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2014-07-31

Grady Newton, lawman

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

When someone sticks with the same job for 20 or 30 years, you have to think they really like their work. But when someone stays in the same profession for over 60 years, there's got to be more than a simple liking going on.
When you walk into the Bandera County Courthouse, the first person you see will be Bandera County Deputy Sheriff Grady Newton. He is currently in his 10th year working for the people of this county, and his 61st year in law enforcement.
Newton trained at the Dallas Police Academy, and at the age of 19 was a reserve officer. "I couldn't be certified [as a law enforcement officer] until I was 21," he said. "I was young man with a family, and starving to death!"
His first job was with the City of University Park and he then helped Southern Methodist University set up their police department.
Newton's job with Bandera County is to take care of security at the courthouse and act as bailiff in County Judge Richard Evans' courtroom. Newton's tall stature belies his 79 years. He wears sunglasses even indoors, but it's not because he's trying to be like Boss Godfrey in Cool Hand Luke.
Newton had eye surgery some years ago and ever since, his eyes have been very sensitive to light. "I always make sure to explain why I wear the glasses to everyone in the courtroom," he said.
That explanation is just part of Newton's philosophy of law enforcement and his current job. "When people come in [the courthouse] they don't always know where to go, and if they're going to the courtroom, they're nervous or scared," he said. "I talk to them, send them where they need to go, calm them down. I talk to the public and make sure they leave happy."
Treating defendants in the courtroom with respect is important to Newton as well. "I never want to make a person feel intimidated in this courthouse unless they're causing a disturbance," he said. "It's not always pleasant here. People come in upset and hostile."
Even though he'll soon turn 80, there's something about Newton's demeanor that lets you know he's confident he can handle disturbances.
When he's acting as bailiff in the upstairs courtroom, Newton not only explains about his sunglasses, but tells visitors the rules of behavior and where the restrooms are. "I tell them don't be chewing gum and that there's to be no communication with the inmates."
At one point in his career, Newton was named "The Most Popular Peace Officer in Dallas." The drug epidemic was just getting started then and he was spending a lot of time working with teenagers on drugs. He lifted a lot of weights at the time and was well bulked up. The teens called him "Cheyenne" after a TV show in which the main character was broad-shouldered handsome actor, Clint Walker. It was Newton's teens who voted him the award.
As part of SMU's police department, Newton was asked to be on the security details for six American presidents when they visited Dallas. "I was in charge of the criminal investigation department that worked with the Secret Service." His job involved assisting those who traveled with the presidents, and providing the necessary local information for preparing effective security plans. Among the presidents he helped guard were both Bushes and Ronald Reagan, who Newton describes as "a gentleman."
Of course, members of security details don't get up close and personal with their charges. "They're go go go [when they come to town], so you don't get to see their real personality."
He had become acquainted with the younger Bush when he was dating an SMU student named Laura. "As the son of the president, he had to be protected."
Newton also worked protection details for other notables such as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. "They did not want Jesse Jackson assassinated in Dallas," Newton said. "I was told, 'You WILL take a bullet for him.' That was my assignment."
As the drug problem continued to grow, Newton worked with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the Texas Department of Public Safety to develop cases. Although there was a lot of drug movement on the SMU campus, "it was hard to work as a small agency without their help."
Most of his cases involved marijuana. One of his biggest arrests was a student dealer caught with 94 pounds of the weed. "He had so much money, he could afford planes to fly the stuff in." Unfortunately, Newton missed 250 pounds on that haul, but a tip helped him give authorities in Arkansas the heads up and the product was captured there.
As the supervisor of a drug enforcement task force that combined the investigators of the SMU police department and the Dallas Sheriff's Office, Newton oversaw 26 arrests in two and a half years with a 97 percent conviction rate.
"We worked night and day under a lot of pressure to do more and more," said Newton. "We were young and learning and we made a few mistakes."
He doesn't mind admitting that when a new sheriff took office, Newton was terminated for one of those mistakes, a mistake that involved buying a weapon from an informant to sell in a swap shop he and a partner were operating. "It made the front page of the paper," he said.
Not at all deterred, Newton went back to SMU where he had to start again as "the low man on the totem pole." He also worked security at the Dallas Arboretum.
In the early 1970s, Newton found himself right in the center of a riot of pro- and anti-Khomeini Iranian nationals on the SMU campus. "One of them had a gun and I yelled out, 'I'm gonna arrest all of you if you're not gone in five minutes!" At the same time, Newton was sending out emergency calls for every available officer in Dallas County. Officers just kept pouring in, he said, and the rioters finally settled down, but not before several officers were injured.
Thirty-nine Iranians were arrested. Using all the officers' reports, Newton did all the paper work and testifying in court. "That stopped riots in Dallas from Iranian nationals," he said. His work that day earned him the Outstanding Campus Officer award.
What's amazing about this story is that no one was killed - rioters or police officers - in this incident. That's in keeping with Newton's belief that "it's best to start slow with people. Sometimes it's good to walk away and let things cool off." No doubt it was Newton's outstanding leadership and example that day that saved lives.
Newton has no plans to retire, nor does he regret his long law enforcement career. "The main thing about being an officer is that you want to help people," he said. "But every officer has to remember you're nothing but a public servant, whether you're a patrol officer or a chief. You're given a lot of power over people's lives, but you're still a servant."