Friday, September 25, 2009

A Killing In The Park

By Jim Parks

The little kids who play there know.

"Yeah, they sell drugs here," a young Hispanic boy of perhaps nine or ten says as he and his friends pause in a game of basketball to talk about the murder that took place the night before.

The one thing everyone agrees upon is that Arturo, a 57 year-old man with a family, was found with a gunshot wound to his head - dead - at about 9 or 10 p.m., just as Dahl Park is to be officially closed each night.

Situated on a leafy street at the end of a cul de sac between two frame prairie houses, the park features picnic tables, swing sets and teeter totters, basketball hoops, a public restroom and a parking lot.

The dead man was found in the parking lot, shot as he walked away from what the kids have described as having words with a little gang that sells dope there.

It's not much different than any other setup you will find in the courtyards and pocket parks of urban areas - New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles - except that here the population is only about three thousand. It's a crossroads town situated on the Santa Fe line and Texas Highway 6, a whistle stop.

A Scandinavian enclave community, the population is largely of Norwegian, Swedish and Danish extraction. Dahl Park is probably four or five acres, surrounded by vacant lots that are prone to sudden flooding in the drainage land that slopes down to the Bosque River. It's part of an extensive system of paved canals and quick runoff ditches that route the water around traffic and homes. There is a drainage ditch five or six feet deep that defines the northern boundary of the park. High wooden fences and brushy hedges isolate it from houses on its west and south sides, while a short chain link fence forms a barrier to other vacant lots to its east.

Dope dealers may easily observe from all directions while those who would choose to apprehend them must rush upon them from the narrow street, across the ditch with its one narrow foot bridge, or come through the fenced yards and over the brushy hedges of the private residences. on the southern and western borders.

Typically, according to the kids who come there to play, the young accomplices watch for uniformed patrolmen or plainclothes narcotics agents while the older kids collect the money for the crack or methamphetamine that is sold. Other small kids circle around a dumpster at the extreme southwest corner of the park, drop the dope on the ground, and the customers may pick it up in the shadows; from there, they are on their own.

According to the kids, Arturo, a man who was once employed as a gardener by the city, a local bank as a porter, and a common laborer for a variety of bosses, came to the park after a visit to a kinsman's home on the corner. He went there to find his wife and kids, it is said. Others enter into speculation that they will not really spell out in so many words. They roll their eyes and smile behind their hands. It is a mystery.

In the park, he had words with the drug dealers, turned to leave, and a bullet found his head as he left the scene. He fell in the parking lot and died there.

It's not so different than the killing of an elderly Hispanic man of tiny stature who worked as a porter at a liquor store outside of town for many years. The city is dry; no sales of alcoholic beverages are allowed inside the city limits. According to the prosecution, he was beaten savagely in the yard of some low rent apartment units during a party that turned ugly. Party goers, including his assailant, took him inside after he lay wounded and dying for several hours in the yard outside.

A jury convicted a young black man, a cousin of one of major league baseball's Sadler family, for the killing.

Three of the five who have been arrested for the killing of Arturo are legally of an adult age while two others must first be certified by a juvenile court to be tried as adults.

Under Texas law, the concept of parties to a felony offense applies. It does not matter if a 21-year-old individual pulled the trigger, a fourteen year-old boy, or a teenager of seventeen. All are equally guilty unless the prosecutor decides to extend the terms of any deal in return for their testimony against other parties to the killing.

Drug dealing is an old game in Clifton, Texas, one that has gotten worse as the economy sours and employers cut the hours and benefits available to their workers. The city park along the river bottoms has long been a site of illicit drug dealing among the tennis courts, basketball courts, the American Legion hall - a rusticated stone building, site of a former Civilian Conservation Corps mess hall, a relic of the depression. The river bottom was the place where the old high school stadium stood for many years until the river repeatedly flooded the area and the school district moved on to higher ground, as did the National Guard, which deeded the Armory to the city to use as a community center.

Another favorite drug dealing ground was the former site of a Ford Motor Company dealership, a property that cuts through from the main drag on Highway 6 to a back street one block west. Kids gathered on the parking lot under spreading oaks and pecans to talk and associate while those cruising for a bump circled around behind the place to pick up their drugs.

Other deals were put together at the cross roads of a Farm to Market Road - 219 - and Highway 6 on the parking lot of a pharmacy that is next door to a filling station and Burger King franchise. Everyone has a cell phone. Everyone uses their text messaging feature.

No one is getting rich. Everyone is living with diminished expectations.

Drugs of choice are crack cocaine and the poor man's cocaine, a savage concoction the effects of which lasts for many hours and causes psychotic reactions - methamphetamines, also known as crystal, glass, or in special preparations, ice. They smoke it, snort it and inject it.

The economic conditions are called a recession, but the old timers who live in the country know it for what it really is - a depression that is deepening every day.

Murder over illicit narcotics has come to the small towns of west Texas. It's no longer just a big city phenomenon - a Chicago thing or something that happens in Memphis or New Orleans.

Ironically, the killing took place within a stone's throw of two nearly identical red brick Lutheran churches that are situated side by side on a street near Dahl Park like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. In times past, the elders of these churches ruled with an iron hand.

In fact, one of the largest employers in the city is now the old folks's home, which is operated by a not-for-profit corporation organized by the Lutheran Church.

Certainly, there is too much money in drugs.

In these times, people as young as those in their early adolescence will scratch, bite and fight for it.

Clifton, Texas, Police Department Chief Steve Adcock issued this statement:

"On 9/23/09 at approximately 2200 hours Clifton Police Department responded to a call of a possible intoxicated person at Dahl Park in Clifton who was unresponsive. Officers arrived on scene shortly after, and discovered a Hispanic male with a single gun shot wound to the head. The deceased was identified as Arturo Chavez DOB 3/08/52 of Clifton. The Texas Rangers and DPS Crime Lab were notified and assisted in the investigation with Clifton Police Department. Subsequent to the investigation arrest warrants were obtained for Angelica Nieto DOB 03/24/86, Jennifer Dunn DOB 7/10/87, Pedro Ramirez III, DOB 8/25/86, a 14 year old male, and a 16 year old female, all subjects were arrested and charged with Capital Murder."


  1. I lived in this town when the crime happened. However, the drug problem isn't THAT bad. It has worsened since the shooting.

  2. I grew up with Pedro and his brother Robbie, hell we learned how to ride a bike together, played card games together, and just plain grew up together. Pedro was never one of the "bad kids" growing up and was the voice of reason several times to those of us that had tempers. This is the sad after effects of never growing up and leaving your small little town and falling into the effects of habitual drug use. I am saddened that this is what became of him but in the same breath hope he rots in prison and hell for his part in this madness.

  3. Mr. Parks,
    You are a moron sir! You and your story here are both garbage, trying to write some kind of 60 Minutes piece, making Clifton seem like some sort of ghetto. Shame on you for bad journalism and over exaggeration to make yourself feel more important. You sir are a douche!

  4. Well, I'd let you know what I think of you, but it's not really that important, is it? We'll let the matter slide. When kids have to play basketball in a place where they sell drugs, it's a problematic location, to say the least. I sure hope they conditions that persisted then have changed today. - The Legendary