Ken Paxton Should Have Talked to Pol’s Ex Before Endorsement

Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

This story contains descriptions and a photo of alleged domestic violence.

Hood County Commissioner Jack Wilson received the Texas Medal of Valor for taking on an active shooter during Sunday services at the West Freeway Church of Christ in 2019.

But the decorated hero, who is running for re-election in the March 5 GOP primary, has not received the endorsement of Texas’ top lawman, Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Instead, Paxton—who has been under indictment for securities fraud for eight years—chose to back challenger Nathan Criswell, who stepped down as chair of the county Republican Party in 2019 amid allegations of domestic violence and later pleaded guilty to violating an order of protection.

Paxton’s decision to endorse Criswell last week prompted a local Republican stalwart named Zach Maxwell to text the attorney general and his top executive assistant, Michelle Smith.

“I urge you to retract your endorsement of this man,” Maxwell, who knows both Paxton and Smith, wrote.

Paxton did not reply. Smith responded by texting, “We got the truth on all that and what you are saying is not truthful even his ex wife is will(ing) to say it’s not correct.”

Smith claimed that Criswell and his ex-wife, Jeannylee Figueroa Morales, “have worked through it as a couple” and “there is more to the story.”

“That is not what is truthful what you are saying,” Smith added. “His ex-wife is willing to testify.”

The texts reached Morales’ attention through her attorney, Melinda Owens, who conveyed her client’s response in a press release that received little attention.

“I have already testified—in the hearing where I was granted a protective order against my ex-husband and abuser Nate Criswell. I will not testify again. My testimony is unwavering—it has not changed.”

Morales later told The Daily Beast: “I do not support or endorse my ex-husband. I will never forgive or forget what he did to me… What hurts me the most about all of this ordeal was that the way it was handled made me feel like my life didn't matter.”

She added, “And just hearing that Ken Paxton, you know, is openly supporting my ex-husband hurts because it just makes me feel like no woman’s life matters here. It just sends that message that they do not care about women.”

According to a police report, a Hood County deputy sheriff was on patrol on May 6, 2019, when Morales flashed her car’s headlights and gestured for him to stop. The deputy’s report says she was sobbing when she told him that she couldn’t call 911 because her husband broke her phone. She said they were in a heated argument, and she slapped him. She said he then placed her in a chokehold and threw her across the living room, causing her to land on a child’s walker.. She said he repeatedly threatened to kill her.

“She told me she thought she was going to die,” the officer’s report says. “I could see a large red mark on the left side of the female’s face… I took pictures of the injuries to [her] face and neck.”

A 2019 photo of Jeannylee Morales

A 2019 photo of Jeannylee Morales, who says her then-husband, Nathan Criswell, viciously attacked her.

Courtesy of Jeannylee Morales

The officer took Morales and her two young daughters to the sheriff’s station, where she was referred to a women’s shelter. She and the children spent several weeks there while her husband remained in the home.

When questioned by a Hood County sheriff’s investigator, Criswell insisted that Morales had slapped him and picked up a kitchen knife. He said he acted in self-defense when he placed her in a bear hug.

Morales admitted slapping Criswell after he restrained her but denied reaching for a knife. The investigator wrote in his report that he believed Criswell and did not think the husband was trying to harm his wife.

Criswell was not arrested, but he stepped down as GOP county chair after a judge granted Morales an emergency order or protection. The women’s shelter reached out to Owens and asked if she would take a high-profile case.

“She came in and literally she had a stroller with the two girls in it,” Owens told The Daily Beast. “She had a black eye and a huge rug burn on her face. And she kind of just breaks down. And as I talk to her, she tells me a little bit more and a little bit more. And I can tell she's scared. I was like, ‘I'm here to help you’. And she was like, ‘I just don't know who can help me.’”

Morales told Owens that Criswell was close to the sheriff and to local judges. The lawyer told her: “I'm close to all of them, too.”

Owens filed for an emergency protective order and a divorce for Morales. Criswell stepped down as GOP county chair. Morales says that he continued to harass her when she moved to Fort Worth, but she did not report him.

“I was like, if I report him, it's just gonna be a nightmare all over again,” she said.

On April 22, 2020, Morales called the police to report an incident three weeks earlier. Criswell was running a lawn-mowing service, and on the morning of March 30 he offered to cut the grass at her house when he dropped off their daughters. She agreed—and he asked if he could come inside to say goodbye to their kids.

A report subsequently filed by a Fort Worth police officer says, “Jeanny told me the girls were in the living room and she was a few feet away in the kitchen. Nathan walked over to Jeanny and gave her a hug. Jeannys told me she believed Nathan was giving her a short goodbye hug and would leave. Instead, Nathan prolonged the hug, and pressed his entire body against Jeanny, which made her uncomfortable . Nathan grabbed Jeanny’s breast. Jeanny attempted to push Nathan away from her and told him NO. Nathan then told Jeanny, ‘Oh, come on, you know you like it.’ Jeanny responded, ‘No, I don’t like it.” Nathan then left the residence.”

The report added, “I asked Jeanny why she waited so long to report the incident…She said she was scared.”

She told The Daily Beast last week she felt like she had to call the police. “When he grabbed me that day, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna have to, even if nothing happens. If I don’t, this is my life. This is going to be my life.”

“And luckily the police in Fort Worth, you know, handled it the way it was supposed to be handled,” she continues. “They said, ‘Okay, he’s not supposed to be near you. That’s, you know, a punishable offense. We’re going to arrest him.’”

Criswell was not charged with assault. But he pleaded guilty to a class A misdemeanor of violating the protective order. His attorney was Kelley Sorelle, whose other clients have included the far-right hate group the Oath Keepers and who was the girlfriend of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes. (Sorelle had her own legal troubles: She was charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol but was found incompetent to stand trial.)

Criswell did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did Paxton’s office.

Wilson told The Daily Beast on Thursday that he does not know why Paxton endorsed Criswell. He noted that he had found a True Texas Project flier at a polling place where early voting is underway. The far-right group, a big Paxton booster, delineated its philosophy on the flier.

“Our Board and Leadership teams have personally interviewed nearly every person on your ballot,” it read. “We evaluate them against our core principles of limited government, personal and & fiscal responsibility, rule of law & national sovereignty.”

That would seem to exclude a man accused of domestic violence who pleaded guilty to violating a legal order, but there it was on the flier.

“Nate Criswell, ENDORSED.”

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