Fort Worth

‘There’s no way there’s going to be any justice for anyone,’ Fort Worth activist says

Abdul Chappell, a former Fort Worth gang member who turned activist after his release from federal prison, has a YouTube channel with videos that show him preaching the straight and narrow to high school and college students, feeding hungry people near homeless shelters and talking about the prisons and jails where he spent nearly half of his life.

And there are videos of him talking about his life in gangs — the misconceptions he had, the lies he heard and the dysfunction of it all.

Until April 12, Chappell was in the Johnson County jail facing drug and weapons charges and struggling to pay a $200,000 bond. Despite repeated denials from the court to reduce his bond, Chappell paid a bondsman to get him released after selling nearly everything that he owned.

Chappell is now out of jail and out of money and had been scrambling to pay for necessities like electricity and rent. A June 3 court date was set to address Chappell’s drug and weapons charges, Johnson County District Clerk records show.

Tarrant County prosecutors dismissed a possession of marijuana under 2 ounces charge against Chappell on April 17. He kept missing court dates because he was in jail in Johnson County.

A separate marijuana possession of under 2 ounces charge that arose from the same circumstances against Cynthia Mancha, Chappell’s co-defendant, was dismissed on Jan. 18, 2019. According to an official with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, each case is considered and handled on an individual basis.

“The reason I’m broke is because I put all my money into helping other people,” Chappell said.

He is worth rehabilitating

Larry Jarrett, the attorney advocating for Chappell in his Johnson County cases, said witness testimony from people lauding his community building efforts during a recent bond reduction hearing was ignored by the court.

Jarrett said his client must address a methamphetamine dependence issue that Chappell insists no longer plagues him. Chappell is worth the trouble of rehabilitating, Jarrett said.

“He better be worth it, I’m donating my services,” Jarrett said. “I’ve known him for a while.”

Abdul Chappell
Abdul Chappell Jared L. Christopher

Chappell’s wife, Kimberly Gheen, recounted disappointing court experiences on the GoFundMe page that she established and dedicated to getting Chappell out of jail. 

“I sat next to his mother in the courtroom,” Gheen wrote. “Listening to the prosecutor talk about crimes he committed 20 years ago. That he’s already served time for. Listened to them try to tear him down. Meanwhile, we spoke of his work in the streets. His work with the homeless. The countless young men he’s gotten off the streets.”

Chappell said none of the good work he had done in the past seemed to matter inside of the Johnson County courthouse.

“I had nine families, homeless, staying in my apartment,” Chappell said. “We had voter registration drives, we had shoes, clothes for people. What made them want to build a community center in Las Vegas Trail? It was me. They wanted to build a park. Before the lights and the cameras came, before (city councilman) Brian Byrd was elected, I was out there trying to help the people on Las Vegas Trail. I was the only one on the committee who lives on Las Vegas Trail.”

Chappell, 47, was a committee member of Las Vegas Trail Revitalization Project, known as LVT Rise, a partnership of private companies, human service organizations and government agencies, designed to alleviate some of the poverty and misery community residents dealt with as part of their day-to-day lives.

Chappell said he became discouraged awaiting funding to expand his projects that never materialized, and he and LVT Rise parted ways.

The Star-Telegram focused a series of special reports on life along the Las Vegas Trail more than a year ago and several community projects resulted that have served to lift up the area.

Chappell grew up on Las Vegas Trail, but became involved in gang life as a teen and spent stints in prison totaling 21 years. Since his release from federal prison and before he went back to jail, Chappell devoted the bulk of his time to helping area residents through his We Can Build A Better Hood Foundation.

The Build A Better Hood organization is in the process of relocating.

But Chappell has also had to devote time to protecting his family from threats of harm made by individuals who have accused him of being a police informant. Chappell says he has never been a police informant or worked for the police.

Chappell said he advocated for the programs that LVT Rise was supposed to bring to the community but people never saw those programs take root. The only thing that people saw was an increased police presence, Chappell said.

Chappell said he was blamed for the lack of programs and for the increased numbers of police in the area.

Ex-gang leader Abdul Chappell (left) at book signing with Rick Ross. Courtesy of Abdul Chappell

Now his time is also being split between fighting his Johnson County legal troubles and fighting for the rights of the inmates in Johnson County who remain in jail. 

“It’s like living in 1852 in that area,” Chappell said. “There’s no way there’s going to be any justice for anyone, especially a minority. There is no way a minority is going to get a fair trial in Johnson County.”

Excellent progress

Chappell was sentenced to 19 years in federal prison in 2003, which the court reduced to 13 years in 2011, due in part to changes made in the federal sentencing guidelines by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which changed mandatory minimum sentences and weight criteria for crack cocaine possession.

In his motion to end his five-year sentence of federal probation, Chappell argued that he had spoken to more than 5,000 children within the Fort Worth school district to steer them in the right directions and had helped two girls start a nonprofit to help feed the homeless.

Chappell also noted that the terms of his probation made it difficult to promptly answer calls of help from others in the community who were seeking his assistance and advice.

U.S. District Judge John McBryde, who reviewed the motion to end Chappell’s federal probationary period, denied it. McBryde wrote in his order that he believed that probation was a helpful factor in what he characterized as Chappell’s “excellent progress.”

“The court has concluded that he should serve at least 30 months of his 60-month term of supervised release before serious consideration is given to early termination,” McBryde’s order stated.

During his period of federal incarceration Chappell took more than 30 different courses, including two courses in Mandarin Chinese, paralegal training and he also taught several courses, Chappell’s motion for sentence reduction stated.

Chappell led negotiations while in Tarrant County Jail that resulted in a gang truce in Fort Worth as well as assisted the Texas Chamber of Commerce in creating a gang intervention program, the motion stated.

Chappell also argued in his motion that he did not make, sell, or distribute drugs to anyone, nor was he under investigation at the time of his arrest.

So many of the people he has known graduate through the levels of incarceration, first juvenile detention, and then jail, and then state prison and finally federal prison, Chappell said. And when they are released from incarceration, they are returned to the same set of circumstances they left many years ago, Chappell said.

“Poverty creates a whole different governing body of laws,” Chappell explained. “Self-preservation is the first law of nature. I gotta eat. I gotta turn some lights on. This is why huggin’ the block or sellin’ dope is so appealing to some people who are in poverty. There seems no realistic way out of their condition. Other than their homeboy, standin’ on the corner. He seems to be doin’ pretty well. At least he’s respected. He’s sellin’ dope.”

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.