KAUFMAN COUNTY, Texas -- Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was shot dead outside the courthouse Thursday, spurring a complete lockdown of the grounds and an active search for the two shooters.
Kaufman County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Pat Laney said the suspects ambushed the assistant DA on his way in to court and shot him multiple times in a parking lot at about 8:50 a.m. They then fled the scene. The courthouse was locked down and later closed for the day.
Hasse, a longtime prosecutor for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office and current assistant DA for Kaufman County, is the man who was shot and killed, the Sheriff's Office confirmed. He was a felony prosecutor who headed murder and drug cases.
Hasse joined the Kaufman County District Attorney's Office in July 2010, records show.
"Mark was really a great guy, he was the consummate prosecutor, he was hard-working, loved his job, and juries loved him for some reason," said Dallas attorney Ted Steinke, who oversaw Hasse in the Dallas County DA's Office. "He wasn't very large in stature, but juries loved him and he exuded confidence."
Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood told WFAA's Jonathan Betz that he was not working on any high-profile cases that required any extra security. Investigators are following up on his caseload, however.
However, hours after Hasse was gunned down, the Department of Justice issued a release on its website crediting the Kaufman County District Attorney's Office with helping investigate two known members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas gang. They pled guilty the day of the shooting to racketeering charges.
Before the release was issued, The Dallas Morning News credited "authorities with knowledge of the assistant DA's caseload" as saying he was "heavily involved" in an investigation of the Aryan Brotherhood. According to the release, Ben Christian Dillon, aka "Tuff", of Houston, and James Marshall Meldrum, aka "Dirty", both "agreed to commit multiple acts of murder, robbery, arson, kidnapping and narcotics tracking" for the Aryan Brotherhood.
Meldrum is from Dallas, the feds say.
Earlier, Wood classified Hasse's shooting as an "ambush" and told Betz that courthouse security is always tight, but not in the parking lot.
"It's a scary deal," Steinke said. "Every prosecutor every once in a while gets a death threat, and we take them seriously, but this is the first time in 20 years that I can remember here in North Texas a prosecutor actually being assaulted."
During a press conference, Sheriff David Burns and Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh said Hasse was heading to misdemeanor court when he was assaulted and gunned down.
"When you get up into the level, you are really attacking society as a whole because our whole society is based on our criminal justice system and getting our day in court," Burns said. "This is not how to handle our business."
The Texas Department of Public Safety sent out an alert for troopers to be on lookout for a silver "older model" Ford Taurus. According to the alert, the two suspects are wearing all black and at least one is in a tactical vest. DPS choppers are flying low over the treeline in north Kaufman.
Kaufman County Crime Stoppers has issued a $10,000 reward for information leading to who is responsible. To submit an anonymous tip, you're asked to call 817.847.7522.
Kaufman Independent School District Superintendent Todd Williams said all schools in the district are also locked down as authorities search for the shooters. Forney ISD spokesman Larry Coker said all schools have been ordered to lock their doors until the suspects are caught. Administrators will reevaluate the plan at 2 p.m.
Forney is about 22 miles northwest of Kaufman.
In an email sent to staff, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office confirmed the victim was a prosecutor and was fatally shot.
Below is the entire email sent by the Dallas County DA:
"This message is not intended to scare anyone but please be advised. A Kaufman County prosecutor was fatally shot a few minutes ago outside the Kaufman County Courthouse in Kaufman. Two masked gunman are the suspects. They have not been apprehended yet.
Please be aware of your surroundings when leaving the building for your safety. This is probably a isolated incident but until further notice if you plan to work past dark today please be careful and ask security for assistance escorting you to your vehicles if needed. I will keep you informed as to the arrest of the suspects when i am notified. Don’t panic but please be aware of your environment when leaving the building."
Employees at businesses nearby say they've seen heavy police activity and heard reports of the shooting. Cathy Coulson, a real estate agent at Re/Max across from the courthouse, said she was not at work when the shooting happened, but reported seeing police helicopters searching overhead.
"I didn't hear anything, I came into my office right after it happened, but I talked to one of my clients that's two blocks behind us and he said that he heard it," Coulson said, adding that she's seen police walking the streets. "They don't have time to come tell us to lock down, we have enough sense to do that; we've seen them going around and the helicopters."
Tonya Ratcliff, a clerk at The Kaufman County Tax Office located to the right of the courthouse, said officers came inside and asked them to lock their doors.
Kaufman is a town of 7,000 about 30 miles east of Dallas.