Mitch Mitchell, who during nearly 22 years at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram covered some of the region’s biggest crime and social justice stories — always in his distinctive, gentle manner — died Thursday after a brief illness.
He was 63 years old.
Mitchell, who was originally from Houston, joined the Star-Telegram in February 1999 after working at the Lufkin Daily News.
His initial beats included municipal governments in Northeast Tarrant County. He also covered health and human services, and worked in the Star-Telegram’s Arlington office before moving to the downtown newsroom.
Along the way, Mitchell covered breaking news stories big and small, and eventually settled into a role specializing in crime and courts beat reporting.
“Mitch had a way of making sources feel at ease about talking with him — even during the challenging circumstances he sometimes found himself in covering breaking news,” said Steve Coffman, Star-Telegram president and editor. “He was passionate about his work, but particularly passionate about giving a voice to the voiceless.”
Despite the seriousness of his job, and his commitment to it, Mitchell was also known for his broad smile and distinctive laugh, which billowed across the newsroom — usually several times a day.
“I can almost hear his laugh now,” said long-time Star-Telegram crime reporter Domingo Ramirez Jr., who sat next to Mitchell for years. “I do remember him once being interviewed on TV for a story he was working on, and I remember thinking he had a very eloquent voice.”
This past summer, Mitchell played a prominent role in the Star-Telegram’s coverage of protests associated with police officers’ treatment of Black residents in Fort Worth and other cities.
His ability to report on the complicated issues of race, crime and social justice came from years of experience.
Lee Williams, a former Star-Telegram managing editor who worked with Mitchell for 20 years, remembered a moment in 2000 that was a prime example of Mitchell’s tenacious reporting, when Mitchell was part of a team of reporters covering the shooting deaths of five people at a Mi-T-Fine Car Wash in Irving. The tragedy remains one of the worst mass-shootings in North Texas history.
Mitchell’s task was to find the shooter’s brother, and talk to him.
“He tracked him down, asked for an interview and was declined,” Williams remembered. “Mitch waited in his car for hours, occasionally checking back in with the brother, and finally got the interview.”
Diane Smith, a former reporter who worked with Mitchell for most of the past two decades, remembered Mitchell being an important part of the Northeast Tarrant County newsroom in the early 2000s, when the Star-Telegram was in a newspaper war with the Dallas Morning News for readers and advertisers in the fledgling suburban area between the flagship cities.
The reporters included men and women of a variety of ages and backgrounds, Smith said. They often went to lunch together and had passionate discussions about the stories they were working on, and issues such as race and privilege, she said. But they also spent a lot of time laughing at each other’s dumb jokes and poor singing.
“We would talk about little things, but also have these long, deep discussions about race, equality and who were the worst and the best presidents of all time,” Smith said. “We would walk away exhausted from our conversations.”
Smith remembered that Mitchell’s first couple of reporting beats involved covering municipal affairs in Keller and Roanoke, communities that at the time weren’t very ethnically diverse. She remembered that Mitchell, who was Black, dived into the beat and never hesitated to ask leaders in those communities an uncomfortable question about a lack of diversity if he felt it was pertinent to the story he was working on.
“I am happy he lived to cover Black Lives Matter. That was very meaningful to him,” Smith said. “He became a voice of the African-American community.”
Mitchell was a fixture at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center, where he covered many trials and had a reputation for being fair to all sides in his news coverage.
“He was a kind person,” said Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson. “Even when he was asking tough questions, he was kind. And that’s as good as it gets.”
Donnell Ballard, former president of United My Justice, an organization that protests police brutality, said Mitchell showed true concern for the subjects he interviewed.
“Sometimes he would call and check on me. It didn’t even have to be for a story,” Ballard said. “One time, I was sick and he said, ‘Man, you need to take better care of yourself.’ He just wanted to talk to me.”
Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks said Mitchell was “one of the good guys.”
“When he would call me and want to interview me or get my thoughts on a particular subject, I didn’t approach this conversation with the same kind of wariness with him that I would have with other members of the press because I knew that Mitch was going to treat me fairly and that gotcha wasn’t part of the way he did business,” Brooks said. “He would always ask me at the end of a conversation, ‘Now, what’s going on that I need to know about?’ I tried to always have a little nugget for him.”
Mitchell’s death was not related to the COVID-19 pandemic, his wife said. He began feeling ill about a week ago, and doctors determined he had blood clots in his lungs.
Candi Mitchell said she hopes her husband’s death helps others understand the importance of seeking medical care, even for symptoms that might seem minor.
She said Mitchell may have had early warning signs of blood clots in the weeks before his death.
“When the protests all started, he said ‘Baby I can’t walk like I used to.’ His legs hurt,” she said. “We’ve been together for 16 years, and he’s only been (to the doctor) once, and that was when he had real bad allergies and his face swelled up.”
“Please, get checkups regularly because, you know, if I can just save one wife or husband from going through this, it would be worth it.”
Mitchell studied journalism at Texas Southern University before working at the Longview News Journal in 1994-95, the New Southern Times from 1995-97 and the Lufkin Daily News from 1998-99.
Mitchell lived in North Richland Hills with his wife, Candi. He had four grown children and four grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his father Fred Mitchell and first wife, Cherry, who died in her sleep in 2002.
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