The book, Bombshell in the Barrio, published via Amazon narrates an alleged conspiracy led by Eliot Shapleigh and Susie Byrd to destroy Bowie High School to make way for the downtown redevelopment that has targeted Duranguito and Segundo Barrio. Central to the book’s thesis is that El Paso’s “oligarchy” was behind the El Paso Independent School District’s (EPISD) cheating scandal that dominated the new from 2009 through 2017.
It is unclear who wrote the book as the book does not have an author identified. At the end of the book, a reference is made to several authors. The book, although written in the third person, seems to have been written, at least in part by John Tanner, the principal of Austin High School at the time the scandal began.
The book suggests that the EPISD cheating scandal that started in late 2009 when Shapleigh alleged cheating on standardized testing at Bowie, was an attempt to declare the area around Bowie as a blighted community providing the opportunity to use eminent domain to make way for downtown redevelopment.
Although Bowie was the original Byrd-Shapleigh target, Austin was added because of the Tanner’s challenge to Shapleigh’s narrative about cheating at the onset of the years-long controversy. The book gets right to the point in chapter one by declaring that “there was no cheating in the ‘cheating scandal’.” (emphasis mine) From there the book narrates the alleged conspiracy by laying out the parts played by various people to make way for downtown redevelopment. It makes the case that the El Paso Times, particularly Bob Moore, who now leads El Paso Matters and Zahira Torres who is now working in a partnership between ProPublica and the Texas Tribune, were instrumental in the scandal.
Without the constant barrage of news coverage by Bob Moore and Zahira Torres, the scandal would not have reached the level it did, argues the book. Byrd, Moore, Shapleigh and Torres were the ringleaders of the scandal that the book argues never happened. Byrd, according to the book “often claimed that she and Moore were best friends,” would “often” have lunch with Shapleigh and “sometimes the main reporter of the scandal” Zahira Torres would join in the lunch meeting, insinuating although not stating that the lunch meetings were to strategize of what to do next. (page 111)
The book says that EPISD was cleared by investigations by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and that the local news media was selective on how it reported on reports that seemed to exonerate those accused of criminal acts with the cheating scandal.
According to the book, “all charges against James Anderson, John Tanner, Mark Tegmeyer and Nancy Love were dismissed” by late 2020. The only convictions, according to the book, were Myrna Gamboa and Lorenzo Garcia, the former EPISD superintendent who was jailed for “steering a no-bid contract to his former lover.” The book argues that Garcia was the only one to plead guilty to “cheating,” although there was no cheating at EPISD. According to the book’s narrative, Garcia plead guilty to cheating “to avoid a hefty prison term” for the crime he did commit.
The book makes a strong argument for what drove the cheating scandal but, unfortunately, although it offers detail and a long list of footnotes, many of which are public sources, it quotes other sources that are difficult to verify as the original documents are difficult to attain or there is not enough information to find them. Its lack of an author to speak to makes it more difficult to verify the narrative. The book’s publisher, El Paso Parrhesia Press does not seem to exist making verifying the information more difficult.
For example, controversial prosecutor, Debra Kanof, was removed from the case on May 16,2018 as verified by the public record and stated by the book. Kanof was accused in the book of legal malfeasance for her actions in the case. As a result, the book alleges that the “State Bar Commission agreed to a private reprimand” of Kanof. There is no public record of a reprimand of Kanof and her state bar listing does not show one. Thus, it is difficult to verify the censure. However, that the public record shows Kanof was removed from the case suggests that there were serious questions about Kanof’s action on the case. In addition, the case presented by her resulted in a mistrial due to the prosecutor’s actions on the case. However, as argued by the book, the primary defendants were not found guilty on the cheating charges but accepted Pre-Trial Diversion (PTD). PTD “allows a defendant to remain on a probationary period while complying with the laws.” After completing PTD, all charges are dismissed with no convictions. According to the book, “it was highly significant that PTD came with no admission of guilt.” (page 193) The book alleges that “as far as the defense attorneys know,” the offer of PTD without an admission of guilt was “unprecedented for a federal case in West Texas District of the United States.” (page 193) Anderson, Love, Tanner and Tegmeyer accepted PTD, according to the book.
However, the thesis is supported by events surrounding the controversies over downtown redevelopment that are now known and the information available on the public record.
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