Records detail Big Country officers fired or suspended for misconduct
ABILENE, Texas —
Law enforcement is dangerous, but important work. No one understands that struggle better than Brownwood Police Chief Terry Nichols.
Nichols lost a friend and former colleague in December. San Marcos Police Officer Kenneth Copeland was shot and killed while serving an arrest warrant.
"This is a job that you may not come home at night," Chief Nichols said. "That people will shoot at you. That people will fight you simply because of the uniform we wear."
Twenty officers have died in the line of duty since the start of 2018, according to the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund. Fourteen of those deaths have been firearms related.
The honor and duty of protecting and serving comes once officers take an oath of office. But, what happens when they break the rules?
Records reveal Chief Nichols suspended Brownwood officer Roberto Rodriguez for a day without pay for sexual harassment.
"We'll love to have no complaints, but we're in the human business and we're human beings, and we're dealing with human beings," Nichols said.
Over the last three months KTXS has submitted open records requests to several Big Country law enforcement agencies for their sustained complaints. They are internal disciplinary reports kept in an officers file.
These reports are investigated by an agency's internal affairs department.
Three Abilene Police Officers fired
Since 2014, the Abilene Police Department has either suspended or fired 15 officers.
Abilene had the most out of all the agencies KTXS requested complaints from, but they are also the largest department in the area. They employ 200 officers and have a nearly $28,000,000 budget.
"I tell people all the time that there are really two kinds of mistakes," Police Chief Stan Standridge said. "You can have a mistake of the mind and a mistake of the heart."
Standridge has fired three officers in the last four year years.
"A lot of people think, 'yeah, you know. They're just going to investigate their own.' Well, yeah, I have to. I have to because the law says I have to so I'm going to investigate my own," Standridge said.
In May of 2014, Standridge fired Bradford Wilson for allegedly violating five departmental policies. They include, exploiting the elderly and truthfulness. Wilson appealed the firing before the civil service commission, yet a hearing examiner upheld that decision.
But Chief Standridge wasn't so lucky with the other two officers he fired.
"A civil servant who is fired, indefinitely suspended, can appeal to the civil service commission or to an independent hearing examiner," Standridge said.
Arthur Jefferson, a 14-year veteran of the force, was accused of violating six departmental policies. One was tampering with evidence, which accused him of taking marijuana from the evidence room.
Jefferson was reinstated by the commission in August of 2016.
Chief Standridge also fired Brad McGary, who spent more than 20 years as an officer in Abilene.
He was let McGary go in January of 2017 for allegedly violating seven policies, which include tampering with a government document, excessive use of force, and not respecting fellow employees.
A civil service commission reinstated him in July.
"They're going to make mistakes, especially early in their careers, so we still have to hold them accountable," Standridge said.
Taylor County deputies get in trouble
The Taylor County Sheriff's Office also sent KTXS a list of deputies who were fired or suspended. Six were disciplined in the span of four years with two resignations and two terminations.
"If they need to be terminated, they're going to be terminated," Sheriff Ricky Bishop said. "It doesn't matter who they are."
Brent Gauger was fired in April of 2014 for misusing official information. Tristan Parnell resigned a month later in May for suspicious loan activity.
Marion Cope was fired last April for solicitation of prostitution. Sheriff Bishop said they handed over their internal investigation to the Texas Rangers to continue looking into it.
"The district attorney rejected the case," Bishop said. "There was not enough evidence to go with it."
Although Cope wasn't charged with a crime, Bishop sticks by the firing.
"Everybody is held to a higher standard and we're going to stick with that," the sheriff said.
Cody Jones was another deputy who resigned. In November he quit for discharging his firearm from a roadway while off-duty.
The Taylor County Sheriff's Office has refused to give KTXS the internal reports for those reports and has asked the Texas Attorney General's Office for an opinion to withhold them.
For the internal reports in the cases of the disciplined Abilene Police Officers, the city also went to the AG's office to request withholding them.
The Brown County Sheriff's Office did not have any sustained complaints since 2014.