Letter suggests sheriff used jail inmates to work on his property

An anonymous letter circulating in Anderson suggests Grimes County Sheriff Don Sowell used inmate labor on his personal property, but Sheriff Sowell says the inmates were clearing a tree that had fallen over a public roadway.

The letter includes an undated photograph of inmates working near a fence line, and you can read the letter and view the photo by clicking Sheriff Sowellhere. I asked the sheriff about the letter and the photograph, and here’s a copy of his emailed response:

From what I was told by my jailer, Glen Love, that supervises the outside inmate work crew on details around the county, the tree “on” my property had blown over and many limbs were on W. Buffington St. and the unnamed city road that divides my property and the property of Tom Johanson. He said that he moved it because it was blocking the two roadways. He said they had to cross the barbed wire fence to use the chainsaw to cut at different angles and that was the only time they were on my property inside the fence. He said they loaded up and took the limbs to the burn pile that is located on the Law Enforcement Center property adjacent to firing range. That’s about all I can say about this as I said earlier, I didn’t know about this until you brought it to my attention.

Judging from the photograph, however, it appears that the tree was blown away from the roadway and into the pasture rather than toward the roadway. Why does it matter? As the letter notes, a public official commits a crime if he or she “misuses government property, services, personnel, or any other thing of value belonging to the government that has come into the public servant’s custody or possession by virtue of the public servant’s office or employment.” See Texas Penal Code §39.02.

The letter was copied to the FBI and the Texas Rangers, among others. Major Jeffrey Collins of Texas Ranger Company A in Houston told me the Rangers will not investigate unless the district attorney requests the investigation in writing, per Texas Department of Public Safety policy. I faxed a letter to Grimes County DA Tuck McLain before Christmas asking for a response, but I haven’t heard from him (nor am I surprised by that). Unless someone contacts the grand jury directly, I doubt the matter will ever be investigated.

I’ve received other reports that I’m investigating, but I’m trying to tread carefully because we’re in the middle of campaign season. The sheriff is being opposed by Shawn Sayers in the March 1 Republican primary, but I know who sent the anonymous letter, and it was not Mr. Sayers. If you have information about whether inmates were working on the sheriff’s property, please send it my way.

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I’ve been on hiatus for a few months, but fear not. I plan to have a big post tomorrow about John Paschall, Booger County, and an FBI agent who is asking questions about Hearne’s city finances. You can receive notice of new posts by entering your email in the box to the right of this post.

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