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Late former Dallas council member who admitted taking bribes wanted to withdraw her guilty plea, court records allege

On July 15, Carolyn Davis, and her daughter were hit by a suspected drunk driver in Oak Cliff on Ledbetter Drive. Davis was pronounced dead at the scene.
Credit: WFAA
Carolyn Davis

DALLAS — The late former Dallas City Council member Carolyn Davis intended to withdraw her guilty plea in a bribery case, according to lawyers for a developer accused of paying her bribes.

Lawyers for Ruel Hamilton filed sworn affidavits from three people Thursday who said before she died in a car crash, Davis told them Hamilton did nothing wrong and that money he gave was used in part to pay for “Freedom Ride” trips for students to visit historic civil rights sites.

“In the two months before her death, Carolyn Davis told me on multiple occasions, and with increasing frequency over time, that she intended to reverse her plea, and to plead not guilty to the charges of bribery involving Ruel Hamilton,” wrote former Dallas City Council member Diane Ragsdale, a friend of Davis' for three decades, in a sworn statement filed in federal court Thursday.

“On multiple occasions Carolyn Davis told me point blank that Ruel Hamilton did not do anything wrong, that he did not pay her any bribes, and that Ruel Hamilton was simply donating money to various civil rights, educational, and charitable causes.”

Hamilton has pleaded not guilty. His trial is set for Jan. 6 in Dallas federal court.

On July 15, Davis, and her daughter were hit by a suspected drunk driver in Oak Cliff on Ledbetter Drive. Davis was pronounced dead at the scene, and her daughter died the next day at a hospital.

Davis’ death was a blow to the government’s case against Hamilton, as Davis was expected to testify against him. Prosecutors accuse Hamilton of paying bribes to Davis in exchange for her support for his affordable housing projects.

Hamilton’s lawyers, in filings Thursday, say the indictment against Hamilton should be dismissed because, they claim, prosecutors “manufactured” crimes, missed key pretrial deadlines and pressured Davis to plead guilty.

“Davis told at least four people that she had only pled guilty because the government threatened her with a lengthy jail term in which nobody would be around to care for her handicapped daughter,” wrote Abbe Lowell, a Washington D.C. attorney representing Hamilton.

Davis actually declared her guilt in two different hearings in federal court. The first was on March 1, and then, when her first attorney, Scottie Allen, was suspended on an unrelated matter, she was brought before a judge with her new attorney, Heath Harris.

"Ms. Davis confirmed that she is still satisfied with Mr. Allen’s representation of her and that she did not want to change or withdraw her plea," Magistrate Judge Rebecca Rutherford wrote after the March 29 hearing. "Mr. Harris represented that he reviewed with Ms. Davis the plea agreement, the entry of the guilty plea, and the disciplinary matter against Mr. Allen; Mr. Harris is confident Ms. Davis’s plea is knowing and voluntary."

Thursday's defense filings by Hamilton's lawyers also detail interactions Hamilton had with former Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway, whom they say wore a wire for meetings with Hamilton. Caraway is serving prison time after pleading guilty to taking bribes in another corruption case.

“The government’s elaborate set-up – keeping Davis and Caraway in office after it determined they were corrupt so that they could shakedown citizens – is the type of misconduct that crosses the line and manufactures rather than investigates criminal offenses,” Lowell wrote.

The office of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas issued a written statement late Thursday.

"The indictment speaks for itself. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to aggressively pursue the case against Mr. Hamilton – and anyone else who engages in public corruption in Dallas."

In July, Jeremy Scroggins pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, meaning he knew about the alleged bribery scheme involving Davis but did not report it. In plea papers, Scroggins says that Davis directed Hamilton to write checks to Scroggins’ nonprofit Hip Hop Government, and that he gave Davis cash from that money.

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