many leads right now,” Byrnes said. They have several leads but declined to discuss them at this point.

Kaufman County Crime Stoppers and a local business have combined to offer $20,000 for information leading an arrest and conviction in the case. 1-877-TIPSKCC (1-877-847-7522).

Several people who heard shots or were nearby have been interviewed and those interviews are being pieced together, officials said.

It was confirmed that much of the parking lot is visible from a camera across the street on the roof of the county tax office, but it was also confirmed that the video had been reviewed and was of little help in the investigation.

Byrnes and Aulbaugh confirmed that the crime had the look of a “hit,” that Hasse was specifically targeted.

“But we can’t definitely say that it was a hit,” or that Hasse was targeted, Aulbaugh said. “We’re pursuing all possibilities.”

McLelland confirmed that his department had worked Aryan Brotherhood cases in the last two years but said each of the 13 attorneys in his office has 380-390 cases at a time, that as far he knew Hasse was not currently working an Aryan Brotherhood case and that it was too early to narrow the focus. Aulbaugh also said at this time there is no indication any prison gang was involved.

Hasse was said to be armed, typically, but it was unknown whether he was carrying a gun on Thursday when he was assaulted on the walk to the office after he’d parked his vehicle.

“It’s apparent he was not expecting to have anything happen,” Byrnes said. “He was on his way to his office.”
His boss did not know of any reason Hasse would have a heightened sense of worry prior to the assault.

“Mark was fully aware of the dangers. He accepted them readily,” McLelland said. “It was simply the nature of the beast to be working and dealing with bad, bad people on a regular basis.”

McLelland spoke personably about Hasse, who had worked for the office for about three years.

Kaufman County, the state of Texas and especially my office suffered a devastating loss,” he said. “We lost a really good man. He was an excellent friend and a spectacular prosecutor.

“I hope that the people that did this are watching. Because we’re confident we’re going to find you, pull you out of whatever hole you’re in, bring you back and let the people of Kaufman County prosecute you to the full extent of the law.”

McLelland said Byrnes, 57, left no wife or children. He did just bought a house in Kaufman County and had started working on it.

Updated at 4:18 p.m.: Debbie Denmon, a spokeswoman for DA Craig Watkins, said a “confidential source” informed the DA’s office office that an arrest had been made in the case.

But Denmon said Kaufman County officials subsequently would not confirm that an arrest was made.

“We’re going to respect their wishes” on that, she said.

Updated at 3:25 p.m. by Selwyn Crawford: Dallas County District Attorney Craig

Watkins says an arrest has been made in this morning’s slaying in Kaufman.

Watkins won’t say when, where or who was arrested, however, and Kaufman officials at a 3 p.m. news conference seemed unaware of any arrest.

“I can’t overstep the bounds of Kaufman County,” Watkins said. “All I can tell you is that there was an arrest.”

Investigators left evidence markers in downtown Kaufman near where the prosecutor was shot this morning. (David Woo/Staff Photographer)

Watkins said that because the victim was a Kaufman County prosecutor, he does not believe that office can prosecute the case and said that he would like to handle it.

“We’re going to make an offer to Kaufman County to prosecute this case,” Watkins said.

“But even if they choose another jurisdiction to handle it, we will provide whatever resources or help they need since [Hasse] was a former Dallas County prosecutor.”

Updated at 3 p.m.: Kaufman authorities have announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the shooters.

Anyone with information can call Kaufman police at 972-932-3094 or submit an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers at 1-877-847-7522.

Updated at 2:45 p.m. by Danielle Abril in Kaufman: All schools in Kaufman ISD will remain on lockdown until the end of the school day, Superintendent Todd Williams says.
Parents will be able to pick up their children at the regular closing time.

More on the victim from staff writer Diane Jennings (updated at 2:40 p.m.):

Mark Hasse, 57, loved flying, said his longtime friend Marcus Busch of Washington, D.C., even after suffering “catastrophic” injuries in a plane crash 17 years ago.
Hasse was piloting the lead plane in a cross-country convoy commemorating the end of World War II when it crashed in 1995. Morey Darzniek, who survived the crash with Hasse, said Hasse was “an incredible person in every way. He had the right moral standards.”

Hasse suffered a skull fracture but recovered enough to resume the practice of law and continued flying.

He also was active in the fight against drunken driving, serving as president of the Dallas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Suzette Pylant, a victim advocate for MADD North Texas, was working with Hasse on a drunken driving case at the time of his death. She’d last met with him on Dec. 21.

Pylant said Hasse was “a squeaky clean guy,” she said. “He was one of those guys who was always going to wear the white hat.”

Hasse was not married and his relatives did not return calls for comment.

Updated at 1:25 p.m. byRay Leszcynski, Scott Goldstein and Ed Timms: The Kaufman County sheriff has identified the assistant DA slain by masked gunmen as Mark Hasse, a onetime Dallas County prosecutor.

Word spread quickly in the legal community in Dallas and Kaufman that it was Hasse who had been shot this morning.

The courthouse in downtown Kaufman was locked down immediately after the shooting. (David Woo/Staff Photographer)

Veteran defense lawyer Eric Smenner, whose office is near the courthouse, said his immediate reaction was that Hasse was likely targeted.

“I felt it very certainly had to be work-related,” he said. “I can’t imagine the guy has any enemies that would cause that to happen on a personal level.”

Smenner added that Hasse parked in the same area every day, “so if somebody was out to get him all they’d have to do is watch him a little bit.”

Mark Hasse was chief of the Dallas County district attorney’s organized-crime section from 1985 until 1988 and a former president of the Dallas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

In 1995, he was seriously injured while flying the lead plane in “Freedom Flight America,” a cross-country convoy of hundreds of planes commemorating the end of World War II. He was flying at AT-6 Texan, a World War II-era training aircraft.

He suffered a skull fracture when the plane crashed while landing in Luray, Va. The plane overshot the 3,000-foot runway at Luray Caverns Airport and hit a road embankment, according to authorities. Update at 1 p.m. by Scott Goldstein:

Lawyer James Lee Bright said he arrived at the Kaufman courthouse just as officers began swarming the scene.

“Within two or three minutes, the whole square was literally flooded with officers,” Bright said. “I just went inside, and by the time I got inside the information that it was actually a shooting and who it might be was just barely starting to filter into the courthouse.”

Bright said he saw a woman who was shaking as she told a bailiff what she had just witnessed.

“I just saw it, I just saw it,” the woman said, according to Bright.

The courthouse was quickly put on lockdown.
“It was a little surreal being locked in there,” Bright said.

People were allowed to leave the building in groups, depending on where they were parked.

As for a possible motive, Bright said there’s no telling how many cases the veteran prosecutor worked over the years that could potentially be connected.

“When you hear a DA at 8:40 in the morning is gunned down by two people, I think there’s a reasonable presumption that it’s not random,” he said.

Update at 11:52 a.m.: Officials continue to withhold the slain prosecutor’s name until his family can be notified, but details have begun to emerge about his recent cases.

Authorities with knowledge of the assistant DA’s caseload say he had been heavily involved in the investigation of members of the Aryan Brotherhood.

Officials now are reviewing those cases to determine if today’s shooting might be connected to that probe.

Update from staff writer Ray Leszcynski in Kaufman: Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood said he saw the victim every day in the courthouse hallways.

“He was revered and he did an outstanding job,” Wood said. “We see each other every day. … It’s a very small courthouse.”

The judge, who declined to identify the prosecutor, said he was in his office at the time of the shooting but did not hear anything.

Wood said he did not know what cases the assistant DA may have been involved in, but he was not aware of any heightened security.

He said the county courthouse is closed today and it would be up to the sheriff to determine when it would reopen.

“It’s a horrible situation,” Wood said. “None of us would have ever expected anything like this to ever happen in our county.”

Update at 10:50 a.m.: Kaufman Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh said an assistant district attorney was shot multiple times about 8:50 a.m. while walking from his car to his office.
The victim, whose name has yet to be released, died from his injuries, Aulbaugh confirmed.

Witnesses said that after shooting the prosecutor, the gunman fired shots in the air to scare away bystanders as the two suspects fled.

The police chief said Kaufman police reached out to other law enforcement agencies, including the Texas Rangers, for help with the manhunt. Aulbaugh did not say whether there was one or multiple shooters.

A Kaufman City Council member said the Rangers would be the lead investigative agency because the victim was a county employee.

Updated at 10:30 a.m.Kaufman County officials have confirmed that the prosecutor has died in this morning’s shooting outside the county courthouse.

The victim’s name has not yet been publicly released, pending notification of his family. But according to state records, the prosecutor was certified as a peace officer in 1988.
Those that know him say he was a gun enthusiast who typically wore a gun belt. It is unknown if he was wearing the gun belt Thursday, but he almost always carried a weapon, they say.

Kaufman city leaders were stunned by the shooting.
“I’m just sad and concerned for the individual involved and the family members,” Mayor Pro Tem Tony Rader told our Diane Jennings.

Rader, a city of Dallas employee, said he was not in town when the shooting occurred but he was monitoring developments through text messages and Facebook.

City councilman Jeff Jordan said he heard the news when a friend called “to ask me what was going on.”

“We’re all shocked and very sad,” Jordan said.

Rader said he didn’t think he knew the victim, and Jordan said he knew who he was but did not know him well.

Kaufman is a town of about 7,000 located about 35 miles east of Dallas.

Updated at 9:49 a.m.: A Kaufman County prosecutor has reportedly been shot near the courthouse in downtown Kaufman this morning.

The condition of the prosecutor was not known. His name is being withheld, pending notification of his family.

The shooting reportedly occurred in a parking lot behind a county building where many prosecutors and judges park. The courthouse is just a short distance away, said Eric Smenner, a Kaufman defense attorney.

“My secretary heard the gunshots,” Smenner said.

He said she told him that she then saw a silver Taurus fleeing down the street. Other media reported that the two suspects were in all black, and one may have been wearing a tactical vest.

In addition to the courthouse on Mulberry Street, several nearby Kaufman ISD campuses have been locked down as a precaution.

Smenner said the prosecutor who was shot was well-liked by all and had previously worked in Dallas County.

Original post at 9:48 a.m.: There’s been a shooting outside the courthouse in Kaufman this morning, and much of downtown has been locked down.

The victim was reportedly a county employee and was shot several times. That person’s condition is not known.

Early reports were that two armed men ambushed the victim about 9 a.m. outside the courthouse and opened fire.

They then fled and may remain at large.

No comments:

Post a Comment