By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Or so he thought.
Just after 11 p.m., Smith saw a silver pickup in his rearview mirror. He watched the truck turn onto a farm-to-market road and kick up dirt as it drove over the shoulder and crossed onto the road and into the wrong lane.
Smith turned his car around and hit the gas. He drove 75 mph until he caught the truck and watched as it crossed double-yellow lines onto the shoulder and back again. Preparing to make a stop for drunken driving, he radioed the license plate number to a dispatcher, who called with the owner's name: Weldon Gene Lucas.
Smith knew the name. Anyone involved in Denton County politics or law enforcement knows the name. Weldon Lucas is the sheriff of Denton County, a political heavyweight, and as many suspected and Smith would soon learn, seemingly untouchable.
Smith called for reinforcement, then pulled Lucas over. Lucas refused to take a breath test but agreed to a field sobriety test, which took place in front of the patrol car and was recorded by a video camera.
In his report, Smith wrote, "Mr. Lucas had the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath. His speech was slurred and thick-tongued, and his eyes were bloodshot. As he stood facing Trooper Smith, he continually could be seen rocking and swaying and appeared to have some difficulty maintaining his balance."
Smith told Lucas he was under arrest for drunken driving. About that time, Smith received a call from a Sherman Police Department officer who somehow had already heard about the arrest. He asked if he could collect Lucas and bring him home. Smith said no. Lucas was going to Grayson County jail.
By the next morning, Lucas was out of jail and the Dallas-area media had descended on his office. Lucas declared his innocence and said he would be exonerated. Just wait, he said.
Smith defended his report, but as Lucas predicted, a Grayson County grand jury decided not to indict Lucas. Incredibly, grand jurors blasted Smith instead. He was considered for disciplinary action. Local media reported that he had been reprimanded four times and placed on probation once (for yelling at a prisoner and for yelling at a man during a traffic stop) in his 14 years as a trooper.
Shortly after the grand jury incident in 1994, Smith found himself working in Baytown, east of Houston.
"We were forced to move," Smith says. "I had an option, I either moved on my own or the department would move me to wherever they saw fit."
That's the way things seem to work for Weldon Lucas in this burgeoning county north of Dallas. Lucas' name has been linked to a bevy of bizarre and troubling incidents--shocking catfish to collect food for political fish fries, keeping black men and most women out of important department jobs, threatening employees who don't vote, and more. Though any of those things might destroy or at least seriously dent someone else's political career, nothing ever seems to affect Lucas or stay in voters' memories for long. Even the fact that he and his wife are in the middle of a divorce while she is dying seems to be a non-issue among those who support him at the polls or at the sheriff's department. Weldon Lucas is a political kingpin who is about to be re-elected without opposition and is poised to rise to greater heights.
In fact, Lucas, a former Texas Ranger, seems more popular than ever. Despite having no formidable competition during the spring primary, he raised more than $200,000 for his campaign, more than was raised by all of his GOP primary opponents combined. Sure, the money came from the usual suspects, his top department people, big-shot Republicans, fellow officeholders, and developers, but it also came from non-players. One of his fiercest critics says that Lucas can get 600 regular people to show up for a fund-raising dinner while other politicians in the county can barely attract enough to start a poker game.
Politically, he scares the hell out of his opponents and those who think they might cause him problems. Would-be primary opponent Will Travis, a former Drug Enforcement Agency agent who some said had a good chance of unseating Lucas, decided not even to file to run after reports of career miscues began mysteriously arriving in unmarked manila envelopes on the desks of reporters. One of those reports said that Travis had lied to obtain a search warrant in a 1995 drug arrest. Even though he dropped from the race and the widely known allegation had occurred five years ago, it suddenly gained the attention of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Last month Travis found himself facing a perjury charge in federal court. The charge was dropped, but Travis says he can't help but wonder about the timing.
Lucas says that all he knows about the incident is "there was two people in jail because of a lie he [Travis] told." Lucas concedes that he might run a tough campaign but scoffs at the notion that he is otherwise feared.