Different perspectives about law enforcement responsibility and credibility are rising to the fore in the Democratic primary race for county sheriff.
When the chief aide to the county judge, Alex Villalobos, formally announced for county sheriff this past week, another Democrat already in the race, Dickey Haverda, posted video evidence that Villalobos is on the so-called “Brady list,” a controversial list of law officers whose testimony might be considered suspect because of past misdeeds.
Villalobos formerly worked for the Texas State campus police department, and also serves as a Kyle city council member and, to complicate matters, as a deputy constable to a Republican constable from Wimberley. Haverda is himself a former supervisor in the sheriff’s department who announced for sheriff earlier this fall. Both Villalobos and Haverda are Kyle residents. Should Villalobos being elected, he would become the first Hispanic to hold the seat of sheriff in Hays County.
Also in the race is Republican David Graham. All are seeking to replace incumbent county sheriff Gary Cutler, a Republican who is seeking re-election.
This story broke over the weekend and the Hays Free Press will be following up to get comment from Villalobos, and from Constable Ray Helm, who indicates on a video feed from a Commissioners Court meeting that he was aware of the Brady list designation but agreed to carry Villalobos’ commission anyway after checking with Villalobos’ former employers. The Hays Free Press is also seeking comment from the other candidates in the race, and the exact reason Villalobos was placed on the list.
The “Brady list” is the name used to designate law enforcement officers who are considered covered under a 1963 Supreme Court ruling that requires prosecutors to turn over to the defense any evidence that might exonerate defendants. In response to that ruling and subsequent cases, local prosecutors across the country often maintain a list of officers with a history of misconduct that might affect a case’s outcome or impeach their testimony.
In some jurisdictions, the Brady list is formal and even public. In others, such as Hays County, it is not typically made public. The list is based on private disciplinary personnel records that are not subject to open records laws.
Some law enforcement departments will not hire Brady list officers, or seek to dismiss officers placed on a Brady list. Other departments treat the issue on a case by case basis. Police unions in some areas have complained that the Brady designation is unfair and may be used by supervisors to punish officers. Across the country, a number of prominent cases raised by defense advocates point to cases where officers with repeated misdeeds – tampering with evidence, or lying under oath – were not dismissed or Brady designated despite violations that should have put them on a Brady list.
In the case of Villalobos, when he was appointed deputy constable earlier this year, several people raised the Brady list issue, and two members of commissioners court asked the constable who appointed Villalobos, in open court whether the allegations were true. He said they were but that he was satisfied with his qualifications after doing a background check. That is the video that Haverda posted to his website.
The sheriff’s race was already interesting because Villalobos has been talking for months about possibly running, raising of the prospect of the top aide to the sitting county judge taking on the
sitting sheriff. The county judge, with Villalobos running his office, prepares the budget each year for the sheriff. Villalobos was active in the county judge’s upset victory last year.
County Judge Ruben Becerra is a Democrat from San Marcos.
Haverda was a long-time employee under three sheriffs from both parties and a captain of the corrections department (the jail) under former sheriff Tommy Ratliff, who was appointed as a Democrat after the death of Republican sheriff Allen Bridges. Ratliff then lost election to current incumbent Gary Cutler in a special election to fill an unexpired term. After that, Ratliff switched parties and ran against Cutler in the next election as a Republican, losing again.
Haverda had campaigned for Ratliff, and was later demoted after Cutler won. He sued, arguing that he was unfairly demoted because of his association with Ratliff.
All that has set the stage for a sheriff’s race that will explore a number of challenging issues about existing and past sheriff administrations in the county, and the role of the sheriff in a rapidly growing and changing Hays County. Texas sheriffs are responsible for law enforcement in the unincorporated areas of the county, and for any cities that contract with them, as well as for administration of the jail, which has become one of the sheriff’s largest duties.
Villalobos and his boss, the county judge, have been critical of the way the county has handled jail administration.
The fourth candidate in the race is a former Dallas police officer, who retired there in 2017 and moved to Dripping Springs. Like the incumbent, Gary Cutler, Graham is running as a Republican.
This is an on-going story and will be supplemented as additional facts become available. For a more complete story, look to this week’s print edition of the Hays Free Press.