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2011-04-07

Does plea bargain signify Tucker's guilt?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Beleaguered Bandera County Sheriff Weldon Tucker accepted a plea bargain in exchange for the reduction of his original felony indictment to a Class A Misdemeanor during a Thursday, March 31, pre-trial hearing. In this type of judicial transaction, a defendant usually agrees to plead guilty to the lesser charge.
David Glickler, special prosecutor from the Office of the Texas Attorney General, orchestrated the amended indictment. The criminal charge stemmed from June 2010 when a special grand jury indicted Tucker for felony misuse of county property and abuse of official capacity.
The felony reduction of a misdemeanor came after a 30-minute closed-door confab that included Glicker; Tucker; his attorney, Charles O. Grigson; and Administrative Judge Stephen Ables. The change in the indictment allowed for a 10-day continuance of Tucker's trial, originally set for Monday, April 4. However, a conflict with Ables' schedule delayed the final pre-trial hearing to Thursday, May 5, at the Bandera County Justice Center. The actual trial is expected to begin on Monday, May 9, but, at this point, no one is laying odds on it.
Although Tucker denied using the county's rescue boat for personal fishing trips, he agreed to the plea bargain, which takes possible two years jail time and as much as a $20,000 fine off the table.
The criminal indictment stemmed from allegations that Tucker did "intentionally or knowingly misuse government property, services or personnel: a Bandera County boat, registration number TX 1683 JY which had come into the defendants custody or possession by virtue of the defendant's office of a public servant, namely Bandera County Sheriff." The alleged criminal activity occurred between September 2007 and September 2009.
By pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charge, which still includes abuse of official capacity, Tucker remains subject to removal from office. Additionally, he will lose his peace officer's certification permanently. However, he would still be eligible to apply for a concealed handgun license. As a convicted felon, he would have been denied that right.
Speculation remains rife that testimony from an unexpected, but reliable, witness put Tucker, his cronies and the so-called rescue boat on several bodies of water, including Choke Canyon Reservoir, Lakes Amistead and Buchanan and Canyon Lake, multiple times. The specter of facing an unimpeachable witness was purportedly what precipitated the hasty plea bargain.
According to County Judge Richard Evans, during a call on Friday, April 1, Tucker let Evans know "he had decisions to make." However, in an interview on Tuesday, April 5, the judge said he had received neither a verbal or written resignation from the sheriff. Although he believed Tucker's resignation would be forthcoming, Evans commented, "It's not over until it's over," adding, "I'm leaning toward a resignation coming."
It has been speculated that Tucker intended to plead guilty on May 5, and offer his resignation at that time. That date would be Tucker's last day in office, and allow him to collect a final fat paycheck from Bandera County.
If Tucker reneges on his plea bargain obligations, he could face legal consequences. If he fails to plead guilty at the May 5 pre-trial hearing, last week's plea bargain could be considered null and void and the sheriff would be tried on the original felony charge.
At this time, there has been no suggestion that other indictments will be issued to witnesses who may have perjured themselves.
Evans said it would be up to county commissioners to select an interim sheriff after Tucker leaves office. One method, he said, would be to collect resumes from potential candidates and allow commissioners to employ a selection process similar to the one used to hire the county fire marshal.
"We could select the top three or four candidates and conduct interviews in an open court session," Evans said, "but it would be up to the commissioners to make the final decision." He quickly stated that in the case of selecting a new sheriff, county commissioners would act strictly as a "reactive" body.
As one potential candidate, the name of former DPS Law Enforcement Officer Dan Butts has been mentioned frequently. Also, an unconfirmed rumor has it that commissioners would prefer that any interim sheriff not run as an incumbent for a full term in 2012.
Once the sheriff leaves office, a main objective would be to offer the residents of Bandera County a reliable and professional law enforcement agency. As one elected official noted, "I've been told that as many as 100 people would not testify against the sheriff because they feared retaliation. This has got to stop and stop now The Bandera County taxpayers deserve better law enforcement than what they've had."
On Wednesday, March 6, Evans denied a rumor that he planned to offer Tucker continued employment with Bandera County following his resignation.
"I believe under the circumstances that would be highly in appropriated," he said. "Each elected official, of course, serves as the head of his own department, but commissioners court does maintain some degree of control."