August 18, 2004
Lawsuit in Waller County

A lawsuit has been filed in federal court in Houston which alleges that there is an organized campaign to harass and intimidate black elected officials.

HEMPSTEAD, Texas Six black Waller County leaders filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against white county officials and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, alleging "an extensive illegal reign of terror against African-American" officials.

Justice of the Peace Dewayne Charleston, who says he has been a target of discrimination, claimed that District Attorney Oliver Kitzman had been behind much of it.

Charleston said when Kitzman lost a battle earlier this year to keep students at historically black Prairie View A&M University from voting in Waller County, the intimidation by Kitzman against those who spoke out against him increased.

"The whole thing just shows a pattern of seeking to undermine the civil rights of African Americans," Charleston said.

The lawsuit accuses Kitzman of a campaign of "repression and intimidation" toward blacks with a goal "to intimidate, harass, oppress, malign, beleaguer and torment plaintiffs in order that they might become discouraged from participating in any aspect of the political process in Waller County."

Kitzman told The Associated Press Tuesday that the allegations are baseless.

"It is absolutely, totally false," said Kitzman, who still hadn't seen the lawsuit but had heard about some of the allegations in it. "I don't see any foundation for those allegations and earnestly do not believe that those allegations are well founded."


Kitzman, who served as the district attorney for three counties including Waller County from 1967 to 1979, returned to the office in January 2003 after decades as a judge. Kitzman said he returned to the district attorney's office in Waller County because he thought his "services were needed."

"I thought it was not being run efficiently and that I could do better," said Kitzman, who is known for his hands-off approach in 1973 to a brothel in Fayette County. A rookie television consumer affairs reporter managed to stir up enough political and public pressure to close the Chicken Ranch brothel, one of Texas' worst-kept secrets.

The house of prostitution ultimately inspired a book, stage play and movie: "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

I'm slapping my forehead over here. I can't believe that I had no idea of Kitzman's connection to the Chicken Ranch. It all makes a weird kind of sense now.

Herschel Smith, who describes himself as a Waller County community activist and is another of the plaintiffs, said since Kitzman returned as district attorney the racial climate has changed.

"Any time that African-Americans run for public office, there is some form of retaliation, intimidation, threats toward them because they do not want African-Americans to take their rightful place in this county," he said.

Besides Kitzman, the lawsuit names County Judge Owen Ralston, Waller County Sheriff Randy Smith, Waller County Commissioners and the Concerned Citizens of Waller County, a nonprofit organization.

Smith said he would not comment on the lawsuit until he was served with it. Ralston was at a meeting in Houston and did not immediately return a message left with his office Tuesday.

The lawsuit claims civil rights violations, conspiracy, malicious prosecution, infliction of emotional distress and libel.

It does not ask for a specific monetary amount but seeks compensatory and punitive damages and asks that the defendants named in the lawsuit be prevented from targeting blacks or "arresting or permitting the arrest of any individual where there exists only the uncorroborated word of the district attorney."

Kitzman raised a huge stink last fall when he attempted to prevent students at historically black Prairie View A&M from voting in Waller County elections on grounds that they did not meet residency requirements. He was wrong on the law and eventually reversed himself. You can find a ton of info on this by Googling +"oliver kitzman" +"prairie view a&m" +voting, but here are a few relevant results:

Burnt Orange Report
Black America Web
Austin Chronicle
More Austin Chronicle
Texas Secretary of State
Political State Report
More Polstate
Daily Texan Online

UPDATE: Chris Elam has some insight on this.

UPDATE: Greg joins in. I'll chime in with those two plus Kevin that the Chron coverage was bad (this is why I linked to the AP feed from the Morning News), but they did in fact have their own story. It's not unusual for the Chron to have an AP story initially and a staff-reported one later.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 18, 2004 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack