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Open Records Reveal Hays County Skeletons in Sheriffs Closets

Jul 21st, 2012 | Category: Hays County

Posted  by  on May 25th, 2012,  Hays County Free Press

by SEAN KIMMONS

Just days before voters elect the next sheriff, stacks of internal personnel records have been inspected revealing cracks inside the Hays County Sheriff’s Office over the past few years.

One deputy was fired for turning off his duty microphone while trying to cover up a drunken driving crash for a firefighter friend. A 911 operator was terminated for not relaying emergency calls and sleeping on the job multiple times. A corrections officer got a pink slip for punching an inmate, while another jail guard quit before her arrest for alleged sexual acts with an inmate, according to disciplinary records.

More documents uncover a deputy suspended for flipping his patrol car over and getting injured while not wearing a seatbelt. Another deputy with an alleged history of steroid use and excessive force resigned after two residents complained about his actions, one of them resulting in a successful lawsuit.

Other files show a sergeant who was suspended twice for an illegal search that led to a hung jury and for negligently crashing his patrol car. The sergeant, who supervises the community outreach unit, also received six months probation for failing to log a citizen complaint.

Another resident filed a complaint against the same sergeant, who threatened to use a Taser during a family violence incident. He was later exonerated but remains the only employee with more than one suspension since 2009, records show.

A tale of two sheriffs

Sheriff Gary Cutler is up against his arch-rival, former Sheriff Tommy Ratliff, whom he defeated in a November 2010 special election. The winner of Tuesday’s Republican primary gets the badge since no Democrats are challenging.

 

Ratliff was appointed sheriff in January 2009 following the death of Sheriff Allen Bridges. Under Ratliff, there were almost three times more pink slips or resignations resulting from criminal investigations than Cutler’s term. Ten out of 12 suspensions also occurred during his reign, according to more than 650 pages of documents released to theHays Free Press.

 

“I don’t know the overall circumstances of what he’s done,” Ratliff said of his opponent. “We just take care of business when it comes to us.”

 

Charley Wilkison, spokesman for Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), argues the lopsided numbers reflect a clear distinction of how the department was operated.

 

“The real difference is that Cutler followed the law and instituted civil service rules that protected the public’s interest while ensuring local deputies’ rights to a fair and arbitrary hearing,” he said. “When a sheriff runs his office on the good old boy system, or the disciplinary system is based on a cult of personality then you see more terminations, suspensions and disciplines.

 

Ratliff

 

“It’s because there’s only one side being represented — the sheriff’s side.”

 

Ratliff accused Cutler of running off experienced officers when he took office, a tactic he chose to steer clear from, he says.

 

One of those officers, Richard “Dickey” Haverda, filed a lawsuit against Cutler for wrongful termination in September 2011. In the suit, Haverda says his friendship with Ratliff caused him to be demoted twice from captain to corrections officer in just two months. He called the moves “constructive discharge” and eventually retired. The case is still pending.

 

No disciplinary records on Haverda were found in documents released to the paper after months of open records negotiations, which disclosed numerous warnings and demotions for other officers.

 

Cutler has at least four other lawsuits against him while incidents during Ratliff’s term resulted in four suits. Most of the nine cases are ongoing, and only one has reached a settlement, which involved an 80-year-old man allegedly beaten by deputies during his arrest stemming from an argument with a neighbor.

 

In the lawsuit, Deputy David Bain, the officer accused of using steroids, committed a “violent assault” June 2010 as he detained Robert Threadgill, who was treated at a hospital for multiple bruises, wrist and ankle sprains, among other injuries.

 

The suit also claimed that Bain and another officer who helped with the arrest, Deputy Jonathan Ayres, attempted to cover up the “police brutality” by filing bogus charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct that were later dismissed.

 

A settlement of roughly $60,000 was reached, although Threadgill’s original damage claim was near $1 million, according to county officials, who stressed that insurance from the Texas Association of Counties helped cover losses.

 

Ratliff wouldn’t discuss the suit but confirmed that neither deputies were disciplined.

 

“They were not punished because of the Threadgill case,” Ratliff said. He did say Bain eventually resigned after a second incident but declined to go into further details.

 

In December 2010, an internal investigation of Bain was conducted for unreasonable use of force against another suspect. Written by Inspector Bruce Boardman, the findings recommended not reinstating Bain, records show.

 

Cutler also declined to comment on specific cases but said that they were common in his line of work.

 

“When you are in a law enforcement agency you’re subject to lawsuits,” Cutler said. “You don’t want them, but you deal with them professionally.”

 

Bragging rights
Both candidates emphasized training throughout the department and said they plan to lead with a firm but fair demeanor.

 

If elected, Ratliff vowed to re-implement his open-door policy for employees and the public. He says Cutler put a stop to that when a window in the waiting room used by command staff was blocked off. Sheriff’s officials have said the window was sealed for security reasons.

 

“When I was there you can walk in, sit down and talk about any issue,” he said. “It made for better communication. They knew I was listening.”

 

He will also bring back a drug interdiction team he says Cutler disbanded that not only deterred drug-related offenses but also included a burglary detail. On the other hand, Cutler says he has altered the department, consisting of about 300 employees, for the better using a civil service model that implements due process for disciplinary actions.

 

If an employee is found to have violated a departmental rule, Cutler says remedial training, such as use-of-force instruction, defensive tactics, reporting skills and interview and interrogation training can guide them onto the right path.

 

In addition, Cutler sits on an advisory board representing the department’s sections, and he entertains their suggestions. Ratliff asserted that he did this as well.

 

Because of his leadership, Cutler declared that morale inside the department is at an “all-time high.” He has been endorsed by the Hays County Law Enforcement Association as well as other police agencies from the county.

 

“I think the endorsements speak loud,” he said. “We’re fair to our employees, the crime rate is low, and the jail is in good shape. I’m proud of that.”

 

The jail, which failed safety inspections under Ratliff, has since surpassed standards. According to the FBI’s uniform crime report, an annual requirement for law enforcement agencies, violent and property crimes have steadily dropped since 2009. But crime statistics aren’t broken down into months, so the 2010 data could be misleading as Cutler was elected later that year. The FBI also discourages the use of the data to gauge policing effectiveness since crime is influenced by several factors, not only notable offenses.

 

Requests for information about arrests made by the department each year since 2009 were not returned.

 

‘Dictatorship’
When asked about Ratliff’s leadership, the law enforcement association president didn’t hold back on his old boss.

 

“His disciplinary style … it’s more like a dictatorship than anything else,” Sgt. Sam Stock said. “It was a rough two years having him in our department.”

 

Stock described Ratliff as having a “knee-jerk reaction” where punishment was swift and could have been handled more effectively, he said.

 

In Cutler’s administration, “Everybody gets a fair shake,” said Stock, an officer with 15 years at the department. “All of the facts are taken into account.”

 

Cutler earned the endorsement, he says, because he listens to his subordinates and supported the association’s collective bargaining endeavors for raises and benefits.

 

“Ratliff strongly opposed them,” he said. “I was in fear for my job because of the position I held.”

 

Ratliff countered by saying that the group’s endorsement was a fraud since only a fraction of its members voted.

 

“The system is flawed,” he said. “It’s not telling you the whole story.”

 

Stock agreed that not every member voted, but they all had the opportunity to do so.

 

“It’s definitely something that he’s trying to put a spin on,” Stock said.

 

Sherman Broadbeck, who served as chief deputy for 20 years before retiring after Ratliff’s defeat, affirmed that his former colleague is the right man for the job. With almost 40 years of law enforcement experience, Ratliff is “very qualified” to be sheriff again, Broadbeck said.

 

“I feel that he’s very capable at being a conservative,” he said. “He has the right attitude and decision-making abilities to benefit the community.”

 

Broadbeck denied that Ratliff was short-tempered or too strict toward his workers while in office.

 

“He wasn’t reactive on people,” he said. “He gave them an opportunity to do better.”

 

By the numbers:

 

Terminations or resignations of employees under criminal investigation(11)

 

Cutler: 3

 

Ratliff: 8

 

Suspensions(12)

 

Cutler: 2

 

Ratliff: 10

 

Lawsuits from incidents under their command(9)

 

Cutler: 5

 

Ratliff: 4

 

Approximate time in office: Cutler 19 months;Ratliff 22 months

 

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Read more at the Hays Free Presshttp://haysfreepress.com/2012/05/25/open-records-show-true-tale-of-two-sheriffs/#ixzz21DNHNhbx

 

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