Little investigated in felony vandalism case

Ellis County judge one of two accused of painting over segregation-era courthouse sign; DA, judge recuse themselves

Bill Spinks
Midlothian Mirror
The Ellis County Historic Courthouse.
Todd Little

Ellis County Judge Todd Little and another man are under investigation for their roles in allegedly defacing a controversial historic sign in the basement of the Ellis County Historic Courthouse a month ago.

Outgoing Ellis County District Attorney Patrick Wilson said on Monday that his office is recusing itself from the matter and that Judge Bob Carroll, 40th Judicial District Court, also requested to be recused.

Dallas County Criminal DA John Creuzot has been appointed to serve as attorney pro tem and Dallas County senior criminal judge Michael R. Snipes has been appointed as presiding judge.

“As the county judge for Ellis County, Todd Little is also the budget director for the county, with significant fiscal authority over my office,” Wilson stated in his recusal request. “To ensure protection of the rights of the victim(s), the defendants, and society, a prosecutor other than one from my office should independently evaluate the matter and proceed or not as he or she sees fit in his or her sole and independent judgment. Therefore, it is necessary that an outside prosecutor proceed from this point forward.”

Preliminary estimates indicate that it will cost more than $750 to repair the damage, which would make the act of vandalism a felony offense, Wilson stated. The same estimate also suggests that some of the damage will be permanent, he added.

Thursday is Wilson's last day in office. First assistant DA Ann Montgomery, who was elected to replace Wilson after he decided not to seek re-election, will take over on Jan. 1. The office's recusal will remain in effect.

A 10-page document released by Wilson’s office states that on or about Nov. 17, an individual sprayed graffiti on a wall of the building in an attempt to obliterate historic, segregation-era signage. That signage has been memorialized by Ellis County through an accompanying plaque on display underneath the sign.

The plaque acknowledges the history of the signage, and it recognizes the display as an affirmative effort to prevent a repeat of painful historical events. The final line of the plaque reads, “It is preserved here in the hopes that we will learn from history.”

Wilson’s affidavit alleges that the act of vandalism was audio-video recorded by Ernest Henry Walker, who is being investigated as the primary perpetrator, and openly published on YouTube. A second individual, Judge Little, is prominently heard and seen in the recording, encouraging and directing the act.

“Little could also be deemed to be a person with a legal duty to prevent the vandalism, and who failed to make a reasonable effort to prevent the commission of the act,” Wilson states in the affidavit. “That conduct could result in criminal liability against Todd Little as a party to a charged offense, should a criminal charge arise.”

The hand-lettered historical sign that reads “Negroes,” painted on the wall over a doorway, is in an area that decades ago contained a water fountain and was uncovered when the courthouse was renovated in 2001. At the time, the decision was made to keep the sign as a historical lesson.

The sign is located in a stairwell in the courthouse that is not heavily trafficked. But in November, the sign came under scrutiny after Precinct 3 Constable Curtis Polk, who is Black, complained about being temporarily relocated to a basement office not far from the sign and the matter went viral on social media. Little resolved the issue by allowing Polk to move into one of Little’s offices on the second floor, not far from the Commissioners’ Courtroom.

Little and Polk appeared together on Nov. 18 on Facebook Live to clear the air. The video started with the two and a number of Polk’s supporters gathered in front of the sign’s location. At the time, the sign appeared to be papered over.