Paper trail points out questions regarding jailed Smith County constable
KLTV Open records request reveals questions prior to November arrest
TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - The conduct of Smith County Pct. 1 Constable, Curtis Traylor-Harris, was first drawn into public scrutiny on Nov. 11, 2021. On that date, Traylor-Harris and two of his leading law enforcement officers within the department were arrested, accused of stealing makeup, ammunition, an Apple AirPods box, sunglasses , cash and other items from a home where they were serving eviction papers. They were charged with Official Oppression and Abuse of Official Capacity. The incident came to light when one of the three appeared to mistakenly turn her body camera on, while thinking she was turning it off at the time when the thefts were allegedly being committed. The cameras were later handed over to a separate law enforcement agency where the discovery was made.
In the six months since, Traylor-Harris has remained in office, collecting a $74,000 per year salary, while criminal charges remain active against him. Since May 13, Traylor-Harris has been in the Gregg County jail for violating bond conditions after the initial arrest. Traylor-Harris even fired his own chief deputy (LaQuenda Banks, who is not an elected official) over the identical charges he faces. In a memo KLTV obtained from an open records request, on Dec. 3, 2021, Traylor Harris informed Banks, “it is in the best interest of this office that you are terminated effective immediately.”
Questions over residency
Traylor-Harris assumed the office of Constable Pct. 1 in Jan. 2021. He finished in third place in the 2020 primary election. However, at the time courts found the winner, Willie Mims, ineligible for office, due to concerns over the validity of petition signatures. A runoff was held between Traylor-Harris and incumbent Bobby Garmon. Traylor-Harris won that race. There was no Republican challenger for the office. A constable-elect is required to have been a resident of the district they are serving for six months prior to the start of their elected term. State statutes are not clear as to whether simply declaring an address within the district meets that requirement, or if one must physically reside within the district. On his candidate finance report filed in Feb. 2020, Traylor- Harris listed both a mailing address and treasurer address at a home on Baldwin Drive in Tyler. Prior to becoming Pct. 1 constable, Traylor- Harris was employed as a juvenile detention officer in Dallas. He also ran, and lost, races for a Dallas city council seat (May 2019) and a constable position in North Texas (Nov. 2018). The Dallas Morning News reported in 2019 that Harris, making less than $40,000 a year in his (juvenile detention officer) job, “can barely afford his unit in a luxury complex off the Dallas North Tollway”.
In August 2021, after Traylor-Harris was in his position for more than seven months, the question over residency caught the attention of the Smith County Personnel Department. In emails KLTV obtained through an open records request, on Aug. 24 2021, Constable Traylor-Harris wrote Smith County Human Resources Director, Esmeralda Delmas, over concerns regarding a negative exit interview given by a former deputy in his department. Traylor-Harris writing,
“I just want to reiterate that I maintain a great professional and personal relationship with all of my employees, whether their employment for me works out or not. The alarming thing that came up during the exit interview according to Deputy King, that was completely irrelevant to anything during that meeting was personal information about me. Why was Deputy King questioned about where I live when you have access to that information in your files? Second, why was Deputy King questioned about whether I work every day or what my schedule is? If this is true, I would like an explanation as to why those questions were relevant. Also if it is true, I am asking that the subtle nit picking of me and my office ceases immediately from the County Judge, the Counties [sic] Civil Attorney, and anyone else in purview of the County Annex or I will be forced to fill [sic] a Civil Rights and harassment suit against the county.”
In response, Delmas replied to Traylor-Harris, indicating Deputy Darrell King had complained about professionalism within Pct. 1 numerous times, requesting an in-person exit interview. On the matters that were complained about, Delmas said the issues were best directed to Traylor-Harris himself. It was at that point, Delmas says King indicated he had not seen Traylor-Harris at work, and he was not in the office any time King attempted to see him. Delmas told Traylor-Harris in the same email the county’s human resources office had reason for concern after King was seen performing duties in full uniform six days after his position had been terminated by Traylor-Harris via a text message. “He made a comment that implied you lived in Dallas. As a follow up question, I inquired about your residency, as this is relevant to your alleged absence from the office and would be contrary to the information we have on file for you,” Delmas replied on Aug. 24, 2021.
King made those series of residency complaints to Smith County Human Resources from Aug. 2 to Aug. 11, 2021. On Aug. 17, 2021 Traylor -Harris made an application to rent an apartment on Kinsey Drive in Tyler. Traylor-Harris had emailed the completed apartment rental application to himself, and that email was obtained by KLTV via an open records request. Traylor- Harris indicated his prior residences as living with his mother from 4/1/2010 – 5/1/2019 and living with another family member from 5/1/2019 to the date of application as well. The open records request also revealed that Traylor-Harris had emailed himself, with the subject line of “bills,” -- copies of utility statements from Direct Energy from late Jan. 2021, with an address to an apartment at The Towers of Mercer Crossing, in Farmers Branch, in North Dallas.
Reserve Deputy arrested, TCOLE investigation
In an incident separate to the Official Oppression and Abuse of Official Capacity, an employee of the Pct. 1 Constable’s office was booked into jail on July 7, 2021. Demondre Montgomery was charged with Impersonating a Public Servant. According to Smith County administration, Montgomery’s position within Pct. 1 had been defined as part-time clerk and reserve deputy. KLTV 7 also obtained body camera video from within the Pct. 1 department showing Montgomery from inside the Pct. 1 Constable’s office in full uniform. Montgomery appeared to be experimenting with the camera itself at the time. A receipt as part of the open records request showed Curtis Traylor-Harris personally paid $1,440 toward Montgomery’s bond, using AAA Atlas Bail Bonds of Farmers Branch. That payment was also made July 7, 2021, at 11:38am. According to the receipt, Traylor- Harris listed his billing address of Turtle Creek Boulevard in the Design District of Dallas.
Prior to Montgomery’s arrest, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement launched an investigation into Traylor-Harris over an alleged improper appointment (of a law enforcement officer). On July 21, Traylor- Harris filed a formal complaint against TCOLE, alleging his 4th Amendment rights were violated and that neither he, nor his office, were presented with allegations surrounding the incident. Traylor-Harris writing, “On March 23, 2021, I recieved [sic] a call from my assistant stating that Tcole personnel were at my office to conduct an audit of records. That was strange to me because after I took office, I was told my field agent would come out and show me the way tcole likes our records kept and he would schedule ahead of time. That never happened. When Investigator Shane Norie arrived, I talked to him by phone and he told me I did not need to be there, that it was just a quick audit so he was allowed access to my office’ [sic] secured records under a false pretense. I arrived at the office an hour later to find investigator Shane Norie another investigator and a Texas Ranger asking lots of questions. At no point did Investigator Norie mention he was conducting an investigation. If so, I would have invoked my 4th amendment rights. Investigator Norie never informed myself or any member of my staff of their ‘Miranda Rights’ before questioning anyone or gaining permission to records. I was never presented with the allegation against me, or any member of my staff. Investigator Norie continuously threw out laws/rules that I had allegedly broken, and once disproved continued to search for something wrong as if he was on a fishing expedition to find something no matter what. He even went as far as for to tell me that he would recommend charges against me for Impersonating a public servant even though I am an elected official and a full time fully licensed police officer. Shane Norie returned to my office in mid April with a search warrant for “possible impersonating public servant” is what the warrant read and stated that he did not know why he got the warrant or what he was looking for, but proceeded to confiscate all of my office’ [sic] bodycam video and storage equipment leaving us with no way to review new materials for court and training purposes. Today, 07/20/2021 I recieved [sic] a call from a local news reporter stating Norie has informed her that this office is under investigation by TCOLE. I have not been informed of any such investigation. When Shane Norie arrived on 03/23/2021 , he would not inform me of what allegation brought him here or what he was looking for and to this day I do not know what I am being investigated for or if im even under investigation. Investigation Shane Norie deprived myself and staff members of the right to not incriminate ourself or any member of this office by falsely stating his reason for being at my office and not giving anyone their miranda warning. This is a violation of my 4th Amendment rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States. Investigator Norie also proceeded to charge D. Montgomery with a F3 (third degree Felony) and had an excessively high bond amount set at $75,000 in violation of Montgomery’s 8th amendment rights to be free from excess bail and added conditions that prevents him from his lively hood [sic] and unecessary [sic] drug and alcohol tests on a weekly basis.” Traylor-Harris’ complaint was filed after TCOLE investigators arrived unannounced to the precinct 1 office to review records in early 2021. Traylor-Harris had been in office for just under three months at that time.
Driving without insurance
Through another open records request , KLTV 7 learned of an incident involving Constable Traylor-Harris along Highway 69, within the boundary of Pct. 5. On May 20, 2021, at 1:05pm Traylor-Harris was pulled over for speeding while driving his personal vehicle, a 2013 BMW 535. According to a citation a Pct. 5 constable deputy clocked Traylor-Harris driving 80 mph, in a 65 mph zone.
A check of Traylor- Harris’ insurance during the stop revealed his insurance had lapsed three months prior. During the stop, bodycam video shows Traylor-Harris in uniform. When asked by the deputy during the stop if Traylor-Harris was conducting official business, the audio from the video indicates Traylor-Harris gestured to the Constable uniform he was wearing, but he did not affirm he was conducting official business. After being cited at the scene, Traylor-Harris emailed Pct. 5 Constable Jeff McClenny the next day, stating, " I didn’t know if you were aware of the traffic stop conducted by one of your officers, Deputy Kevin Petty on Thursday. He stopped me southbound on 69 and issued me a speeding/no insurance ticket on my way into the office while in uniform. The no insurance ticket is understandable, I didn’t know it had lapsed but I didn’t know we gave each other speeding tickets. He had my credentials and knew who I was. No ill feeling just making you aware of it.” Traylor-Harris was fined $230 for speeding and $324 for failure to maintain financial responsibility. He pleaded no contest and paid the fines.
Past employment troubles within law enforcement.
In addition to getting elected, the state of Texas requires the following of constables:
-Must be U.S. Citizen
-Must have been a Texas resident for at least 12 consecutive months
-Must have been a resident of the district where one is serving for at least 6 consecutive months
-Must be registered to vote in the area of office sought
-Must be at least 18 years of age
-Must have no felony convictions
-Must have not been determined by a court to be totally or partially mentally incapacitated
-Must be an active or inactive licensed peace officer, or be eligible for to be licensed.
As an elected position, barring certain criminal convictions, prior employment history is not relevant when it comes to eligibility for the Constable office.
According to Smith County human resources records obtained by KLTV 7 through an open records request , Traylor-Harris had previously been employed by Smith County as a jailer from March 2009 to February 2010. He was involuntarily terminated for “conduct unbecoming of the Smith County Sheriff’s Office”. A memo from his supervising lieutenant to his chief indicated that after being locked out of his apartment for not paying rent. Traylor-Harris admitted to breaking down the door . Lt. Carolyn Brown writing at the time, “Officer Traylor admitted to kicking in the door of his apartment of which he was locked out for non-payment of rent instead of calling the courtesy officer who would have let him in is not only criminal in nature, but is also conduct unbecoming of an officer.” During his short tenure as a jailer, Traylor-Harris had previously also been suspended twice for not reporting to work, and for dishonesty over calling out from work.
Who is in charge?
As Traylor-Harris sits in a Gregg County jail cell, he continues to draw his $74,000 salary, a salary funded by taxpayers. In a call placed Monday May 23 to the Pct. 1 office, a KLTV reporter asked who was in charge of running the office while Traylor-Harris was in jail. The Pct. 1 employee replied that they were waiting for Traylor-Harris to call them from jail to tell them who was in charge. In another call on Tuesday May 24, a Pct. 1 employee answered the same question stating, no one was in charge “we are all just running things ourselves.” When asked who was in charge, a spokesperson for Smith County Commissioners Court told us “Smith County Commissioners Court has no authority to designate anyone in charge of that office in Constable Harris’ absence”. Later that same day, the county spokesperson clarified that it was understood Pct. 1 Chief Deputy Roy Logan was handling office matters during Traylor-Harris’ absence.
Removing an elected official before a conviction is complicated process.
Texas state law sets forth some guidelines for removing a Constable from an elected office. State statutes cite “General Grounds for Removal” include “incompetency and official misconduct.” However, getting an elected official removed from office prior to any conviction is a process. State law defines the process of removal as beginning with a written petition filed by a citizen in the district court where the officer resides, or where the alleged cause of removal occurred. As of this publication, no such citizen complaint has been filed in Smith County. From that point, the officer being complained about must be given a citation from a district judge. A jury trial would ensue -with options for the officer to be suspended and also having the ability to appeal any verdict.
A criminal conviction fast tracks the above process. Specifically, a district judge may order immediate removal after a conviction on official misconduct. Traylor-Harris is still awaiting trial and has not been convicted of any of the charges at this time. Until one of the two scenarios happens, he will continue to collect his $74,000 dollar salary. Traylor-Harris’ official bio on the Smith County website states, “Harris’ goal for the office is to professionalize the department and build a reputation the community can be proud of.”
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