By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Call it the riddle of the Fords.
For almost a year, Tarrant County Sheriff David Williams let five brand-new Crown Victoria patrol cars collect dust in a Fort Worth parking lot. His people just never bothered to pick them up. While the $100,000 worth of cars sat, the sheriff yuppie-lusted for a fleet of new Chevy Tahoes.
With the enthusiasm of a teenage car nut, he talked of converting the department's entire 150-vehicle inventory to Tahoes, sport utility vehicles that run $28,950 a pop when outfitted for police work. At the same time, Williams bent county officials' ears about reconditioning the department's old Chevy Caprice patrol cars, a model that was discontinued after 1995.
For the last three months, nobody could explain why the Fords sat idle--certainly not Williams, who these days doesn't return phone calls from some of his once-staunchest supporters, let alone from reporters wondering about some of the zany things that have gone on during his five and a half years in office.
A lot has been said of the sheriff's "failure to communicate," but little to solve the riddle of the Fords.
A columnist for FW Weekly took a shot at the mystery a few weeks ago, wondering whether Williams' roots in the Christian Coalition had him thinking the Ford symbol denoted the Antichrist. "That doodad--the insignia on the Ford--looks pretty darned satanic to me," the column joked.
As fine a theory as that was, it was refreshing to hear one of Williams' closest and most trusted former deputies give a definitive answer to the riddle of the much-ignored "Crown Vics."
"It's pretty simple and so stupid you're not gonna believe it," he said before evoking the name of Williams' chief campaign contributor and close adviser. "The reason is: Ed Max is queer for Chevrolets."
Yup. All the fuss about the Tarrant County patrol cars has to do with the sort of feeble-minded discourse you hear from lug nuts who have inhaled too much exhaust.
Yessirree. It's a Ford-Chevy pissing match.
"It's that elementary," says the former deputy, who asked not to be named.
And if Ed Max likes Chevies, so does Williams. Throughout his administration, department insiders say Williams has been attached at the hip to the gray-haired 69-year-old owner of a string of used auto parts businesses in Tarrant, Johnson, Parker, Dallas, and Wise counties.
Anybody who is anybody in Williams' regime drives a Chevy Caprice instead of one of the department's newer Fords, a recently released list of department vehicles shows. "The sheriff would have a few Caprices stashed around the department so he could drive a low-mileage one," says a second department insider, a high-ranking officer who resigned in Williams' second term, which began in January 1997. Max too drives a white Caprice as his personal car. His is rigged with flashing lights, just like the real police have.
It turns out issues automotive are only one planet in the bizarre universe of Sheriff David Williams, who from his early days as a first-time candidate in 1992 has exhibited some bewildering behavior.
There's his penchant for secrecy, his aversion to mingling with his troops or looking people in the eye, and his expensive and risky appetite for souped-up Camaros, machine-gun-toting SWAT teams, helicopters, and such.
Then there is his relationship with Max.
Williams' ties to the car-parts dealer have been mentioned from time to time in the daily newspapers, and Max has told reporters (including this one) that his only interest in the sheriff is in promoting good law enforcement and nostalgia for the days in the 1950s when his father was a Tarrant County deputy.
Maybe so. But there are at least small perks to be had for a man who contributed $55,000 to the sheriff's first campaign, then bought him a kennel full of drug-sniffing dogs for $20,000 more.
Williams' department gave Max's son Gary some extraordinary treatment when he was sentenced to 100 days in the Tarrant County jail for drunk driving last spring, the Dallas Observer has learned.
At first, according to court records and the judge in the case, the sheriff's department freed the younger Max and told him to report only on weekends. When the judge found out and complained that his sentence called for incarceration, Max was sent off to do his time in nicer circumstances. Instead of serving his sentence in Tarrant County, the younger Max was shipped to rural Wise County, where the sheriff is a business partner of Max's. In the less tense, less noisy, less crowded surroundings of the Wise County lockup, Gary Max was made a trusty and released after only 50 days, records show.
Also, while Max's campaign contributions to Williams are a matter of public record, the Observer has learned that one of Max's companies sold Williams and his wife a reconditioned 2-year-old Dodge Caravan SE minivan with 21,000 miles on it for $2,500. "Max boasted of giving the van to Williams," says one source who has been close to the two men.
When asked last week about the sale, at first Max denied knowing anything about it. A few questions later he said he did recall the transaction, but said the van was "probably worth far less than the book value because it had been through a salvage yard." Book value was roughly $16,000.
Williams did not return phone calls seeking an interview for this story.
For years, nobody in Fort Worth seemed too terribly concerned about Max or other aspects of Williams' quirky regime. The Star-Telegram, which took a sort of hands-off approach to its coverage of the sheriff through much of his first term, endorsed him for a second four-year term in 1996. He easily vanquished several weak and under-financed opponents in the primary and general election.
The honeymoon finally ended last fall, however, when two deputies died in a crash of one of the department's Army surplus helicopters, the only helicopter unit operated by a sheriff's department anywhere in Texas.
Williams responded to a public uproar over the incident by sealing himself off even more from the media and the Tarrant County Commissioners Court, which controls his budget.
Now, even people around the Tarrant County courthouse who aren't overly political are outspokenly critical of the 44-year-old Williams.
"He's a dummy; people think he's crazy," says defense lawyer Ward Casey. Charles Baldwin, another attorney, says he thinks Williams is "dumb but honest...He's too stupid to be doing something on the sly."
When the sheriff's name is mentioned to a sheriff's department bailiff, the man replies, "What's he done now?"
Williams' defenders say he is sharper than one would gather from his halting appearances in public, where he is completely adrift if not working from a prepared text.
Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder, who managed Williams' campaigns, says Williams doesn't have the rhetorical polish of the county's best politicians. "He is a reserved person; I don't know if shy is the correct word, but he doesn't seek publicity. He's technical-minded. He needs 45 minutes to explain one thing, and you can't deal with the media like that."
But even a few of Williams' friends concede he's not had an easy time going from his job as a drug education officer in a suburban police department--where he supervised one person--to heading an agency of 1,330 employees.
"He went from the wading pool to the ocean," says Phil Ryan, the Wise County sheriff. "He's taken time to adjust."
Perhaps so. But had Max not given Williams water wings, he'd probably still be teaching about the perils of pot in the suburbs.
And someone might have picked up those perfectly good Fords.
"Look at old Don, that old gorilla-face," defense lawyer Leonard Schilling chuckles, pointing at a photo on his wall of the previous Tarrant County sheriff, Don Carpenter, a tobacco-chewing warrants officer who referred to himself in the third person as "the sherf." Carpenter liked to boast that he never went further than high school, but "I got a few college boys working for me."
Stuck into the photo's frame is a gold "Re-elect Don Carpenter" pin, which Schilling says the sheriff's secretary sold him from her desk. That sort of nonchalance toward legal niceties--in this case, electioneering on the job--got Carpenter indicted in January 1992 on eight felony counts, including aggravated perjury, falsification of records, and misappropriation, for taking guns out of the property room and giving them to his friends. The "sherf" took a leave of absence, lost the GOP primary, and was placed on probation the next year after he pleaded no contest to several of the charges.
"If I knew then what I know now, I would have left old Don alone," says a laughing Schilling, who takes some credit for helping turn in Carpenter.
The problems that forced the first Republican sheriff in Tarrant County since Reconstruction to the sidelines in 1992 were nothing but opportunities for Ed Max.
That year, the skinny car-parts king, dressed in a checkered shirt and modest pants, and squinting out a bit from his glasses, sat in the living room of his sprawling home on a point on Eagle Mountain Lake and explained to this reporter that all he wanted was to raise the caliber of the sheriff's department.
So he put his checkbook behind a political neophyte, a 38-year-old suburban cop who had never held a management job in law enforcement. At that time, Williams was an unknown in a field of seven in the crucial Republican primary. Democrats have ceased to be viable candidates in countywide elections in Tarrant County.
"I'd known Ed for years, and he asked me to help him find a good candidate to run for sheriff," relates Tom Wilder, a savvy GOP campaign consultant who took his considerable knowledge of the county's voting patterns and got himself elected district clerk in 1994.
"I had some real doubts about whether David would be a viable candidate. He had no name recognition," says Wilder. "But Ed felt he was honest; he had a written plan of action, and he talked about making the sheriff's department more active in law enforcement" (instead of merely managing the jail, which is a sheriff's chief duty in Texas' urban counties).
"I told Ed we're getting a late start on the money-raising, says Wilder, whom Max had put in charge of running Williams' campaign. Wilder recalls Max replying, "Oh, I can raise the money."
Hence, when other unknowns were casting about for contributions, Williams had $73,000 to spend in the primary--$44,000 of it from Max.
Although the race included some debate about law enforcement, the hot issues ended up being abortion and the hiring of homosexuals as deputies. Williams, who attended a two-day candidate school run by the Texas Christian Coalition, opposed both.
Although those views proved popular with the sizable church vote, which Williams worked heavily, some GOP stalwarts like anti-tax leader Joe Cameron complained that "all I see is a neophyte being led around" by Wilder and Max.
At campaign forums and interviews, Wilder would finish Williams' sentences or cut in on his conversation when he started wandering. At a meeting of the Star-Telegram's editorial board, one columnist asked if he were watching Wilder playing ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, with Williams sitting in as the dummy Charlie McCarthy. Incredibly, Wilder answered that question too.
Williams was the only candidate in the race who had the luxury of campaigning full time. Somehow Williams supported a home mortgage, three school-age children, and a stay-at-home wife for a full year with no paycheck. A year earlier he was working at the Haltom City Police Department for less than $30,000 and moonlighting as a guard at a Sears warehouse.
Williams has said he made ends meet with unspecified "security consulting in the oil and gas business" and inherited money. But one former deputy, Jim Minter, says Williams told him he was on Max's payroll when he was running for office.
Max denies he gave any more aid than he reported on campaign reports.
Max's used car parts outlet on the North Freeway served as both Williams' headquarters and scene of his election-night party.
After Williams' election, Minter, who was running the department in Sheriff Don Carpenter's absence, says he talked a few times with Max, who was clearly interested in running things.
"During the transition, he decided we needed to make jailers come in earlier for their shifts, and I said, 'Mr. Max, we can't do that. That's a violation of fair labor standards; they're only paid for eight-hour days.'"
Max didn't reply, but Minter guessed he left Max with the impression he wasn't a team player.
Sure enough, Max and Williams had plans for Minter.
A few minutes after midnight on January 1, 1993, when Williams was sworn in in a secret ceremony--no press, and no public invited--he fired Minter and two other chief deputies. Williams hired Minter's subordinate Pat Howell, who once sold a business to Ed Max, to head the jail. Another crony, Hank Pope, who gave Williams his job in Haltom City, also was brought in as chief deputy.
Under the threat of lawsuits, Williams later reinstated Minter and the other two men to lower ranks. Minter stayed on for eight months, quit law enforcement to go to law school, and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for sheriff in 1996.
After Williams took office, Max's involvement with the department intensified.
In a 1993 sworn affidavit, Deputy Jack Sartin, who was in the newly formed K-9 squad, recounted how he was in closer touch with Max than Williams. "On the weekends, we would sometimes be short our 40 hours for the week, so we would work patrol, primarily on Jacksboro Highway, watching for DWIs and assisting the patrol units," he wrote. "Ed Max liked this because this gave him the opportunity to ride out with myself or Deputy [Rob] Durko, which he did almost every weekend. Although Max never carried a firearm, he did possess and carry a sheriff's department ID card, identifying him as a reserve administrative deputy.
"Sheriff Williams had instructed us that Ed Max was to monitor the program and would take care of all of our needs. He also told us to go to Ed Max if there was any problem."
It was later learned that Max received a sheriff's badge, portable radio, keys, bulletproof vest, and shotgun. He gave back some of those items when questions emerged about whether someone not licensed as a peace officer should be wearing a badge and toting a gun.
Still, for much of the sheriff's tenure, Max's auto-parts shop has been a sort of unofficial substation for the sheriff--a place where he or Hank Pope, now executive chief deputy, spend a lot of time during the workweek, deputies say. Pope did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
And from the way Max's son was treated last year, the sheriff apparently feels at least a bit obligated to Max for all he's done.
Court records show that on February 5, 1997, County Court Judge Phil Sorrells sentenced Gary Eugene Max, a 44-year-old mechanic, to 100 days in jail. It was Max's second DWI in Tarrant County but not his second trip to court. In 1990, he pleaded guilty to drug possession and was given a five-year prison sentence.
County computer records show that Max was ordered to report to jail the same day he was sentenced. Recalls Sorrells, "I didn't know who this man was, but when I sentenced him he went through the door that leads to the jail to serve his sentence."
A few days later, the judge remembers, a court clerk called him to tell him that computer records reflected that Max was not in jail. The records showed he had been given "weekend status," meaning he could go home during the workweek but had to report to the jail on weekends.
Sorrells says he spoke to a sheriff's deputy whose name he cannot recall on the same day he marked the case file with new orders. That was February 10, five days after the sentencing, the records show.
Sorrells says the deputy told him that Max was the son of a big campaign contributor who was unpopular with deputies in the jail. He recalls being told there had been death threats by the deputies against the son.
The judge says the deputy told him that Max's safety could not be guaranteed in Tarrant County, so he was being transferred to Wise County. Sorrells also remembers the deputy telling him that Max was a good mechanic, and that the Wise County sheriff's department had work for him to do. "My concern was that he serve his time in jail, not out," the judge says. "I took their word that there was a problem keeping him in the Tarrant County jail."
Tom Wilder, who took it upon himself to explain the sheriff's actions, insists, "There's nothing there.
"There was a security problem because of Gary and the Max family name. The judge was concerned whether he would be in danger," Wilder says.
But Sorrells says that was not what happened at all. "It sure wasn't my idea."
Wise County Sheriff Phil Ryan recalls that Hank Pope, Williams' chief deputy, called him and said "they didn't feel comfortable housing him [Max] in their jail. He said there was some anti-sheriff movement around within the department."
Ryan says trusties in his jail are awarded two days' credit for each day served. Max must have been made a trusty his first day in jail, because he did his 100 days in exactly 50--and didn't even check in on the first day until 1 p.m. Furthermore, public records in Tarrant County make no mention of Max's road trip, and suggest he served his time in Tarrant County.
Why a jail that houses capital murderers and other notorious defendants would need to transfer a prisoner doing time for DWI certainly raises questions. Ryan says he has housed other Tarrant County prisoners in the past but could name only one: a skinhead murder suspect whose light sentence prompted 10,000 people to march through downtown Fort Worth in 1992.
Ryan says that he is a stockholder in Discount Auto Parts Exchange, Max's north Fort Worth location, and the two have been friends for years.
Gary Max could not be reached for comment, but his father, who agreed to answer questions in his office on the second floor of his North Freeway store, insists he had nothing to do with the way his son was treated.
"Let me tell you about my deal with Gary. I've never made his bond, never put him in jail, or got him out of jail," he said, standing in his big, dreary office, a place with grease-stained carpet and piles of plastic binders on the desks.
Asked if he and chief deputy Pope discussed the transfer, Max replied, "I think we had a little discussion on it. He recommended it. He was uneasy about discontentment in the department over me."
Oddly, Max referred a number of questions directed at him during the interview to his business partner Philip Byrd.
Both say they have had very little to do with the sheriff over much of his second term--an assessment disputed by deputies who have seen Pope's car or Williams' car at Max's shop many times during that period.
Byrd may claim to have little connection with the sheriff now, but a year ago Williams gave him about $5,000 worth of helicopter pilot's training, gratis, as part of the department's ill-fated helicopter program. Two former department employees say it was a reward for Byrd's work on Williams' 1996 campaign, and an example of the good ol' boy back-scratching that goes on in Williams' regime.
Four men--three deputies and Byrd, who has no official connection to the county or sheriff's department--went through the weeklong Bell Helicopter program last year, which the Fort Worth-based company donated to the county. The training for all four was valued at $24,000, one former deputy said.
Byrd, asked this week why he was due the pilot's training, said he was picked as a "civilian observer."
"I'm into aviation," he explained. "I do a lot of flying."
Byrd ended up doing most of the talking when questions turned to the minivan that Williams bought midway through his first term from Alvarado-based Exchange Auto, another of Max's businesses.
According to title records, Williams and his wife purchased the 2-year-old Dodge Caravan SE for $2,500 on November 4, 1994. The records show that Exchange purchased the vehicle from Allstate Central Salvage in Irving in April 1993.
A customer originally purchased the van from a North Richland Hills Dodge dealership in August 1992 for $18,041. It was in a wreck in early 1993--when it had less than 2,000 miles on it--and totaled by the insurance company. Exchange Auto bought it for an undisclosed sum, rebuilt it--reporting in title documents that it replaced the fenders, hood, grill, and radiator, and repaired the air conditioning system--and the next year sold it to the Williamses.
According to one former deputy, the van is in excellent condition. It surprised him to hear it had been in a wreck. The 1995 Kelly Blue Book values a van of that year, make, model, and mileage at $16,600 retail, $12,500 wholesale. It's value as a salvaged vehicle is unknown.
"What would you say to someone who says this looks like a gift, a favor?" Max was asked.
He turned to Byrd, and asked, "What would I say to that?"
Byrd said, "I guess with your property, you can do with it what you want."
Thus a used-car-parts dealer gave a hell of deal on a used car to someone whom he had never met before he became a candidate for sheriff. It happened just two years after Max's cash snatched a young man from complete obscurity, someone inexperienced in law-enforcement management, and propelled him into the $89,000-a-year job.
Born in Norman, Oklahoma, the son of a service-station owner and a homemaker, Williams recalled in a 1992 interview that he comes from "conservative family origins." He dropped out of Norman High School in his junior year to go to work at his father's Sinclair station, then enlisted in the Army because, as he recalls in a 1996 deposition, "it was my desire to obtain my G.E.D."
During two tours of duty in the Army, where he was a specialist in military police work, Williams rose a single rank--to corporal.
While in the service, he married Rhonda Kimble and they had a son, but the marriage lasted only six months, Williams told Fort Worth attorney Michael Ware in a deposition for a case involving a deputy's firing.
Honorably discharged, Williams earned his G.E.D. from the University of Oklahoma in 1976.
After working for less than a year as the sole town marshal in Washington, Oklahoma, population 500, he moved to the 12-member force in nearby Purcell, where he stayed two years.
In Purcell he met Ruth Seiter on a blind date, and they married that year. In 1980, the couple moved to Fort Worth, and they both went to work for Kenneth Copeland Ministries.
In the 1960s, Copeland had been a singer at The Cellar, a notorious Fort Worth club where waitresses wore only bras and panties and where more than a dozen U.S. Secret Service agents partied until dawn the day President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.
Once Copeland found Jesus, he began building his multi-million dollar TV empire, a ministry rooted in "prosperity theology," the belief that if you come to Jesus and "plant a seed," i.e. send Copeland your money, you, too, will be rewarded with earthly riches. Some estimate that Copeland's followers contribute nearly $100 million a year, and his headquarters sprawl over a rolling 1,200-acre ranch at the edge of Eagle Mountain Lake, a site that was once a military base. Its runways and huge hangars are used for various Copeland aircraft--and it is here that the sheriff's department helicopter crashed last year.
At the outset of the Williamses' work for the preacher, Ruth worked as a mailroom clerk and David worked as a packaging clerk, bundling up Bibles and Copeland's taped teachings.
During his five years with Copeland, Williams became head of security, but left in 1986 and took a $10,000-a-year pay cut to become a patrolman in the suburban Haltom City Police Department.
After a year on patrol, Williams moved to overseeing the city's neighborhood crime watches, then to police chaplain, personnel officer, and finally director of a DARE anti-drug education program.
Through his involvement in that, and in the local Lions Club and other community organizations, Williams began making political contacts, he related in a 1992 interview.
With Wilder's expert campaign advice, and time to shake the hands of 75,000 voters, Williams emerged from the GOP primary in a runoff with one other candidate. His church backers got to the polls in the runoff, and he went on to edge suburban River Oaks Police Chief Dub Bransom in the general election.
Once elected, he moved to restore the office to its long-lost stature as a crime-fighting agency.
While the vast majority of the sheriff's department's money and personnel is devoted to guarding prisoners, Williams made it clear from the start he wasn't very interested in the jail. A longstanding complaint among jailers is that they had never even seen Williams until late in his first term.
Instead, he concentrated on the department's law enforcement duties--its obligation to patrol the 130-square-mile portion of unincorporated Tarrant County not served by municipal police.
He bought three high-powered "interceptor" Camaros to chase speeders, and installed Max's K-9 unit to sniff out drugs. In 1994, after his department put on its application that it had 60 people devoted to anti-drug efforts, it picked up from the federal government two Vietnam-era military surplus helicopters. Williams installed a SWAT team (which made Tarrant County the only sheriff's department in the state to duplicate a unit typically operated by urban police departments) and armed them with machine guns.
"He's a toy guy," says a former deputy. "At one time Williams considered asking the commissioners for an armored personnel carrier. Max talked him out of it."
At the same time, Williams has done a number of things that seem designed to cheer the Christian right: His first year in office, he defended a segregated unit for religious inmates known as the God pod. In January 1996, Williams balked at allowing guards to transport a pregnant woman who was serving time for drug possession to an abortion clinic to terminate her 11-week-old pregnancy. Despite criticism from civil libertarians, he has allowed inmate work crews to work at churches, and earlier this year conducted high-profile raids of more than a dozen adult-oriented businesses. His weekly management meetings begin with a prayer, several deputies say.
Meanwhile, Williams put the department in new black uniforms and awarded himself four stars--four on each collar, four on each epaulet for a total of 16 shiny gold stars. Completing what one deputy dubbed his "Mexican general" look, he pinned on his chest service ribbons from his police days: a lifesaving ribbon he got in Perry, Oklahoma, in 1979; a ribbon commemorating his membership in the Texas Congress of PTAs; a community-service ribbon for his work on crime-watches in Haltom City; and his certification as a licensed Texas peace officer.
The military tenor Williams brought to the department extended itself to the airing of videotapes depicting Civil War battles and aircraft carriers at several staff meetings, two former deputies say. One deputy recalls seeing Victory at Sea, replete with naval warfare, and one video on the battle of Gettysburg.
Relates a former deputy: "One day at the command meeting he pops in a videotape of one of these big Civil War battles; guys killing each other, generals riding around on horses. We're all aghast. Even the lieutenants are ribbing each other asking, 'What's going on?' After it's over, we go right into the normal boring agenda, you know, something like how many vacancies we have. There was no explanation of what this was all about. The next week, it's aircraft carriers with planes landing and taking off. I thought, 'There's something I'm missing here.'"
Wilder says criticism comes with the job. "It's a miserable job; you have 1,300 employees on three different shifts; and three deputies associations that act like unions with all the backbiting that entails. When all is said and done, David has made some tremendously beneficial changes to the department."
The most frequently cited example is a vast increase in the number of warrants served by the department, which has the duty of tracking down all types of fugitives and absconders.
Lt. Dan Cauble, who heads the warrants division, said the backlog of unserved warrants went from about 30,000 in 1995 to 15,830 today. Williams himself designed the new system, which brought new efficiencies by dividing the work of locating suspects, serving the warrants, and transporting the prisoners to jail, Cauble says.
While Williams and his allies boast that they have also taken a bigger bite out of crime in unincorporated areas of the county where they patrol, records of arrests--as reported to the Texas Department of Public Safety--suggest that the effort may not be all that it's cracked up to be.
Arrests are indeed way up, from 627 in 1992--the year that Minter managed the department when Carpenter was awaiting trial--to 1,262 in 1997, the state statistics show.
But most of the increase came for crimes such as drunkenness or marijuana possession, or non-felony assault. In the last year of Carpenter's regime, 170 people were arrested for drunkenness, which is a different offense than driving while intoxicated. Last year, Williams' deputies arrested 504 people for drunkenness, a whopping 40 percent of the sheriff's department total arrests for the year.
Meanwhile, arrests for such crimes as burglary and murder are down from 1992. In 1992, Tarrant County deputies made 37 burglary arrests; last year they made six. In 1992, deputies arrested three murder suspects. Last year they arrested one.
Deputies arrested six people last year for car theft; in 1992 there were four.
Between 1993 and 1997, the Tarrant County jail population--which dictates much of the sheriff's budget--fell 23 percent, but the budget grew by nearly a fifth, and some of Williams' former allies have grown impatient with his management.
Tarrant County Commissioner J.D. Johnson, a Republican who counted himself among Williams' most ardent supporters, says he used to talk to the sheriff three or more times a week. "I support law enforcement," says Johnson, talking in his office in the western suburb of Lake Worth. "I supported most of the sheriff's initiatives. But for some reason, he seemed to just cut off communications."
It happened just after the September 17 crash of one of the department's military surplus OH-58 Bell Ranger helicopters at an airstrip out on the Kenneth Copeland Ministries compound, Johnson says. Federal crash investigators have not yet issued their report on the cause of the accident, which killed two deputies. Besides the sheriff's explanation that the helicopter had been at the Copeland compound in connection with an auto-theft investigation, an article in FW Weekly, citing unnamed sources, said the craft was taking aerial videotapes for Copeland, Williams' old boss and a $2,500 contributor to the sheriff's last campaign.
As Johnson runs down some of the details of the sheriff's staffing, budgeting, and automobile fleet, it becomes clear he's grown weary of some of the inefficiencies in Williams' department.
Williams, for instance, has 39 jailers reassigned to such duties as guarding his office, or to administration, while the shortage of personnel in the jail is so great that the department paid $1.4 million in overtime last year.
"I don't think David Williams is ignorant," Johnson says. "He's intelligent in a lot of ways. But the last conversation I had with him, he was talking about renovating these Caprice patrol cars and getting into the details about the shocks and front bumpers and all.
"I'd like to see him concentrate more on where his people are, and how he's spending taxpayer money...I can tell you this, I don't think we're going to be buying any more Chevy Tahoes."
With names already starting to be floated to oppose Williams in 2000, others apparently have had their fill of toys and Tahoes too.
Two weeks ago, one of Williams' deputies reported that the department had finally picked up the Fords. And, if the opinion of a national expert on police cars is any judge, they'll work just fine. Says Jack Gray, chairman of the National Association of Fleet Administrators' law enforcement group, "The Ford is a fine vehicle. It serves law enforcement well.