May 13, 2011

King of the hippies

You might have known Brent Stein. If you were a street freak (hippie) in Texas in the late 60’s, early 70's, you probably at least heard of him. You likely didn’t know him by that name, but your certainly knew him as the pioneer underground newspaper publisher of The Dallas Notes, and later of Buddy Magazine.

You may have even known him as one of the defendants infamously known as The Dallas Five, but only because the Dallas Morning News, in reporting on the infamous police raid of April 12, 1970 history knows as The Lee Park Massacre [this is an hour-long video] used his legal name instead of the one we knew him by.

Prior even to that infamous abuse of police authority came the raids that shut down Brent’s first journalistic enterprise, The Dallas Notes. The search warrant authorized the cops to search for and seize “pornographic material” and any equipment used to reproduce same. In the end they seized…

“[T]wo tons of a newspaper (Dallas Notes), one photograph enlarger, two portable typewriters, two electric typewriters, one camera, 'numerous obscene photographs,' and $5.43 in money.”

A second raid 16 days later was in response to a claim that marihuana was concealed on the premises. The warrant for that one authorized the officers “to search for and seize the said narcotic drug and dangerous drug in accordance with the law in such cases provided." 

But they didn’t find any marihuana, so the sergeant called his lieutenant for instructions and in flagrant violation of the 4th amendment of our Constitution, was told to “seize pornographic literature and any equipment used to make it.

In testimony before SCOTUS it was revealed that the sergeant "didn't know what to seize and what not to seize so [he] just took everything," which included a Polaroid camera, a Kodak Brownie, a Flocon camera, a Kodak lamp, a floating fixture lamp, a three-drawer desk containing printers' supplies, a drafting square, a drafting table, two drawing boards, a mailing tube, two telephones, a stapler, five cardboard boxes containing documents, one electric typewriter, and one typewriter desk. A poster of Mao Tse-tung, credit cards, costume jewelry, cans of spices, a brown sweater, and  a statue of a man and woman in an embrace. This effectively put the Dallas Notes out of business.

At trial the prosecutor told the jury that Stein was a “revolutionist helping rush civilization to hell at a hundred miles an hour.” Brent was found guilty but later sued the Dallas Police and Dallas County DA. The case made it all the way to SCOTUS [see Dyson v. Stein] where it was roundly rejected.  But you’ve really got to wonder why. 

Below is part of the testimony offered by then Dallas Police Chief Frank Dyson.

"Q. What instructions did you give the officers in effecting this search and seizure as to what they were to do?"
"A. They were to search for any obscene material they could find. All of our officers know what obscene material is."
"Q. What is obscene material?"
"A. Well, I wish you hadn't ask [sic] that. I take that back. They don't know, neither do I."
"Q. What instructions had you given them in terms of what they were to do?"
"A. To search for obscene material and seize it."
"Q. What definition, if any, did you give them as to obscene material?"
"A. I didn't."

The original decision by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit had overturned Texas obscenity laws but even with Dyson's damning testimony, SCOTUS refused to rule in Stein’s favor and instead sent the case back to lower courts. Associate Justice William Douglas was the only dissenter, stating in his argument…

“It would be difficult to find in our books a more lawless search-and-destroy raid, unless it be the one in Kremen v. United States. If this search-and-destroy technique can be employed against this Dallas newspaper, then it can be done to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, the Yakima Herald-Republic, the Sacramento Bee, and all the rest of our newspapers.”

Establishment newspapers, recognizing the truth in Douglas’ words, sided with Stein. The Dallas PD eventually settled and returned the seized property, although much of it was damaged beyond use.

Remaining intent upon getting this man off the streets and stopping the 60’s revolution before the pristine city was somehow soiled, the police continued to harass Stein.

In an unattributed 1974 story titled Getting Stoney Burns, Time Magazine wrote "The law in Dallas, from all appearances, had been bent on getting Stoney Burns for years" when they "found in the glove compartment a tiny stash of marijuana. It was barely enough for one or two joints." 

Didn't matter.  It was enough to get Stoney a sentence of 10 years and a day -- time he never served thanks to Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe who commuted the sentence

Pot, at that time, was classified a narcotic under Texas law. It was not unusual for small amounts of the weed to garner multi-year prison terms. Stoney was fortunate.

All of this took a lot of the steam out of this early revolutionary. He gave up Dallas Notes and became a little less flamboyant. Buddy Magazine, heralded as the first magazine of Texas Music, was his next venture. He gave that up a few years ago, living out the rest of his life in his home and prowling the haunts of the Lower Greenville area of Dallas.

Brent Lasalle Stein, AKA Stoney Burns, was born Dec. 4, 1942 and died April 28th, 2011. Those of us who knew him will always appreciate the mark he made on Dallas, and the changes that brought.