“The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” — Proverbs 28:1
Last week I blogged about how 82nd District Judge candidate Bryan F. “Rusty” Russ, Jr. fled a judicial candidates forum in Franklin, Texas, and ever since his supporters have accused me of “lying.” Well, now that I have video and police reports from the event, we can all see who was lying (hint: it wasn’t me). Body camera video from three Franklin police officers shows a slightly-stooped, unarmed elderly man with a wavering voice as he displays legal documents to the officers and explains why he believes Mr. Russ is unfit to hold judicial office. Click on these links to see for yourself:
Sgt. Taylor’s video is the most comprehensive, probably because he arrived first, and it refutes most of what Mr. Russ’s supporters have said about the incident.
This morning I sent a letter on behalf of that elderly gentleman, 71-year-old Ronald Braneff, demanding a front-page retraction and apology from The Robertson County News, as well as the termination of publisher Dennis Phillips for defamation. Mr. Phillips did not attend the candidates forum, but one of his reporters did, and he must not have liked what she had to say because he did not let her write about it in the newspaper.
Instead, Mr. Phillips wrote an an opinion column trying to portray Mr. Russ’s cowardice as a profile in courage. And while Mr. Phillips had every legal right to spin the story in favor of his preferred candidate, he did not have the legal right to make a false accusation that Mr. Braneff had previously attacked Mr. Russ. Granted, Mr. Phillips did not mention Mr. Braneff by name, but people in the community knew exactly who he was writing about.
In a similar Facebook post, Mr. Phillips described Mr. Braneff (again, not by name) as “unstable” and further claimed that five gunshots had been fired near Mr. Russ’s house on the evening of the candidates forum. Bear in mind, Mr. Phillips was not at the candidates forum and had never met nor talked with Mr. Braneff, so I emailed a couple of questions to Mr. Phillips:
Re: the older man whom Rusty claims is a threat. How do you know he is “unstable”? Are you planning to run that in the newspaper?
Here is Mr. Phillips’s response:
His erratic behavior previously in the DA’s office early in the week as well as his behavior that evening. I will not be publishing that he is “unstable” as I’m not a doctor to make that claim.Why did you send him to the event? What was your motive?
I didn’t answer Mr. Phillips’s question at the time, but I’ll answer it here: I didn’t send Mr. Braneff to the event because I had never heard of him until the day after, when he called me to ask about his legal options. Mr. Braneff tells me that, contrary to the allegations in Mr. Phillips’s colulmn, he has never threatened or assaulted Mr. Russ and his mental health is just fine.
According to a report filed by Officer Myers, a search for Mr. Braneff’s record came back clear. That tends to corroborate Mr. Braneff’s story, because you can be sure that if he had assaulted or threatened to kill Mr. Russ in the past, Mr. Russ’s cronies in the Booger County Mafia would have arrested Mr. Braneff and prosecuted him.
On the other hand, Mr. Braneff said Mr. Russ assaulted him in the Robertson County courthouse in 2001, bumping his chest against Mr. Braneff’s repeatedly and telling him, “people disappear in Robertson County.” I am inclined to believe Mr. Braneff because, as The Bryan-College Station Eagle reported at the time, I had a similar experience with Mr. Russ in 2014. Mr. Braneff said he is 5’8 and weighs 166 pounds, which is close to my size, whereas Mr. Russ is more than six feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds. Like most bullies, Mr. Russ withers (or runs away) when somebody pushes back.
According to Mr. Braneff, Sheriff Gerald Yezak was already sitting in the audience when Mr. Russ arrived, and the Franklin PD records indicate they were already on scene before Mr. Russ fled. That flatly contradicts what Mr. Russ’s minions have been spreading on Facebook, and it raises the question I’ve asked all along: what was Mr. Russ really afraid of?
I think he was afraid of questions, i.e., he did not want to answer questions in a public forum about his long history of lying, cheating, and stealing. On the other hand, if Mr. Russ was really that scared of an unarmed elderly man, even with law enforcement on scene, how exactly is he going to preside over a murder trial with angry family members in the audience?
Now back to Dennis Phillips. I answered his questions, and it’s time for him to answer mine. On February 19, 2018, I posted the following questions beneath Mr. Phillips’s column, which was posted on The Rosebud News Facebook page:
Have you told the public that Rusty is your personal attorney? Is he representing you for free, like he represented Judge Stem for free?
Mr. Phillips never answered those questions, and a couple of days later they were deleted. I happen to know that Mr. Russ is representing Mr. Phillips in a couple of probate matters because Mr. Phillips wrote about it in an email to me. And if you’re doubting whether Mr. Russ secretly provided free legal services to Judge Stem (a violation of Texas Penal Code §§ 36.08 and 36.09), just read the court transcript of the testimony of Mr. Russ and Judge Stem. Now you know at least part of the reason why Judge Stem always rules in favor of Mr. Russ.
If you follow this blog, you know that Mr. Phillips has never met a conflict of interest that he couldn’t ignore. As I reported back on September 23, 2015, “the sleaziest little newspaper in Texas” accepted a $30,000 bribe grant from the crooks that run Hearne, and Mr. Phillips has been a loyal lapdog for the city government ever since. I think it’s fair to ask whether Mr. Russ traded free legal services for Mr. Phillips’s loyalty.
BTW, most of the newspapers in Falls and Robertson Counties are managed by Mr. Phillips. If you want something better, send an email to Mr. Phillips’s boss, Jim Moser, at [email protected].
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
Mr. Braneff sat in the audience at the Franklin Worship Center on February 15, 2018, minding his own business and waiting for the candidates forum, when Franklin police officers arrived and escorted him outside. Around 7:21 p.m., someone sent a text message to Franklin Police Chief Terry Thibodeaux: “There is a guy here that has threatened to kill rusty before and he needs to be removed.”
The sender is not identified, but in a comment on my February 16, 2018 blog post, a Facebook user identified as Toni Woodall Matthews of Franklin claimed that she sent a text to the chief (Ms. Matthews, you should probably hire a lawyer). Here is the incident report by Sgt. Taylor:
Officer Mangham was contacted by phone by Chief Thibodeaux and advised of some sort of disturbance at the Worship Center Church located at 213 Cooks Lane, Franklin, Texas 77856. When I arrived on scene, I saw a male known to me as Rusty Russ and several people standing in the grass near the parking lot. I overheard Rusty tell an unknown female to leave because she had his campaign shirt on and that someone inside would threaten her too.
I spoke to Molly Hedrick [mayor of Franklin and an attorney at Mr. Russ’s law firm] and she stated that there was a guy inside that had made threats to Rusty. She also stated he had what looked like a bulge on his leg and didn’t know if it may be a weapon or not. I then went inside and spoke with an older lady and she pointed me to an older gentleman sitting near the back door. I spoke with the gentleman and later identified him as Ronald Braneff w/m DOB 7/30/46. I asked Braneff to step outside the back door to speak with us. As we were walking out the door Braneff stopped and asked why, I advised Braneff I needed to speak with him about what had occurred and didn’t want to disrupt the meeting any further.
Once outside, I told him why were there, I handed Officer Myers Braneff’s Texas Drivers License and asked him to run a check. Officer Myers then took the Drivers License and ran it through dispatch for any possible warrants. While Officer Myers was running Braneff’s information I asked Braneff if I could pat him down to insure he didn’t have any weapons. Braneff allowed me to pat him down which I found no weapons on his person.
Braneff provided paperwork and began to tell me how Russ had screwed him around. I asked if he had made any threats this evening and he stated he had not. I then walked him back inside, and spoke with a couple of people who were inside the event and both stated they had not heard Braneff make any threats towards anyone. An older lady who appeared to be in charge of the meeting asked me if any of our officers could remain at the meeting for the remainder of the event, and I stated I would.
After Braneff approached me and asked me to walk him out to his vehicle since he didn’t feel safe. I escorted Braneff to his vehicle and once Braneff was gone I left the location. End of call.
Since Dennis Phillips claimed someone had fired shots near Rusty’s home on the evening of the candidates forum, I decided to look into that, too. According to a report from a sheriff’s deputy, Mr. Russ walked into the Robertson County Sheriff’s Office the following morning to report shots that had allegedly been fired around 11:00 p.m. the night before.
That looks like something that was concocted afterwards to give Mr. Russ political cover, a cover story that Mr. Phillips was more than willing to spread. If you think somebody is shooting at your house, why wouldn’t you pick up the phone and report it immediately? For that matter, why report it at all? Gunshots were a pretty regular occurrence when I was growing up in rural Texas, and they’re even more common now that you can hunt wild hogs at night.
THE BOOGER COUNTY FREE SPEECH ZONE
Last week, I wrote about getting kicked off of the “Marlin Texas – Current Events, News, and Views” group on Facebook because of some of my posts about Mr. Russ. Not surprisingly, Mr. Russ’s minions have seized the opportunity to post things there since I cannot respond.
That’s about what I would expect from a bunch of cowards, so I have created “The Booger County Free Speech Zone” on Facebook, where you can post without fear of censorship (unless, of course, you’re posting something like child porn or threats). Mr. Russ doesn’t seem to like the First Amendment, as evidenced by the fact that he sought a gag order to keep me from blogging about the crimes committed by former Robertson County District Attorney John Paschall. Similarly, he tampered with petition signatures in order to keep activists from imposing a forensic audit on the City of Hearne.
I know Bryan F. “Trey” Russ, III, a.k.a. “Daddy’s Boy,” has been taking shots behind my back, so I’ll take this opportunity to encourage him and his daddy to man up. Post something where I can respond, either in the comments below or in the new free speech zone.
I’m not scared. Are you?