It was last May when the story of Sherita Dixon-Cole, then 37, captivated the nation’s attention.
It all unfolded around 1:30 a.m. one Sunday morning when the Grapevine woman was pulled over by a state trooper on a Waxahachie highway and arrested for driving while intoxicated.
Her allegation of sexual assault drew instant national outrage. Popular civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt mounted an aggressive defense and civil rights activists demanded swift justice.
The case quickly moved through the Ellis County District Attorney’s office as a media frenzy captured every nook and cranny that it took.
Days later, the case against Trooper Daniel Hubbard would come crashing down when his more than two-hour-long body cam footage showed no sexual assault took place in his cruiser as Dixon-Cole had alleged. Sympathy for her soon turned to outrage against her.
Another firestorm quickly brewed when the DA’s office decided against charging the woman who made a false report against a law enforcement official and sullied his reputation.
“Anyone that believes in justice should be outraged when any citizen is falsely accused of a crime…,” said Joe Gallo, a judicial candidate for the newly created Ellis County Court at Law Court No. 3. “We anticipated that there would be a very strong deterrent response from our Texas criminal justice system. Unfortunately, at the time, there was not an appropriate law on the books to cover this specific type of case. Thankfully, Senator Birdwell answered the call with legislation that closed this legal loophole once and for all.”
Gallo is a former Waxahachie councilman and municipal court judge. The retired defense attorney recently ended his private practice firm after 18 years.
The Daily Light revisited the case alongside Gallo who put it into perspective, looking at the limitations of the law then that allowed Dixon-Cole to walk away unscathed, and the new legislation in place now that would seek to hold others like her accountable.
False report charges could not be filed against Dixon-Cole because she made the report to a detention officer and not a peace officer. Here’s why.
Section 37.08 of the Texas Penal Code states:
A person commits an offense if, with intent to deceive, he knowingly makes a false statement that is material to a criminal investigation and makes the statement to:
(1) a peace officer or federal special investigator conducting the investigation; or
(2) any employee of a law enforcement agency that is authorized by the agency to conduct the investigation and that the actor knows is conducting the investigation.
“The false report statute requires that a false claim be made to a peace officer conducting an investigation or to an employee of a law enforcement agency that is authorized by the agency to conduct an investigation. Detention officers are clearly employees of a law enforcement agency, the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office. But detention officers are not authorized by the E.C.S.O. to conduct criminal investigations. That fact was supported when the detention officer referred Dixon-Cole to another law enforcement agency for her complaint. For these reasons, statements that Ms. Dixon-Cole made to detention officers at the Ellis County jail do not constitute a false report to a peace officer,” said the DA’s office in a May 25, 2018 press release.
To prevent future culprits from getting away under similar circumstances, the DA's office sought to amend the false report statute.
“This summer, the legislature added corrections officer or jailer to the statute for false report to peace officer,” Assistant County and District Attorney Ann Montgomery said.
The amendment – Senate Bill 405 – was a bipartisan effort authored by state Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and co-sponsored by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and state Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne). After passing in the House and Senate, it landed on Gov. Gregg Abott desk in May, awaiting his signature.
“This case was so egregious that it shined a light on the need for this new law,” Gallo argued. "Somebody actually did something about this, and now this will never happen again."