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Saturday, January 1, 2011

County Sheriff, Two Others, Indicted

Upshur County Sheriff, Two Others Indicted
Tyler Morning Telegraph by Phillip Williams - December 31, 2010

GILMER, TX — An Upshur County Grand Jury on Wednesday indicted three elected county officials on misdemeanor charges stemming from a man's removal from a meeting of the county commissioners court last month, District Attorney Billy Byrd said. Sheriff Anthony Betterton, County Judge Dean Fowler and Precinct 3 County Commissioner Lloyd Crabtree were charged with official oppression before turning themselves in Thursday, Byrd said. The officials were released on respective $10,000 personal recognizance bonds set by 115th District Judge Lauren Parish, Byrd said Thursday night. The district attorney said the charges stem from a Nov. 30 incident in which Deputy Sheriff Larry Fortson called Jimmy Caughron out of a meeting of the commissioners court after Caughron placed duct tape over his mouth to protest the court’s recent decision to stop hearing public comment. Betterton attended the meeting, and Crabtree participated in it with Fowler presiding. When Caughron started applying the tape, Crabtree had told him, “Jimmy, you don’t need to do that.” Within a short time, Fortson called Caughron from the county courtroom. Caughron filed a complaint that day with the District Attorney’s office, saying Fortson had told him that the deputy’s “boss” had instructed him to arrest Caughron for criminal trespass unless Caughron left the courthouse. Caughron, who had worn the tape at two earlier meetings of the court (and wore it at two afterward, all without incident) said he left the courthouse to avoid arrest. Fortson said that day that Caughron left on his own accord, and “I did not escort him out.” Caughron challenged that version of events. Byrd told the Tyler Morning Telegraph on Thursday that he could not comment on further details of the charges in the indictments but would issue a news release today. He said the men will continue serving in office while the charges are pending, and that the charge against them is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000. Fowler’s attorney, Todd Tefteller, set a news conference for 10:30 a.m. today at his Gilmer office.

Ironically, with Fowler casting the tie-breaking vote, the Upshur County Commissioners Court had voted 3-2 on Thursday morning to resume hearing public comment. Crabtree voted against the motion as Caughron and at least four other people sported duct tape over their mouths in the audience. Tefteller strongly condemned the indictments Thursday evening in a telephone interview with the newspaper. Betterton was contacted but did not comment on the indictments. A message left on Crabtree’s home answering machine was not immediately returned. Tefteller meanwhile assailed both the grand jury and Byrd’s office over their handling of the case, and charged that wearing duct tape during a commissioners court meeting was “disruptive.” The attorney charged that some grand jurors were “biased” and that one had “bragged” that he paid the election filing fee for one of Fowler’s political opponents. Fowler overwhelmingly won the Republican Party primary over a challenger in March and won landslide re-election with 74 percent of the vote against a Democrat in November. He is scheduled to begin his third term in office Saturday. Tefteller said the grand jury held a secret “Star Chamber” session with no notice to the three officials, and that Byrd’s office didn’t get the defendants’ version of what transpired. He said he and Fowler learned of the indictments “through the grapevine” after Thursday morning’s court meeting. The charges “completed a rift” between Byrd’s office and law enforcement, and “the public here, I don’t think, is going to support this,” the attorney charged. He said Byrd’s office should have instead investigated protesters who have appeared at commissioners court meetings wearing T-shirts and duct tape to protest the ban on public comment. “Holding public office here is a … hazardous occupation. These indictments are going to set law enforcement back 25 years,” Teftteller predicted. He added that “you can indict the neighbor’s dog and a ham sandwich. ... What we’ve got now is the grand jury process being used as a club.” Tefteller also said law mandates that Fowler “conduct public meetings in an orderly fashion,” and that the Commissioners Court had a legal right to ban public comment when it voted 3-1 to do so Sept. 30. The lawyer also noted that Fowler “didn’t even participate in” that vote. Protesters’ wearing of duct tape over their mouths to protest the ban at subsequent meetings “is disruptive to the meeting ... a form of disruptive speech,” Tefteller asserted. “I think (Fowler) told the sheriff’s office (that) if (protesters are) going to be disruptive and wear duct tape on their mouth ... they need to be removed from the meeting,” Tefteller said. Fowler said within minutes after the Sept. 30 meeting that he did not think Caughron’s action was “necessarily disruptive.” Tefteller said he and Fowler went before Justice of the Peace W.V. Ray, who read the defendants their rights and released them on the bonds set by Judge Parish.


Anonymous said...

I love it! It's about time Dean Fowler was prosecuted. He has managed to skate by the last few times with the Texas Rangers and other probes that have occurred. The secret to getting these people convicted is to get Lauren Parish removed as the District Judge from hearing the case. She has been lifelong friends with Fowler and Betterton. If anyone thinks she will give a fair hearing with these people they are crazy. She needs to recuse herself from this case and Billy Byrd, DA needs to make sure that a judge from out of town, that does not come to Gilmer on a regular visiting basis, needs to hear the case. Only then will Gilmer get a fair court hearing and these individuals will then face real justice, not their buddy system of protecting each other they are so well known for. I'm glad to see Fowler getting some of the treatment he loves to dish out to people on minor problems.

Anonymous said...

January 3, 2011, it just keeps getting worse for Dean Fowler:

UPSHUR COUNTY, TX (KLTV) – Upshur County Judge Dean Fowler has been suspended with pay after recent indictments by a grand jury. Judge Fowler and County Commissioner Lloyd Crabtree were both charged with official oppression and abuse of capacity. Sheriff Anthony Betterton was also indicted on official oppression.
The charges stem from the court's ban on public comment, and for removing a man who placed duct tape over his mouth in protest

Anonymous said...

Kudos to our fearless DA Byrd.When it say's Justice for ALL, thats what he intends for it to be. I wish we had more DA's like him accross the State.Thank You Mr.Byrd for standing up for the voters/taxpayers rights and it don't matter who it is,you have proven yourself and you certainly have my vote next term.They forget,these buildings etc.belong to us,the taxpayers.Keep up your great work.

God Bless !!

Upshur County Citizen said...

I've never known Fowler to seem to enjoy dishing out stuff on people. Anytime I've ever been in the courtroom I feel that he treats everyone with the utmost respect regardless of their clout in town- poor, filthy, uppity, a so-called somebody or a nobody--- he's fair and listens openly to them. Never a power trip like I've seen other members do that you have named.