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Texas watchdog journalism roundup: Arson, the Red Cross and Trump’s wall

Chief Charles Hood Press Conference
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood announces criminal charges have been filed in the case of a suspected arson fire on May 18 that killed firefighter Scott Deem

The latest investigative stories in Texas that uncovered hidden facts and held officials accountable:

Investigators: Gym owner started deadly blaze that killed firefighter Scott Deem | The San Antonio Express-News

Local officials have released few details about a deadly blaze that killed San Antonio firefighter Scott Deem. But an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by the Express-News reveals that arson suspect Emond Javor Johnson was plagued by financial problems and confessed to starting the fire to get out of a monthly $2,500 lease at the Spartan Gym. Authorities arrested Johnson Wednesday. Story by Emilie Eaton, John Tedesco, Caleb Downs, Fares Sabawi and Kelsey Bradshaw

The Wall | USA Today Network

More than 30 reporters and photographers interviewed migrants, farmers, families, tribal members — even a human smuggler — to examine the feasibility of President Donald Trump’s border wall. “In this report, you can watch aerial video of every foot of the border, explore every piece of fence, even stand at the border in virtual reality.”

Harvey laid bare lack of resources, training at Houston Fire Department | The Houston Chronicle

When Houston firefighters rushed into Tropical Storm Harvey’s currents in late August, they were hobbled by a lack of resources, old equipment and a shortage of manpower ready to go when the storm hit, according to a Chronicle review of internal reports and emails, and dozens of interviews with firefighters and other officials. “Internal reports show fire department leaders should have known they weren’t prepared for a catastrophic hurricane.” Story by St. John Barned-Smith

Texas official after Harvey: The ‘Red Cross was not there’ | The Texas Tribune and ProPublica

“The Red Cross’ anemic response to Hurricane Harvey left officials in several Texas counties seething, emails obtained by ProPublica show. In some cases, the Red Cross simply failed to show up as it promised it would.” Story by Justin Elliott, Jessica Huseman and Decca Muldowney

Police responded to his 911 call for help. He died. What happened to Tony Timpa? | The Dallas Morning News

Dallas media organizations spent more than a year examining Tony Timpa’s mysterious death and fighting for public records from the city of Dallas and Dallas County after Timpa’s family complained that police were stonewalling. They discovered that Timpa, unarmed and frightened, died in the custody of police officers as they mocked him. Story by Cary Aspinwall

Kilgore College VP was told quit or be fired, files show | The Longview News-Journal

At the time of his June resignation, records obtained by the News-Journal reveal that former Kilgore College Vice President of Finance Duane McNaney was set to be fired over performance issues and “serious misconduct” — problems that weren’t previously known until the newspaper filed an open records request. Story by Meredith Shamburger

Amid staff exodus at health agency, some say chief has political agenda | The Texas Tribune

Dozens of experienced senior staff members have left Texas’ health and human services agency, saying morale has sunk after the arrival of Executive Director Charles Smith, a longtime ally of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “Current and former employees attribute the exodus to widespread dissatisfaction with the executive commissioner, whom they say lacks technical knowledge of the agency and pushes a political agenda backed by the governor.” Story by Edgar Walters

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