Petition filed to remove Panola Co. Sheriff - | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Petition filed to remove Panola Co. Sheriff

Sheriff Ronald Clinton (Source: Panola County Sheriff) Sheriff Ronald Clinton (Source: Panola County Sheriff)

An East Texas district attorney has filed a petition to remove the sheriff of his county from office.

Tuesday, Special Prosecutor Cynthia Stevens Kent filed a petition on behalf of Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson to remove Sheriff Ronald Wayne Clinton from office. Clinton was arrested in February and charged with theft by a public servant, abuse of official capacity and tampering with a governmental record.

In the petition filed in the 123rd District Court in Panola County, prosecutors cite an investigation headed by Texas Ranger Brent Davis centered around money the then-sheriff-elect received to attend a workshop for new sheriffs in Austin.

According to Davis' investigation, then-Deputy Clinton asked the Panola County Judge for a travel advance of $882.50 for the New Sheriff's School in Austin December 9-14, 2012. The judge approved those county funds to be paid to Clinton.

Documents from the Sheriffs' Association of Texas, the group that hosts the New Sheriffs' School in Austin, confirm that Sheriff Ron Clinton attended the event along with 120 other new sheriffs.

The Sheriffs' Association of Texas said there is no cost associated with registration at their New Sheriffs' School. The only cost incurred by attendees are hotel, food and travel expenses.

Clinton started as sheriff in Panola County on January 1, 2013. Ten days into his term, the Panola County Auditor's Office asked Sheriff Clinton to provide receipts for the travel advance he received. The sheriff only turned in receipts for $71.92 of the $882.50 advance he received.

According to the investigation on that same day the auditor's office inquired about the receipts, Sheriff Clinton asked to take funds out of the sheriff's office seizure and forfeiture fund to reimburse the county for the travel advance. The auditor's office denied that request.

The next day, according to the petition, Clinton requested $1,000 from the sheriff's office confidential informant fund to "pay an informant for information relating to the theft of oilfield equipment in and around Panola County."

Investigators say Panola County records show the outstanding balance for Clinton's travel advance was paid to the county treasurer's office. Texas Rangers said the payment was made in the same denominations as the payment made from the confidential informant fund.

In February 2013, Texas Rangers asked Sheriff Clinton to interview the confidential informant who received the $1,000 from the fund. Sheriff Clinton said Rangers could not interview the informant.

Rangers found and interviewed the confidential informant, who had a different name than what the sheriff had told investigators. The confidential informant told investigators Sheriff Clinton had told him to tell Rangers he received $1,000 in twenty dollar bills for drug information and to use a false name. He also said the sheriff gave him a twenty dollar bill for meeting with him about what to tell the Rangers.

Rangers learned Sheriff Clinton reportedly asked the confidential informant to meet him at the sheriff's office to make a written statement stating the Rangers and Federal Bureau of Investigation forced him to make false statements against Clinton. Another Texas Ranger interviewed the confidential informant and he told the Ranger the written statement to the Panola County Sheriff was "not true and the truth of what happened was actually what he told Texas Ranger Davis and an FBI agent on Feb. 13.

 The informant told investigators on Feb. 28 he did not receive $1,000 from Sheriff Clinton and was not an informant for the sheriff in an oilfield equipment theft investigation. The sheriff was arrested that same day on theft by a public servant, abuse of official capacity and tampering with a governmental record.

The petition not only asks for Sheriff Clinton to be removed from office until the case is resolved, but it also asks for a replacement to be named to the position.

Judge Charles Dickerson of the 123rd District Court in Panola County has filed a recusal order for himself and referral of the case to another court. Judge Dickerson said the case should be handled by another court and heard before a judge that does not live in the county.

Judge John Ovard, presiding judge of the First Administrative Region of Texas, will decide which judge and court will hear this case and if an interim sheriff needs to be named.

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