Grand jury potency a factor of judge and prosecutor control

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Former Hill County Sheriff Jeffrey T. Lyon

It’s an election (year) and anybody with any axe to grind is coming out of the woodwork.” – Vic Feazell, Sheriff Jeffrey T. Lyon’s attorney 

Hillsboro, Texas – If it’s not down and dirty, it’s not a Sheriff’s race in the Lone Star State.

Primaries both before and after the Reagan Revolution, a happening in which the world turned upside down and Democrats “boll-weeviled” their way to the GOP, have the psychological affect of a pagan house purification ritual. Reading the written record is like getting down on hands and knees to analyze the patterns of blood and feathers on the floor.

Consider the 2012 re-election failure of Hill County Sheriff Jeffrey T. Lyon. It’s a poor county, a cotton farming community with a small population situated on the road to everywhere, America’s Main Street, Interstate 35, an hour south of Dallas and a half-hour from the Baptist bastion on the Brazos, Waco.

Local government jobs really, really matter in the scheme of the local economy. It’s the difference between having plenty – and catch as catch can.

They play for blood. It’s as if human souls were on the line.

The case was as dramatic as a teen-aged temper tantrum, the sizzle on the steak as bold as allegations of a Sheriff exposing himself to female employees, routing ambulances across the county to favor one company over another, and a pistol-waving supporter getting raunchy in a restaurant.

By the time a couple of special prosecutors and the judge got through with the Grand Jury investigation, it was all over in an hour, but it was an hour spent on stage in advance of a bitterly contested primary runoff election in which the incumbent plummeted from the heights of power to a perch in ignominy.

Through the adroit management of State District Judge F. Bob McGregor, who appointed the husband and wife legal team of Bill and Susan Johnston, the Grand Jury investigation of the inflammatory allegations against Sheriff Jeffrey T. Lyon turned into a non-event, according to a complaint filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct by Barbara Leetun.

Though numerous witnesses were subpoenaed – including five female employees and ex-employees, some of whom alleged the Sheriff made so bold as to unzip his fly and ask, “Who would like a promotion?” – none of them were called to testify before the Grand Jury, a tribunal which, by surprise, convened for the brief time of one hour that took place ten days before the runoff election.

“The Special Prosecutors refused to talk to and receive evidence from eye witnesses. All complaints were not investigated,” Ms. Leetun wrote in her complaint.

“At no time from assignment to the Grand Jury did the prosecutors speak to the complainants.”

In a complaint to the State Bar, she alleged that “During the Grand Jury, no evidence including the written statements of the complainants was provided to the Grand Jury. Only the Special prosecutors’ statements were allowed.”

After 45 minutes of conferring with the Special Prosecutors and pondering the words of a Texas Ranger assigned to investigate, the jurors deliberated for 15 minutes and decided the steak came off a total dud – all sizzle and no meat, all hat and no cattle – and returned no bill of indictment.

She added three other elements to her complaint:

– The proceeding was an ambush that took place ten days before the election – when the complainants had been assured the hearing would take place following the contest.

– By “appointing a number of known associates and supporters of the Sheriff to act as jury commissioners and jurors, and by withholding evidence from the Grand Jury, the Judge… failed to assure the integrity and independence of the process…”

– County officials refused to disclose the names of the Grand Jurors.

Her entreaties fell upon deaf ears; both tribunals demurred in letters of polite consolation.

Reading through the record further, the paper trail reveals it was all about the money – all along. As it turns out a 56% “completeness” factor in the department’s crime clearance statistical reports left grant money on the shelf, a dynamic that affected other departments in the county, according to a Heart of Texas Council of Governments honcho.

A lucrative ambulance contract for an out-of-town operation named “Care Flite” was on the line in competition with a non-profit outfit. The Sheriff escorted company representatives to the county line following a contentious community meeting.

Where is he now?

An ex-Marine with experience working security contracts for the Department of Defense in various Balkan hellholes and a work history with the high-flying, globe-girdling outfit, Chrysler Airborne Systems, Sheriff Jeffrey T. Lyon today holds down a position as General Manager/Security Specialist with the national truck stop chain, Petro Travel/Stopping Centers.

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