Merritt has represented the families of Botham Jean, Jordan Edwards and Atatiana Jefferson — Black Texans killed by white cops in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who were later charged with murder.
DALLAS (CN) — Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt announced Saturday he will run for Texas Attorney General in 2022, targeting scandal-plagued Republican Ken Paxton who he accuses of not wanting to do his job.
“I am running for Attorney General of Texas,” Merritt tweeted. “Texas deserves an attorney general that will fight for the constitutional rights of all citizens.”
In a two-minute video shot in his backyard in Collin County, Merritt said he announced his run after speaking with a journalist about who is responsible for the lack of resources in Texas for people suffering from mental health issues.
“Whose responsibility [is it] to ensure law enforcement isn’t killing people in the process of getting them to mental health clinics,” he said. “I said ‘It is Ken Paxton’s responsibility.’ I have been telling Ken Paxton that for a while but he blocked me. I said if he didn’t do his job, I would take his job. It is clear he does not want to do his job.”
Merritt did not say what party’s nomination he will run for — he is a presumed Democrat. He joins former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski in seeking the Democratic nomination.
Paxton’s office could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday.
Merritt is well-known for representing the families of several Black North Texans who were separately shot and killed by white police officers. He previously represented the family of Jordan Edwards, 15, who was killed by former Balch Springs cop Roy Oliver.
A Dallas County jury convicted Oliver of murder in 2017 for firing five shots from a rifle into a car driving away from him outside of a house party. Jurors did not believe Oliver’s defense that he fired to protect his partner from being run over.
The jury sentenced Oliver to 15 years in state prison — far short of the 60 years sought by prosecutors.
Merritt later represented the family of Botham Jean, an accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers who was shot and killed by former Dallas cop Amber Guyger in his own apartment. Guyger mistakenly entered Jean’s apartment thinking it was her apartment on a different floor and shot Jean thinking he was an intruder.
A Dallas County jury convicted Guyger of murder in 2019, but sentenced her to only 10 years in state prison. Prosecutors had asked for a 28-year sentence, while jurors had the option of giving her up to a life sentence.
Merritt also represented the family of Atatiana Jefferson, who was shot and killed by former Fort Worth cop Aaron Dean in 2019 while she was playing video games with her eight-year-old nephew. Jefferson’s neighbor had called for a non-emergency welfare check after her front door was left ajar late at night.
Fort Worth officials quickly released a body camera video within hours of the shooting. The two-minute video is heavily edited and shows Dean walking up to the open front door, then walking down the side of the house. He suddenly looks into a window and yells “put your hands up, show me your hands,” before immediately firing his service weapon inside. At no time does Dean identify himself as a police officer in the video.
Dean is awaiting trial on a murder charge and remains free on bond. His trial is tentatively set for August — nearly two years after Jefferson’s killing — after being plagued with hearing delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Paxton was first elected as attorney general in 2014 and has been dogged by scandals since. Within months of being sworn in, Paxton was indicted in Collin County on state felony charges of securities fraud and failure to register with the Texas State Securities Board.
Prosecutors claim Paxton urged investors to put $600,000 into technology firm Servergy without disclosing he would earn a commission and misrepresented he was investing in the McKinney-based company while he was a member of the Texas House of Representatives.
He faces up to 99 years in state prison if convicted. The case has been stuck in pretrial for over five years as the case has been moved to Harris County and back while Paxton has launched several attempts at having the judge removed.
Paxton is also under a federal criminal investigation by the FBI after seven former senior staffers reported him last year for alleged corruption and bribery regarding his hiring of special outside counsel to go after the enemies of Republican campaign donor Nate Paul.
Paxton senior staff mutinied after he appointed Houston attorney Brandon Cammack, who then persuaded a Travis County grand jury to subpoena Paul’s creditors.
All seven whistleblowers have since been fired by Paxton. Four have since sued Paxton in Travis County District Court, claiming they were threatened, intimidated, falsely smeared by Paxton and fired in retaliation. The lawsuit claims Cammack issued 39 subpoenas that were designed to harass law enforcement and federal prosecutors that were looking into Paul and his businesses. Paul’s home and businesses were raided in 2019 — he has yet to be criminally charged.
Further complicating matters are accusations Paxton admitted to having an affair with a woman in 2018. Paul admitted during a deposition in November that Paxton recommended the woman to him for a job, but Paul explicitly denied he hired her as a favor. Paxton’s wife is state Senator Angela Paxton, R-McKinney. The couple has not publicly commented on the affair allegations.