Texas Rangers are opening an investigation of New Boston, Texas, Police Department at the request of the town's City Council and the Bowie County district attorney.
New Boston's City Council voted Tuesday to formally request that District Attorney Jerry Rochelle direct such an investigation, according to a letter sent to Rochelle, penned on the city's behalf and signed by New Boston City Attorney Michael Brock and Texarkana lawyer Troy Hornsby.
At issue is the conduct of Police Chief Tony King. Texarkana lawyer Butch Dunbar said King has engaged in racially discriminatory hiring practices, violated Texas law by firing Lt. Johnny Millwood without explanation, made arrests without probable cause and made questionable purchases with city funds absent the approval of the City Council.
King declined to comment.
Dunbar provided the Gazette with a copy of a cellphone screen shot of a sexually oriented text message King allegedly sent Millwood at 3:03 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. The message includes a photo of three young women clad in bikini tops standing together. Two of the women are wearing bottoms, but the woman in the center is not, and the image was altered to make it appear she has male genitalia.
The text King allegedly sent Millwood along with the picture states, "The girl in the middle said she knew you."
Dunbar, who represents Millwood, said King terminated Millwood's employment March 9 without providing a written explanation as required in Texas for police officers and firefighters. Dunbar said that before firing Millwood, the council was asked to approve a new city employee policy manual providing that any city employee can be let go by their department head without any right to appeal. Dunbar said the council was told the new policy manual included only "updates" when they voted to adopt it.
"We were told in January that it was a housekeeping matter, and we passed it without ever seeing a copy," Councilman Joe Dike said. "We didn't know it removed the employee's right to appeal. I feel we were misled."
Dike said city employees are fearful they could lose their jobs at a moment's notice and that leaving them without a mechanism to address a termination exposes the city to potential lawsuits.
"Why would we want a lawsuit when we could handle something internally?" Dike said.
Dike lamented Millwood's firing, as well.
"I called King the day of the termination, and he said he couldn't tell me (why Millwood was being fired)," Dike said. "I believe the change to the personnel policy was made specifically so King could fire Millwood. I can't prove it, but I think that's what happened."
Dike said that as a councilman, he has the authority to review King's personnel file, but that City Secretary Darla Faulknor has refused to allow it. Dike said King and Faulknor are close personal friends whose families have vacationed together. Dike said he has submitted a written request to Faulknor for King's personnel file under the Freedom of Information Act.
"I won't stop until I get to the bottom of this. I have a duty to protect the city and to tell the truth," Dike said. "Thank God the Rangers are coming."
Dike said he believes that written complaints from citizens concerning King's conduct as chief should be in King's personnel file, along with information regarding King's prior employment. King has been accused of taking people into custody while acting as New Boston's police chief without probable cause in violation of their civil rights under the state and U.S. Constitutions.
Dike provided the Gazette with a witness statement detailing King's arrest of a man who didn't bus his own table after dining at Catfish King in New Boston "over a year ago." The man placed the items from his table on a tray and walked out of the restaurant after being confronted by King.
The witness statement describes the restaurant staff and patrons as "in shock" when King ran after the man and arrested him when he declined to provide his name. The witness alleges he and his mother, with whom he was having lunch, went to the police department to complain and were surprised to face King.
"He smirked, laughed and disrespected my mother," the statement alleges. "I explained the restaurant is not his kitchen, and unless someone is breaking the law, he has no right to arrest people for what he thinks should be done there. I explained this is not the wild, wild west and humans have rights, and just because he has a badge doesn't put him above the law. There was more said, but we realized it was pointless."
Dike said King was later told by a local member of the judiciary to release the man as he had been deprived of his liberty without probable cause as prescribed by law.
"People here are terrified of him (King)," Dike said.
Dunbar alleges King has hired a white applicant for a police officer position over a more qualified black candidate based solely on race. Dunbar said King purchased a .50-caliber long-range sniper rifle with city funds without council approval.
"It won't fit in the trunk of a police car," Dunbar said. "It would have to stick out the window."
Dike said he has learned of a number of "manual checks" written on city accounts which have been signed by Mayor Johnny Branson and City Secretary Darla Faulknor without the council's blessing, including one paying Hornsby.
"For example, there's been a lot of refurbishing going on at City Hall," Dike said. "It looks nice, but we didn't approve it."
Dike said $44,000 in improvements to the city's baseball park have begun without formal council approval and a new industrial ice machine appears to have been purchased with city funds without the council's consideration.
Dunbar gave a brief address to the council at Tuesday's meeting listing King's alleged misconduct. The City Council voted that night to reinstate Millwood, though he remains on administrative leave pending the Texas Rangers' investigation. Dunbar said King is refusing to withdraw paperwork he filed with the state of Texas that negatively affects Millwood's law enforcement certification.
In a letter faxed Thursday to city attorney Brock, Dunbar offers to assist King in filing the necessary documents "if he is uneducated in the rules and regulations of TCOLE (Texas Commission on Law Enforcement). Or, as I suspect, is he not under any control by the Mayor or City Council?"
Dunbar said Millwood's status with TCOLE remains "terminated/separated."
"Is Chief King refusing to abide by the City Council vote?" Dunbar's letter to Brock asks. "Lt. Millwood acted in good faith in agreeing during open meeting to the council's motion to reinstate Lt. Millwood and invite the Texas Rangers to investigate the police department. He believed the City of New Boston would keep its word in reinstating him to his peace officer position while on administrative leave."
Rochelle said he is requesting that Texas Rangers from another jurisdiction, such as Dallas, be tasked with investigating New Boston Police Department to ensure the investigation is conducted without even the appearance of local influence.