The Untouchable

Complaints of racism, dirty politics, and other fishy business simply roll off Denton County's Teflon sheriff, Weldon Lucas

Complaints regarding the party's chairman and the jail bonds didn't affect Lucas' fortunes. In the last legislative session he was a driving force behind a plan that would make inmates pay for their time behind bars. The American Civil Liberties Union blasted the scheme as a boneheaded way of squeezing money from those least likely to have it. The plan was nevertheless approved by the Legislature. During the primary election this spring, Lucas made national news when he declared that every employee in his department must vote in the primary or face disciplinary action. Lucas also sent letters to his employees endorsing Denton City Council candidate Raymond Redmond, who lost the election in May. Public complaints didn't faze Lucas, and he fully intends to enforce the required-voting policy.

"I love it," he says. "You work here, you've got to vote...Damn right."

In 1997, he caused a stir when he announced that all inmates working in the public eye would wear the old-fashioned black-and-white striped uniforms. Another time, he advertised his jail with color brochures in 27 states to attract warm bodies to his empty jail beds.

One former employee complains that as Denton County's sheriff, Weldon Lucas, top, and with jailer Tesa Walker, bottom, has presided over two major jail expansions, which should provide more opportunities for blacks to find jobs in the Anglo-dominated department.
Peter Calvin
One former employee complains that as Denton County's sheriff, Weldon Lucas, top, and with jailer Tesa Walker, bottom, has presided over two major jail expansions, which should provide more opportunities for blacks to find jobs in the Anglo-dominated department.

None of these episodes seem to affect him at the polls.

While he doesn't win by a big margin, Lucas has a core of support that is practically unchanged since 1996 when he beat Barbara Miller, a former sheriff's department lieutenant, with 54 percent of the vote in the primary election. This March he beat Glenn Glasscock with 54.4 percent of the vote. Despite the solid vote, Lucas said the March primary was the most tiring of the last three because of the extent of his wife's needs.

"I got tired, but it was not necessarily the politics," he said. "There weren't enough hours in the day. I probably did less politicking--personally going out and shaking hands--than ever before in my life."

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The campaign trail may be the smoothest part of his long ride as sheriff, which has been bumpy at times, starting with the drunk driving arrest.

Lucas says the entire episode was the trooper's fault. Lucas was driving home after a dinner at a campground northwest of Sherman when Smith stopped him. He claims that Smith was angry because he was not invited to the law enforcement dinner party and thought Lucas was someone else. An investigation later revealed that Smith thought he was stopping Buddy Wade, a retired trooper and constable who had a long-standing feud with Smith. At least that was the report made public.

Lucas says that as a rule he never drinks more than three alcoholic beverages at one time--and the night of his arrest was no exception.

"I had a bottle that might have had that much in the bottom of it," he says, nearly pinching his thumb and forefinger together. "I passed a liquor store going out there, and I said, 'Well, I might get me another bottle,' and then I said, 'Aw hell, this is family, kids, everything else.' I said, 'I'll drink this here.' I made it make two drinks."

The videotape of the arrest proved that he was not drunk, Lucas says. The only reason he refused to take the breath test was the unreliability of the breath-testing equipment at the time.

Smith says that he wrote his report directly from the videotape and defends his claim that Lucas was drunk.

"I wasn't lying. I wasn't setting anybody up. I wasn't looking for him. I happened to be out there working a DWI highway, and here comes a gentleman in a vehicle at 11 o'clock at night. You cannot tell who's driving. I end up chasing him--finally getting him to stop--and realize who I have," he says. "I don't care. You can be a police officer, you can be the governor of the state of Texas, if you're drunk and you're behind the wheel, you go to jail. Period."

Not if you're Weldon Lucas. He would pull off a similarly successful escape a few years later when two of his top-ranking men placed Lucas smack in the middle of a brouhaha over lawmen and illegal fishing. In 1998, a burglary investigator and an assistant chief deputy were questioned under oath as part of a wrongful-discharge lawsuit. Although it had nothing to do with the federal lawsuit, the two men were asked about illegal fishing by members of the Denton County Sheriff's Department. They revealed that department employees frequently drove to Lake Texoma to collect catfish to feed hungry donors at political fund-raisers. The lawmen testified, and others have concurred, that they used radio equipment to generate an underwater signal that disoriented the fish and forced them to the surface.

It was not only unsporting; it was illegal.

In his deposition, Paul Scott--the burglary investigator, Lucas campaign donor, and still a top department dog--said, "Well, it's not electricity that does it. It's an FM signal that runs down a 40-foot lead wire that you're dragging. And between the positive and negative, it's an FM signal that makes the float in a catfish fill up, and he has no choice but to float to the top of the water."

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