George W. D'Artois
|George Wendell D'Artois, Sr.|
|Public Safety Commissioner in
November 1962 – August 6, 1976
|Preceded by||J. Earl Downs|
December 25, 1925|
Shreveport, Caddo Parish
|Died||June 11, 1977
San Antonio, Texas
|Resting place||Forest Park Cemetery East in Shreveport|
|Spouse(s)||Billie Claire Best D'Artois|
|Children||George Wendell D'Artois, Jr.
Mary Cecile D'Artois Murphy Elaine Claire D'Artois
|Parents||William Francis D'Artois, Sr.
Mary Holmes D'Artois
|Alma mater||C. E. Byrd High School
|Service/branch||United States Marine Corps|
|Battles/wars||Bougainville in Pacific Theater of Operations of World War II|
George Wendell D'Artois, Sr. (December 25, 1925 – June 11, 1977), was a law-enforcement officer who served from 1962 to 1976 as public safety commissioner, a citywide elected position in his native Shreveport, Louisiana. By the end of his tenure, questions arouse about his integrity and commitment to his office, issues never resolved because of his death from surgical complications at the age of fifty-one.
D'Artois was one of two sons of William Francis D'Artois, Sr., and the former Mary Holmes. He graduated from C. E. Byrd High School, the original public high school for white students in Shreveport. He served for three years in the United States Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater of Operations, with action beginning in November 1943 in the Battle of Bougainville and other locations thereafter as well. He attained the rank of sergeant. After the war, he studied Business Administration at Centenary College in Shreveport and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He married the former Billie Claire Best, and the couple had a son, George, Jr., known as Wendell (born c. 1955), and two daughters, Mary Cecile and Elaine Claire.
Success in city politics
For a time, D'Artois served as director of the Shreveport junior athletics program. In 1952, he became a deputy for the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Department under J. Howell Flournoy. After nine years, he resigned as a deputy to run for public safety commissioner under the city commission form of government, a five-member body that exercised combined executive and legislative functions. Then Governor Jimmie Davis had been the Shreveport public service commissioner early in his political career from 1938 to 1942. The other commissioners presided over the public works, utilities, and finance departments. The mayor was technically the "commissioner of administration." A Democrat, D'Artois was first elected commissioner in 1962, when he upset the two-term incumbent J. Earl Downs, whose brother C. H. "Sammy" Downs, an attorney in Alexandria, was a close associate of Governors Earl Kemp Long and John McKeithen. D'Artois won again in 1966, 1970, and 1974. He served with Mayors Clyde Fant and Calhoun Allen, who like D'Artois commanded one vote on the city council as a whole. Other colleagues included H. Lane Mitchell and later Don Hathaway as the commissioner of public works, and John McWilliams Ford, Dwight Saur, and George A. Burton as finance commissioner. Each commissioner exerted far more political power than would their successors under the mayor-council form of government, which beginning with the elections of 1978 established single-member legislative city council districts and an executive mayor elected citywide.
As the public safety commissioner, D'Artois also headed the Shreveport Fire Department. He was a lecturer at the LSU Law Enforcement Institute in Baton Rouge and the Southwestern Legal Foundation at Southern Methodist University near Dallas, Texas. In 1973, he was recognized by the National Police Officers Association of America for outstanding work in law enforcement. The since defunct Shreveport Journal praised his stewardship in an editorial; so did The Shreveport Times, citing the computerized traffic system that the department had acquired by 1974.
In the general election for state offices held on February 6, 1968, Republican State Representative Taylor W. O'Hearn of Shreveport, who was seeking, unsuccessfully as it developed, a second term, notified D'Artois and Caddo Parish Sheriff James M. Goslin that election laws had been violated at three African-American voting precincts in Shreveport — that Democrats passed out campaign literature at the door of one polling place and were less than the required 200 feet minimum from the two other precincts. O'Hearn said that D'Artois and Goslin both told him that the matter was out of their jurisdiction.
D'Artois gained popularity among both whites and African Americans for different reasons. The segregationist White Citizens Council early in his tenure was active in Caddo Parish, and its members were treated with deference by the commissioner. At a meeting in 1975 of a Rotary International club at the old Captain Shreve Hotel in downtown Shreveport, D'Artois told conservative businessmen that he had set up a special police unit to monitor crime-plagued nightclubs in the black community. The unit had seized concealed handguns and made arrests, a point which he expected to calm fears of runaway crime in the city. Yet, he allowed black bars and establishments with gambling to remain open past closing time, purged out-of-town gamblers from Shreveport, and protected black business owners from the criminal element. In both cases, he was cementing his diverse political support.
D'Artois had long been accused of using intimidation to keep down civil rights activities in the black community. He denied a permit in September 1963 to a group wanting to march a short distance to the Little Union Baptist Church, of which the Reverend Harry Blake, a civil rights advocate, was the pastor. Blake later moved to the Mt. Canaan Baptist Church in Shreveport and has been general secretary of the historically black National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. These Shreveport activists wanted to demonstrate solidarity with the victims of the church bombing that month in Birmingham, Alabama. D'Artois sent in his riot squad to quell what observers saw as a peaceful demonstration.
Investigations of D'Artois
Questions though plagued D'Artois's administration of his office. He came under investigation by the journalist and later Louisiana State Senator Bill Keith. Several hundred thousand dollars from a 1968 bond issue earmarked to D'Artois's department and intended to finance the synchronized traffic system went missing, and none of the Shreveport City Council members could ever account for it. Mayor Calhoun Allen speculated that the funds went to other "needed projects". In 1971, D'Artois commandeered a drug bust at Columbia Park in the South Highlands neighborhood of Shreveport. The police blocked exits and arrested disaffected youths engaged in the use of marijuana. A class action suit prevented such police sweeps of city parks thereafter.
D'Artois was said to have run Shreveport "with an iron fist and didn't bother with the niceties of a velvet glove." Carlos Marcello, the organized crime boss from New Orleans, frequently visited Shreveport and was seen at the high-dollar spots.
Some claimed the corruption under D'Artois and in other departments as well occurred because the commissioners were not adequately checked by their colleagues on the commission city council. The commissioners "sort of had their own little fiefdoms", explained Lynn Stewart, a former reporter for The Shreveport Times. By 1978, the commission form of government was replaced by the current mayor-council format.
In April 1977, Judge William J. Fleniken of the Louisiana 1st Judicial District Court ruled that D'Artois must stand trial for the felony theft of $30,000 in municipal funds declared to have been paid to police informers. D'Artois's attorney questioned how his client could be tried considering his rapidly failing heart. Judge Fleniken said prosecutors must have doctors and medical equipment at the courthouse during the trial, which had already been postponed several times because of D'Artois's state of health. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that iudges should consider the defendant’s lifestyle in deciding whether a person is too ill for trial.
Assassination of Jim Leslie
In 1970, D'Artois was held to 59.8 percent of the vote in a contest with the Republican nominee William Kimball, who carried the Southern Hills section of south Shreveport. For the 1974 campaign, D'Artois hired James S. "Jim" Leslie (1937-1976), a Shreveport Times journalist turned advertising executive, to manage his successful campaign for a fourth term as commissioner. D'Artois boldly paid Leslie with a check drawn on city funds. Leslie returned the check and asked that it be reissued on D'Artois's campaign account. According to Leslie, D'Artois told him to take the original check and keep the matter confidential. Leslie again returned the check and threatened to go public if the proper check was not issued to him.
On July 9, 1976, Leslie was in Baton Rouge to celebrate with colleagues at the Prince Murat Inn the passage of the Louisiana right to work law, a victory, narrowly won in the state Senate, often attributed to the lobbying from the new interest group, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, founded by Edward J. Steimel. The law meant that employees in unionized plants need not be required to join a trade union or to pay union dues. As Leslie exited his car after parking at the only available spot in a remote section of the hotel parking lot, he was assassinated with sixteen pellets pumped into his body from a 12-gauge shotgun. He died instantly. Rusty Griffith, who had ties to D'Artois was ultimately tagged as the trigger man. Not long afterwards, Griffith himself was assassinated in Concordia Parish. D'Artois was charged with Leslie's murder but died before he could face trial.
A city engulfed in scandal
Shreveport consultant and political pundit and consultant Elliott Stonecipher called D'Artois "the most powerful ever public official [in Shreveport] ... who dragged the citizenry through the deep ditch of a corruption scandal which forever stained our city." On July 3, 1977, Dr. William E. Hull (1930-2013), the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Shreveport from 1975 to 1987, delivered the sermon "Shreveport at the Crossroads", a condemnation of the scandal engulfing D'Artois, who had died the previous month, and the long-range prospects for the quality of life in the city. Stonecipher, who was in Baton Rouge at the time of Hull's sermon, said that friends told him later that there was "a remarkable silence in the huge sanctuary as the sermon was preached. Many of those to whom Dr. Hull would impersonally refer were, in fact, sitting and listening, saving their reactions for other days and times. We might well imagine how sons and daughters of Shreveport's multi-generational leadership elite felt as they heard such remarks ..."
On August 6, 1976, D'Artois was charged on a warrant from East Baton Rouge Parish signed by 19th Judicial District Judge Douglas Gonzales for his alleged involvement with the shotgun slaying of advertising executive Jim Leslie, but he was released for a lack of evidence. He was forced to resign as commissioner but died some ten months later on the operating table during heart surgery in San Antonio, Texas. His death spared the settlement of pending issues against him, which have never been resolved, including his role if any in the Leslie assassination.
D'Artois's older brother, William Francis "Bill" D'Artois, Jr. (1924-2008), graduated from LSU with a degree in Electrical Engineering and was employed in Dallas for some twenty years by the United States Defense Contract Regional Office. He and his wife, the former Golda Marie Rountree, spent their later years in the Leigh Community near Waskom in Harrison County, Texas, west of Shreveport.Golda D'Artois (1933-2015), a native of Haynesville in Claiborne Parish, was reared in Marshall, Texas, and trained as a medical technologist at the former Confederate Memorial Medical Center in Shreveport. William and Golda D'Artois are also interred at Forest Park East Cemetery in Shreveport.
- Bill Keith, The Commissioner: A True Story of Deceit, Dishonor, and Death. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company. 2009. pp. 80–89; 183–184. ISBN 9781-58980-655-9. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- In Shreveport and in other cities with the commission form of government, the commissioner exercises both legislative and executive duties, on the city council and as a department head. This position should not be confused with a county commissioner, most of whom were and still are elected by single-member districts. County commissioners are the "legislators" of a county (called parish in Louisiana), with the county judge normally in the role of the "executive" head of the county. In Louisiana, the executive of the parish can be the police jury president, the president of the parish, or a parish "administrator", depending on the structure of the parish government. City commissioners could not be chosen on a district basis, as their administrative duties affected the entire city. African Americans were not then elected to city government in most parts of the South. Soon an outcry in the civil rights movement raised legal challenges to the city commission governments.
- "George Wendell D'Artois". findagrave.com. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- "Brad Kozak, When Cops Go Bad I: The Tale of George D’Artois, October 19, 2011". thetruthaboutguns.com. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- The Shreveport Times, May 19, 1974
- Shreveport Journal, February 7, 1968, p. 1
- "Badge of Dishonor: George D'Artois and his alleged murder plot against Jim Leslie". KTBS-TV. Retrieved July 26, 2014.
- "D'Artois Trial Ordered". The Monroe News-Star. April 5, 1977. p. 3. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Caddo Parish election returns, November 3, 1970
- "James S. "Jim" Leslie". findagrave.com. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- "Jim Leslie's Murder - Thirty years ago in Baton Rouge". James H. "Jim" Brown, July 2006. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- "Dr. William E. Hull, A Remarkable Man, December 13, 2013". theind.com. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- Eric John Brock (2001). "Shreveport: Faces of the Past". Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing Company. p. 44. ISBN 0-7385-1416-0. Retrieved June 18, 2014.
- Obituary of William F. "Bill" D'Artois, Jr., The Shreveport Times, January 17, 2008
- "Golda D'Artois (1933-2013)". The Shreveport Times. Retrieved February 1, 2015.