Burner Phones, a Murder Plot, and a Missing Cop

America has been fixated lately on the tragic deaths of black men and women at the hands of cops and in police custody, triggering what might be unprecedented scrutiny of police departments around the country. It is through that lens that the February killing of Samantha Dean got blanket coverage by local news stations in central Texas. But if investigators are right, her lethal mistake was not a minor traffic infraction or driving with a missing license plate—it was being pregnant with a cop’s daughter.

If the Texas Rangers are correct, Dean was murdered in cold blood because she was carrying the daughter of a man—an Austin police officer—who did not want to father that child. VonTrey Clark, the cop who allegedly conspired to murder her, is now reportedly on the lam in Indonesia, and was only fired from the police department after he left the states during an Internal Affairs investigation.

In early February, a local sheriff’s deputy found Dean’s body in the parking lot behind a vacant shopping center outside the small town of Bastrop, about 25 miles southeast of Austin. No one had called the police; the deputy discovered her by chance during a routine patrol. She was covered in black plastic, according to police records released last month, and was found lying next to her black Dodge Charger, which had a door left open. Investigators speculated the crime scene was staged and that the execution-style murder—Dean was killed with three bullets to the head, at least one at close range—probably had taken place somewhere else.

The child Dean was seven months pregnant with, whom Dean had already named Madeline and whom her family had affectionately referred to as Maddie, did not survive.

A search warrant for Clark’s police station locker was released to the public on Wednesday. The warrant includes a Texas Ranger’s affidavit laying out the facts of the case, and indicates that a man arrested in connection with the murder probe told officers in June that Clark had paid a mutual friend $5,000 to kill Dean and make it look like a drug deal gone wrong. Clark did not want to pay child support for the baby since he was “married” (the affidavit only refers to a girlfriend), the man said. He also told investigators that Clark drove Dean to the place where she would be killed.

Shortly after finding Dean’s body in February, investigators learned she was the victim services coordinator at the nearby Kyle Police Department, another small town near Austin. Her family told local news about Dean’s battle with sarcoma cancer during college, which prevented her from becoming a police officer because the cancer attacked her elbow and left her with a disability. She did the “next best thing,” her mother said—after studying criminal justice in New York, she returned to Texas and worked in a civilian capacity for the Kyle Police Department. She helped crime victims there and volunteered to do the same at the Austin Police Department.

The day after Dean was killed, detectives interviewed Clark, at the time still an officer with the Austin Police Department, who told them that he and Dean had had an on-again off-again “sexual relationship” for years and that he believed he was the father of her child. Through text message exchanges and Dean’s diary entries, detectives learned that Clark had insisted Dean have an abortion because if she birthed the child, his life “would be ruined” and he would “lose his family.”

One week before her body was found in the otherwise empty parking lot, Dean wrote in her diary that she feared Clark was going to murder her during a recent sexual encounter. He had handcuffed and blindfolded her, she wrote, and had insisted on staying in uniform and keeping his gun on, according to the Ranger’s affidavit.

Dean had also told coworkers that if anything happened to her, Clark was responsible, according to coworkers contacted by police. To the Texas Ranger who requested search warrants for Clark’s home, car and for a DNA sample, the journal entries and texts pointed to a “possible motive.”

Clark was put on paid leave days after Dean was killed. Through phone records, the many agencies involved in the investigation—which now included not only local and state departments but the FBI—learned that Clark had been communicating with three other people using burner phones in the hours leading up to the murder. The following month, Internal Affairs opened its own investigation and discovered that Kevin Watson, a convicted felon, was Clark’s old roommate. Clark called Watson “baby brother” in text messages and after the murder deposited money into Watson’s father’s bank account without telling Internal Affairs, which led to an indefinite suspension from the police department.

Watson and his girlfriend, Kyla Fisk, both live in Houston, about three hours east of Austin. Also implicated in the murder is Freddie Smith, whom the Houston Police Department has “documented” as a member of the Hoover Gangster Crips, according to an Austin Police Department memo. The phone that texted Dean to meet at “SFA blvd.” (she was found at a shopping center on Stephen F. Austin Boulevard) hours before her demise was purchased the day of the murder in Austin and activated in Houston. The Texas Ranger writes in the affidavit that he believes the three burner phones “were purchased for the sole purpose of facilitating the commission of the Capital Murders of Dean and Baby Dean.”

On the night of the murder, Clark was nowhere to be found, according to his girlfriend, who he lived with. He’d left his cell phone and pager at home, which she told investigators was uncharacteristic for him. Clark told police that he had hung out at the nearby elementary school, but investigators couldn’t find him in the school’s surveillance footage. He eventually went to a local police station, but only stayed there for 30 minutes. There’s a four-hour window of time that is so far unaccounted for, and during that time Dean was meeting someone in that empty parking lot—cell phone towers put her phone and the burner phones that police say belonged to Clark, Watson and Fisk in the area of the crime scene around 10 PM.

About a week after Dean was found, the victim services coordinator at the Austin Police Department (who was Dean’s friend) received a threatening message. It read, “I fucking got her I am going to get him then I am coming for you. I will show you what a crisis is.” According to the affidavit, surveillance video showed that Watson (Clark’s former roommate) and a second man, Aaron Williams, bought the phone at a Walmart outside Houston. The two presumably then drove to Bastrop and sent that text, perhaps to make police believe whoever killed Dean was still in the area. Williams later told investigators that Clark paid Watson to kill Dean.

The Texas Ranger on the case believes that those involved in the murder tried to use cellular tower tracking to their advantage. That would explain why Clark left his phone at home that night and why two men took the trouble of making a four-hour round trip drive just to send a threatening text message from a gas station and throw cops off their scent. It would also explain why the phone numbers used on the night of the murder were never used again.

The warrant that was released Wednesday for Clark’s police station locker details conversations between Clark and the others, obtained via wiretap in April. Clark tells them not to talk to police, and they agree that they should distance themselves from each other. When Fisk wants to reach Clark, she calls another friend first and has him call Clark so as not to leave a trace of their communication in phone records.

In June, Clark failed to provide Internal Affairs with the cell phone and bank records they requested. His attorney, Bristol Myers, issued a statement at the time saying that Internal Affairs already had the phone records and that Clark didn’t have the legal authority to obtain the bank records. Myers did not return request for comment.

Last month, Clark failed to show up to an in-person interview with Internal Affairs, and flew to Jakarta, Indonesia the next day. Myers said his client traveled there for medical reasons that had to remain private, but some speculated he was trying to escape as the investigations piled up. “If Officer Clark truly intended to slip out of the United States undetected, there are more clandestine methods than booking an international flight in his own name and using his own passport,” Myers said in his statement. Clark was detained by Indonesian authorities on a visa issue and remains there.

The FBI says it cannot provide comment as to Clark’s status or possible extradition, deferring to the local district attorney, who doesn’t see his current location as an insurmountable obstacle.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t get somebody back,” Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz told VICE. “It just means we gotta work it a different way.”

Meanwhile, Watson was arrested for an unrelated drug charge in April and remains in jail, and his girlfriend Fisk went to jail for tampering with evidence—she allegedly destroyed the hoodie Watson was wearing on the night of the murder. Williams, for his part, spent a month in jail after being arrested for sending the threatening message to Dean’s friend at the Austin Police Department.

District Attorney Goertz said he can’t talk specifics because the investigation is ongoing, but that whoever killed Dean will be charged with Capital Murder—in Texas, that means the killing of more than one person at the same time. That’s one of the crimes that can get you the death penalty in the Lone Star State, which leads the nation in executions by a significant margin.

Investigators seized dozens of shoes and electronics from Clark’s car and home in May, though Goertz wouldn’t say whether they found any evidence in the physical items or electronically-stored data. Police were looking for a herringbone shoe print that matches prints left at the crime scene, including a print left on the plastic covering Dean’s corpse, as described in the affidavit. Authorities confiscated Clark’s PlayStation 4 and were attempting to establish whether he might have used it to plan details of Dean’s murder with Watson.

District Attorney Goertz believes the government can have Clark back in the states by the end of the month. Not having an extradition treaty doesn’t preclude recovery, he says, but would not comment as to what will happen to him once he’s back in Texas.

Dean’s family hasn’t publicly commented as police have continued their search for answers in the tragic murders. On her Facebook page, Dean’s mother posted a photo of her granite tombstone surrounded by flowers and colorful balloons. “I spent some time with Sammi on her birthday,” she wrote. “This is not how I planned to spend your birthday: I’m still pissed.”

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