SHELBY COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - With a printed feud continuing to create ripples throughout the community, Shelby County officials and law enforcement refused to talk about recent allegations each party made against each other in two East Texas newspapers.
On Monday, the East Texas News spoke to several Shelby County residents, and found out that several residents either aren’t aware of the issue, or are unhappy with the feud because they believe it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“It’s definitely a waste. They need to go get together because we [are] caught in the middle. We’re the ones who have to pay the bills,” said resident Royce Johnson.
On Friday, Shelby County District Attorney Ken Florence issued a rebuttal statement in the “Light and Champion” and “Shelby County Today,” newspapers. The rebuttal was in response to a July 8th article in the “Light and Champion,” where Sheriff Willis Blackwell is quoted talking about the increase of Phencyclidine (PCP) users in the county.
“Until the guys are sent off, it’s just not going to change. These individuals are being released and sent back to the streets. Low bonds are being set and their dealers are getting them out,” Blackwell said in the article. “This just has to change. I feel that they need to have at least 10 trials a year on drug dealers. This would take citizens in the county realizing their taxes would increase, but trying these individuals will send out the statement that we are not tolerating this in Shelby County.”
Blackwell also said in the article, “if we do this, that problem will not continue, and these people will not come here or stay in Shelby County. Until the people of the county demand the elected officials do what they are supposed to do and get these individuals off the streets … nothing is going to help.”
Jim Albers, the Center Police chief, is quoted as agreeing with the sentiment.
“There are a lot of drugs in this community. We arrest individuals not just once or twice, but in the upwards of five plus times, and they are not being prosecuted properly,” Albers said in the article.
On Friday, Florence said in a letter to the editor, “Unfortunately, I find myself in the position of having to defend the conduct of my office after certain unfavorable comments made in the July 8, 2014 issue of the ‘Light and Champion’ Newspaper by the Shelby County Sheriff and the Center Police Department Chief.”
He also said, “the sheriff has also made negative assertions on the local radio. Basically, these officials claim that the judges and I are not properly handling drug cases. I believe such public comments negatively undermine our joint mission of fighting crime and getting the bad guys off of the streets, and are also false and defamatory.”
Florence also explained that as the top lawyer for Shelby County, he is required to conduct the affairs of his office within the bounds of the law and the U.S. Constitution.
“Recently, over a period of 6 weeks, two very major drug cases have been improperly investigated by these departments so that the cases cannot be prosecuted in a court of law,” Florence said in the statement. “Thousands of seized dollars cannot be legally taken from these drug dealers, and though very large quantities of drugs have been taken off of the street, the perpetrators cannot be brought to justice.”
Florence said he is not happy about how those two cases ultimately played out, adding that he was looking forward to taking a large-scale drug case to trial to send a message to the community that drugs will not be tolerated.
“Most of the drug cases I see are lower-level ‘dime bag’ state-jail felony type cases,” he said in the statement.
On top of the feud, Florence also said in the statement that the county is facing budget issues.
“All law enforcement are forced to work in a ‘triage’ mode, which is a medical term that means you have to prioritize the cases and deal with the most severe first that can be saved, yet abandon the lost causes,” he said in the statement. “I believe that lack of resources may be impacting the quality of the Sheriff’s cases and the Center P.D.’s cases as well. With more resources, they too could devote the attention to detail to the legal part of it.”
County Judge Rick Campbell had little to say about the issue regarding the feud and mainly spoke about the budget.
“Our budget is what our budget is, and it went down a hundred million dollars last year, and I can’t control that. And what I’ve got to do is try to balance the budget. That’s all I got to do.”
Campbell said. “And I’m going to do my job as best as I can, and I know that [Florence] is going to do his job as best as he can and the sheriff is going to do his job the best he can, and you know all this bickering back and forth against each other, ain’t helping nothing.”
Three of the four county commissioners declined an interview and one commissioner never responded to an interview request. In addition, the mayor and Albers never responded to several interview requests.