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Grand jury declines to indict sheriff

Profile image for By Megan Gray / Staff Writer
By Megan Gray / Staff Writer

Investigation into bribery allegations started a year ago

Sheriff William Travis was no-billed by a Denton County grand jury Thursday after being under investigation for more than a year by a Texas Ranger into allegations that he tried to bribe a political opponent and a former sheriff’s deputy while he was running for office.

A Texas Ranger investigation into Travis, 51, became public last August when a search warrant was issued for Precinct 1 Constable Jesse Flores’ cellphone records after Flores told an investigator the phone contained exchanges between himself and Travis.

The case was originally presented to a grand jury in October, but was moved to a new grand jury that was seated April 3, officials said. Special prosecutor Frank Able, a Dallas attorney and former chief of the Dallas County district attorney’s public integrity unit, has been handling the case alongside Texas Ranger James Holland. Able was seen going into the grand jury room Thursday, as was Holland.

“There was never a doubt of my innocence of this accusation; I’m just disappointed that it took so long to get to the inevitable conclusion,” Travis said in a prepared statement issued shortly after the verdict. “Our system of justice works. I am proof of that, yet I am disappointed that it went as far as it did. For over a year, I’ve had the thought of this false accusation at the back of my mind, and believe me, it wears on you emotionally.”

He said he is now even more committed to the safety, security and welfare of the residents of Denton County with integrity at the forefront.

“I not only demand it from myself but all who serve my office,” Travis said.

Travis’ attorney, Richard Roper, said the sheriff is glad to be able to continue leading the county as the chief law enforcement officer.

“After speaking with the special prosecutor, I can confirm no charges will be brought forth against my client,” said Roper, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas.

Since August, he has defended the sheriff’s credentials, describing him as “one of the most highly qualified sheriffs in Texas,” a former Drug Enforcement Administration special agent and a businessman who brought “those skills he learned in federal law enforcement and the private sector to improve the sheriff’s office and the county jail.”

“Some don’t like that,” Roper said.

The sworn statement used to obtain the search warrant suggested Travis wanted Flores out of the sheriff’s race to avoid a costly runoff. Flores did not drop out of the race and placed third in the 2012 Republican primary.

The Aug. 8 warrant for Flores’ cellphone records also suggests that Travis, before he was officially sworn into office, was intent on getting a lawsuit filed by former sheriff’s deputy Kevin Bragg dropped, even though it was against previous Sheriff Benny Parkey, who held the sheriff’s position for two terms.

Bragg filed suit after he lost his job with the department. He said he was a whistleblower exposing wrongdoing by deputies, according to the suit, which has since been dismissed.

Neither man was hired by Travis. Flores, formerly a Lewisville police officer, was later appointed constable after Constable Jim Dotson died. He ran for a full term during the March 4 Republican primaries and lost to Johnny Hammons. Bragg is now an officer with the Wise County town of Runaway Bay. Flores has refused to comment during the investigation.

Travis told Holland, the Texas Ranger who investigated the allegations, that he made no job offer to Flores in exchange for him dropping out of the election and that his exchanges with Bragg were misunderstandings, according to court records.

An email, reportedly from Travis to Bragg, was forwarded to the Denton County district attorney’s office by Bragg’s attorney, Chris Raesz, court records show.

“If you did file a suit and you want to come back to work at Denton County Sheriffs Office a couple of things need to be done? The law suit has to be dropped and I have to see a judgment reflecting this by November 5, 2012!” according to the email quoted in the affidavit.

The email also demanded that Bragg provide a signed statement assuring the sheriff that Bragg would never sue the department or county again.

“Bragg believed that Travis’ electronic message conveyed ‘I will give you a job if you drop the lawsuit,’” the affidavit said.

MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.