By Pearl Cantrell and Erik Walsh
The News Staff Writers
KAUFMAN–A Kaufman County criminal prosecutor died of gunfire targeting him just before 9 a.m. Thursday morning, as he was arriving to work.
Mark Hasse, 57, an assistant district attorney under D.A. Mike McLelland, was gunned down by what police are reporting were two unknown assailants, dressed all in black, wearing masks and one seen wearing a tactical vest.
An all-points bulletin was issued for two males, dressed in black and believed to be driving a silver or brown-colored older-model Ford Taurus with no license plates.
Kaufman Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh said he confirmed that Hasse was shot outside his vehicle and the attack was totally unexpected. “We are piecing together stories from witnesses to form one accurate picture,” he said.
Law enforcement agencies centered their investigations in the parking lot behind the courthouse annex on North Washington Street across from the courthouse square.
In response to the shooting, area schools were put on lockdown, including campuses in Kaufman, Kemp, Scurry-Rosser and Forney.
Campuses in Mabank initiated a part of the district’s safety and security plan, superintendent Dr. Russell Marshall told Van Zandt News. By noon, most lockdowns and security measures had been lifted.
The Kaufman County Courthouse and Annex business offices were closed the rest of the day.
Hasse was transported to the Kaufman Health Presbyterian Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
During a 10 a.m. press conference Kaufman Sheriff David Byrnes said the victim was on his way to present misdemeanor cases in court that morning when he was assaulted and gunned down.
Investigators are combing through his case load (340-390 cases a year), looking for suspects.
McLelland said he is confident the criminals will be caught and brought to justice.
“When you deal with bad people on a regular basis, then they may do bad things to you. Mark knew the dangers of his job,” he said.
One news report said past investigations included the Aryan Brotherhood activities, two of whom pleaded guilty in federal court the same day Hasse was killed.
Lawyer James Lee Bright, who arrived at the courthouse just as law enforcement descended on the scene, is reported to have told the Dallas Morning News that the veteran prosecutor had worked on numerous cases over his career and that any one of those could be connected.
Hasse was hired with the Kaufman County D.A.’s Office as a chief prosecutor in July 2010. He also worked as a prosecutor in Dallas County from 1983 to 1990, according to another news report. He was unmarried.
County Judge Bruce Wood said he viewed the event as an attack on justice, itself.
Of Hasse he said, “He was a good man and a good prosecutor.
“When something like this happens – like the murder of the very people we trust to do justice – it’s a horrible crime,” Wood said.
A business owner on the courthouse square was shocked and disturbed at the shooting.
Maple’s Hall operator Bryant Martin told Van Zandt News, “We are a small community. It took us all by surprise. These things happen in other counties, not in ours. It’s very disturbing.”
Sheriff David Byrnes said in his 43 years in law enforcement he has never seen anything like this before. “By all appearances it was an assassination,” Byrnes said.
Kaufman County Crimestoppers has issued a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of individuals involved in the capital murder of a Kaufman County prosecutor Jan. 31. Tipsters remain anonymous by calling 877-TIPSKCC (847-7522) or text to 274637.
Additionally, a Kaufman company, ABOX is offering another $10,000 to informers in this case leading to an arrest and conviction.
Former County Judge Wayne Gent described courthouse security as always tight, but not in the parking lot. He categorized the shooting as an “ambush.”
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins sent out an email shortly after the shooting, with details unfolding in Kaufman County and warned staff to “be aware of your surroundings when leaving the building for your safety.”
Kaufman County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Pat Laney said all area law enforcement are taking part in the investigation and searching for the suspects, including the Texas Rangers, Department of Public Safety helicopters, Kaufman Police Department, the lead investigator, the Sheriff’s Office and the federal agency of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
No arrests had been made in the case by Thursday afternoon, though Dallas D.A. Watkins had erroneously reported an arrest in an earlier press conference Thursday.
He offered to prosecute the case on behalf of Kaufman County.
“We will provide whatever resources or help they need since Hasse was a former Dallas County prosecutor,” Watkins said.