The Bandera County Courier by Judith Pannebaker - June 9, 2009
Deputies with the Bandera County Sheriff’s Office appear to be dropping like proverbial flies.
Blowing the whistle
After nine years of service with the BCSO, Deputy Scott Sharp was dishonorably discharged on Wednesday, May 20. Insubordination, failure to report for duty and failure to prepare for duty were cited as reasons for termination on his unsigned letter of discharge. Coincidentally, Sharp was fired just four days after meeting with County Attorney John Payne to outline allegations of what he considered a pattern of malfeasance within the sheriff’s department. If an employee reports purported misconduct to someone he believes to be in authority and the “whistle blower” is fired within a specific time period, there is a presumption of retaliatory termination, according to an attorney who was consulted for this article. Additionally, Sharp was denied an appeals hearing usually scheduled within 10 days of a termination. Former Deputy Mario Hernandez also failed to receive the obligatory hearing. However, former Deputy Chris Wilson was given an appeals hearing after being fired for failing to address four allegedly inebriated motorists who were later killed after a one-vehicle crash in November.
End of road?
“I am going to fight this with everything I have,” Sharp said, after learning about his dishonorable discharge. “A dishonorable discharge would effectively end my law enforcement career.” Sharp has been employed in law enforcement for approximately 15 years, beginning with the United States Air Force. In 1988, he graduated with honors from the US Air Force Security Police Academy as class leader and spent three years with the Air Force Security Police. After receiving a honorable discharge, Sharp enrolled in Western New Mexico University’s Law Enforcement Academy, where he maintained a 3.75 grade point average. At the age of 28, he graduated from the academy as top cadet – while raising a family at the same time. Sharp worked in law enforcement in New Mexico for two years before relocating to San Antonio where he was employed as a detention officer with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. He passed the Texas peace officer’s exam on his first attempt. After being commissioned, Sharp joined the BCSO, serving as a patrol officer in charge of deputy training. After being transferred to criminal investigations, Sharp was promoted to patrol sergeant – the sole supervisor of 13 deputies. He later requested and received a transfer to the Criminal Investigations Division. During a three-year period as a CID sergeant, Sharp supervised several high profile cases, including three homicide investigations – one of which was a seven-year-old cold case that involved the murder of a toddler.
From September 2005 to his termination, Sharp documented alleged corruption within the BCSO. He eventually reported his findings to the office of the 216th District Attorney, Texas Rangers Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency. Sharp’s allegations of malfeasance include multiple counts of felony tampering with government records, several counts of felony tampering of physical evidence, bribery, theft, arson, misapplication of county funds for personal gain, misuse of county property, interfering in criminal investigations, civil rights violations, failure to act during a felony in progress, retaliation against employees and cruelty to animals, as well as numerous violations of Bandera County Sheriff’s Office Policies and Procedures Manual. According to Sharp, federal violations include racial discrimination, retaliation of witnesses in EEOC complaints, gender discrimination and unlawful transport, storage and disposal of hazardous chemicals.
Play by play
Discussing the sequence of events that led up to his termination on May 20, Sharp said he went on shift at 6 am as scheduled. “I started my day in the same manner as I usually do. My routine included getting ready for work just before 6 am, calling on duty over the radio at the 6 am and then spending a few moments with my family,” he said, adding, “Sometimes, I wouldn’t leave the house right away but would stay around to have breakfast.” This routine, he said, was common knowledge among his subordinates. “It’s been a practice of mine, as well as other county deputies.” Sharp continued, “This is a small county, where take-home cars are authorized. With the administration’s stance that family comes first, this has enabled deputies not only to be available for duty, but also to have the freedom to be your own person.”
Sheriff’s solo stakeout
At approximately 7:10 am, Sharp’s wife, who had left the house earlier, called him on a cell phone about a suspicious vehicle parked in the road outside the couple’s residence. “My wife advised me she believed the vehicle was an unmarked vehicle from the sheriff’s office,” Sharp said. “I immediately knew that my home was under surveillance.” Approaching the vehicle, he recognized Sheriff Weldon Tucker, apparently engaged a one-man stakeout. “I confronted Sheriff Tucker and asked him if he had been watching my residence,” Sharp recalled. According to Sharp, Tucker replied, “You went 10-8 (on duty) at 6 am and you’re still at home sucking up county tax dollars. Scott, you’re fired. Bring it on in.” As explained, the phrase, “bring it on in,” meant he was to drive his county vehicle to the sheriff’s office and turn it in. At that time, Chief Deputy Don Berger also pulled up. After Tucker left the scene, Berger asked Sharp if he were headed to the office. “Since I had already been fired, I did not hesitate to inform Berger that I had been documenting various incidents of corruption within the BCSO for years – and that I had evidence to prove most of the issues,” Sharp said, adding, “Before I drove off, Don was already pulling out his cell phone.”
Berger delivers dénouenment
As Sharp was clearing out his office at the stationhouse, Berger purportedly delivered a message from Tucker, stating that Sharp was being put on an unpaid suspension, but had not been fired. Sharp recalled Berger saying, “I’m just here to give you the message. It’s not my decision.” “Don was clearly trying to distance himself from the situation, realizing that he might be implicated,” Sharp said. When Sharp asked to speak to Tucker to clarify his situation, Berger said the sheriff was unavailable. “The sheriff chose to leave so that he didn’t have to face the issue,” Sharp said. He added, “Hiding from confrontations is a common behavior for the sheriff.” Sharp left the office and returned to his residence. Approximately five hours later, he received a call from Berger, who informed him that Tucker had decided to terminate him – for a second time. “I said, ‘Let me get this straight. First I was terminated, then suspended, and now you’re telling me I’m terminated again. Is that right?’ To which Don replied, ‘Yes, we’re just going to go ahead and terminate you’,” Sharp said. Although Sharp’s termination letter does not contain a write-up of the “termination-unpaid suspension-termination” scenario, Sharp has obtained a tape on which Berger acknowledges the erratic way Tucker handled the situation.
Additionally, Sharp also stated he has forwarded a sworn affidavit to the EEOC relating to racial discrimination he witnessed against Hernandez, as well as a second sworn affidavit about retaliatory measures taken against him which he felt were related to the same EEOC complaint. Sharp is also contemplating suing Bandera County under the “Whistle Blowers” Act, not only for his termination but also for additional reprisals that occurred after his attempts to uncover and document claims of corruption and misconduct within the BCSO. Sharp has obtained an attorney through the Texas Municipal Police Association, an organization that provides local representation and legal assistance to members who are peace officers, reserve officers and public safety employees. He also plans to hire a second attorney who specializes in labor law. Emphasizing he is not “some disgruntled employee who just got fired and brought these charges up all of a sudden,” Sharp pointed out, “I went forward with these allegations of corruption over five months ago – without any help from authorities.” The Courier made calls to Payne and DA Bruce Curry requesting confirmation that Sharp’s allegations are being investigated. Payne did not return the call prior to press time. ADA Steve Wadsworth, however, noted that Curry takes allegations of misconduct lodged against law enforcement officers and depar