Archer County Justice

When a sheriff had sex with a criminal suspect, he called it an indiscretion. She called it rape. and a dallas federal judge called it a $2 million outrage

Gail was bone-tired, but too agitated to sleep. She didn't want to stay in the house, but she had nowhere else to go. It was still hours before dawn, and she needed to talk to someone. Her phones were broken and she knew no one in Archer County, so she drove to the nearest store and tried to call a friend in Austin. But she didn't answer.

Gail returned home to find Sheriff Pippin's car in her driveway. He told her he had stopped by to see if she was all right. At first, Gail was grateful for the company and remembered thinking that perhaps in smaller towns law enforcement officials take a more personal interest in people. Then again, she also figured Pippin was there in his official capacity, to question her further.

The deputies had left all her doors and windows open and the lights on, filling her house with moths. Pippin helped Gail clear some of the insects out of the house. Gail then made a pot of coffee, and she and the sheriff sat on the front porch and talked for about an hour.

The sheriff asked Gail a lot of personal questions, about her family, her background, her marriage to Tony. Gail began to feel that the sheriff was staying too long and asked him whether he was on duty all night. He replied that he was, in fact, off duty.

"Don't you have family to go home to?" Gail asked.
The sheriff confided that he too had experienced marital troubles. He told Gail his wife had left him because he was having flashbacks about the Vietnam War, where he served as a Green Beret.

Gail found the sheriff's story and his interest in her personal life troubling.

She told Pippin she needed to get some sleep. Gail had mentioned earlier that she was frightened that Tony might get out of the hospital and try to hurt her. Though Pippin had already learned that Tony's chest wound would keep him in the hospital at least overnight, he kept that information to himself.

Instead, he offered to check around the house and stand vigil outside while Gail fell asleep. Gail headed to the back bedroom and fell into bed, with her jeans, blouse, and turquoise boots still on.

Gail isn't sure how long she was asleep or what woke her up. But she opened her eyes to see Sheriff P.L. Pippin standing over her bed, his naked body illuminated by the moonlight coming through the window over her bed.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"Something that will make us both feel better," he replied.
"I don't want to do this," Gail said, according to a police report she would make months later.

She says Pippin kept insisting that it would make them both feel better, as he got on the bed and started to pull off her clothes. When he tried to get her boots off, she sat up and tried to talk him out of it again.

"Please don't do this to me," she said.
"He pushed me over backwards on the bed and got on top of me," she said in her police report. "He started taking the rest of my clothes off. I was trying to push him away. I did not want a violent struggle with him and I was afraid that no matter what I do this is going to happen and if I struggle with him, he would charge me in Tony's shooting."

When Gail realized nothing she could do would stop the sheriff, she asked him to at least "wear a fucking rubber" and grabbed one of Tony's from behind the head of the bed and threw it at Pippin.

"You're not going to tell anyone about this," the sheriff told her. Gail said she wouldn't. As an added precaution, Pippin admonished her to replace the condom so no one--especially Tony--would get suspicious.

When he finished, Pippin told Gail to take a shower. At first she refused, but he repeated his demand. While she was showering, the sheriff slipped out of the house. It was about 5 a.m.

Pippin returned to Gail's house the next night and knocked on her window. She told him to go away, and made sure all the windows and doors were locked. She hid in a closet until he left. Two days later, with the Archer County sheriff's office's permission, Gail Bennett moved back to Austin.

"I was pretty much lost in a fog," she says.
Gail Bennett would not report what Pippin had done to her for several months, fearing that the sheriff would retaliate against her. In September 1990, the Archer County grand jury found that she had acted in self defense in shooting Tony, who had recovered fully. Gail felt a measure of relief and decided she had to tell someone other than her closest friend and daughter about what Pippin had done.

But the assault by a law officer made her afraid to go to the police, so Gail instead visited the Austin Rape Crisis Center, where therapists encouraged her to go to the authorities. She still might never have told the police if Pippin had not kept calling her. At first he said the calls were to keep her abreast of the grand jury proceedings, then later to make sure she had kept silent about the attack. Finally he called to try to see her, ostensibly to return her gun, which had been in her family for generations.

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