Denton's Scandal-Prone Sheriff

Denton's Scandal-Prone SheriffEXPAND
Kevin McVeigh

Denton County Sheriff William B. Travis sits in his office, surrounded partially by confiscated weapons, clinging to a folder of old court documents. Inside are details of a case that has haunted him since the late '90s and may well ruin his chances for re-election this March.

He's spent weeks collecting and reading through old court documents in hopes of finding some piece of evidence to clear his name, one bestowed upon him in honor of William B. Travis, the famed commander who died at the Alamo in 1836.

At 53, Travis is older than his namesake was when he died in his late 20s. The sheriff's formerly thick blond hair has thinned, grayed and turned white on the sides. He carries a little more weight than he did in his days as a DEA agent, busting drug mules at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. But he's still in fairly good shape for a man in his 50s, unlike the late barrel-shaped Sheriff Weldon Lucas.

Travis tried to oust Lucas from the sheriff's office in the 2000 election, using his connection to the late William B. Travis to help his bid. In news articles, he reminded voters that he was the great nephew fifth removed from the Texas hero. But he dropped out of the race not long after manila envelopes with reports of Travis' career miscues began arriving anonymously on reporters' desks.

It took more than a decade for him to seek the sheriff's office again. "William B. Travis for Sheriff" seemed like a natural language to win in a county once known as horse country. TV ads, newspaper articles and mailed fliers highlighted his familial connection to his namesake.

“It's time to draw the line in the sand,” Travis would say on the campaign trail, echoing his namesake's famous line that led to the Alamo defenders' final stand. Despite news articles about Travis' lying in court, sexual misconduct accusations and termination from the DEA, voters elected him to office in May 2012.  

A year after his election, Travis traveled to the Alamo to read his namesake's iconic “Victory or Death” letter at a special ceremony coordinated by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, the Texas General Land Office and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. People from as far away as Brazil and Europe came to hear “William Barrett Travis V” read the one-page, faded yellow letter that had made its way to the Alamo for the first time in 177 years. Travis' namesake had written the letter before he and his men made their final stand. “It was a humbling moment,” Travis, who spells his middle name with two T's instead of one, told a local newspaper at the time. People swarmed him after the reading, asking for his autograph. “If the hair was not standing up on the back of your neck, or your eyes weren't moist, you weren't a real Texan,” one attendee later recalled. 

Travis drew the line in the sand this election season when he agreed to meet with a reporter. It was an unusual move for the recently reclusive sheriff but not unexpected. His family connection no longer seems to be helping him, not since supporters of his opponent Tracy Murphree, a former Ranger of Denton County with a slew of law-enforcement endorsements, hired a certified genealogist to trace Travis’ lineage. “It is really quite easy to conclude from all the evidence noted,” says J.C. Patterson, a certified genealogist out of Decatur, “that Judge John A. ‘Jack’ Travis of Hinds County, MS, [the sheriff’s father] is in no way related to William Barret Travis of Alamo fame, unless it is in generations extending back to England prior to the Revolutionary War.”

But his murky relation to his namesake is the least of Travis' worries this election season. Not only is he in charge of a $53 million budget, more than 600 employees and a jailhouse full of inmates, he's also dealing with a slew of newspaper articles about his failure to maintain his campaign finance reports since first winning office in 2012, his fabricating evidence to obtain a search warrant and, despite vowing to the public to do so, his refusal to sign a release to obtain his DEA records.

Travis has come to today's meeting prepared, with information that he says will prove that he’s innocent of fabricating evidence, which led to the overturning of a convicted drug dealer's sentence and the dismissal of another drug dealer's charges, and that he was not terminated from the DEA as a Sept. 11, 1997, federal court document indicates. He blames the federal prosecutor, Colleen Murphy, who handled the case, saying she “used him as a scapegoat” for a botched search warrant. (Murphy now works for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa, Florida, and declined to be interviewed for this article.)

“I mean everybody has brought this up since day one,” he says. “I’ve constantly told you guys that I have never lied, and I haven’t lied. I wouldn’t even want to sit in that [sheriff’s] chair if I’ve lied.”

He motions toward a copy of the search warrant and his internal DEA investigation notes. “All the federal judge did say was that I lied on the search warrant,” he continues. “But my name isn’t in the search warrant.”

“It was a simple mistake,” he adds.

That mistake still haunts him 21 years later. It’s not the only one. Travis’ political opponents, ex-wife and peers point to a trove of documented personal and professional missteps, sordid affairs that may doom his chances for re-election. Like the story behind his iconic name, this sheriff’s versions of events have a way of not quite panning out.

Will Travis always wanted to be a law-enforcement agent. Born in 1963, he grew up interacting with police officers at his home in Mississippi. His father, John “Jack” Travis, was a well-known judge who handled felony and some civil cases. Officers would often drop by Travis’ house late at night with a search warrant in hand. They’d tell the young Travis stories of their adventures and sometimes take him on a ride along in their police cruisers. Their attention inspired him, when he was a senior at the University of Mississippi, to apply to several different police departments, including Miami, Nevada and Dallas. After he earned his degree in public administration in 1985, the Dallas Police Department offered him a job, and he jumped in the car with his father and headed to Texas. 

Crossing the Sabine River into Texas, Travis' father told the tale of their connection to the Texas hero through his brother John, a man the genealogist later reported didn't exist. Travis didn't realize the significance of his family connection until 1986, when a Dallas television station interviewed him on the 150th anniversary of the Alamo's attack. “It turned out to be a bigger deal to them than to me because I was from Mississippi and not Texas,” he later told reporters. 

He met his future wife, Cindy Travis, in the Dallas Police Department’s property room. It was the late '80s, and he was a rookie cop who’d recently returned to the force after resigning a couple of years earlier when he failed his basic peace officer exam, according to internal documents from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education. 

But when she saw him, Cindy didn’t see an officer who struggled with testing. She saw a man in uniform. “I've always had a thing for a man in uniform,” she says. “He had the best smile, very physically fit and very charismatic.”

He thought she was attractive, too. She’d just returned from the gun range all covered in sweat with her blond hair pulled into a ponytail. She was petite but athletic, a country girl from Seymour, Texas, who grew up working cattle. She’d only stopped by the property room to pick up counterfeit money, not to hook up with one of the local police officers. She was a rookie Secret Service agent who worked out of the Dallas field office. But he was attractive in a Don Johnson, Miami Vice kind of way, with feathered blond hair, glistening blue eyes and a smile that dazzled. She asked the desk clerk about Travis who, in turn, yelled back at him, “Hey, she wants to meet you.”

Their first date was perfect in a way that only a law enforcement officer could enjoy. Travis was running late because of a traffic stop that turned into a drug bust. He picked Cindy up from the Secret Service field office in his Dallas PD cruiser with his partner in tow. She climbed into the backseat where criminals usually hang and rode with them back to the police station. Travis showered, and they left to eat steaks at a local steakhouse and spent the rest of the evening laughing and connecting.

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They married in '91, and a few months later Travis left the life of a patrol officer to become a special agent with the DEA. Cindy says she suggested that he get a federal job in case she was transferred to Washington to protect President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore or former President George H.W. Bush. She even helped him tidy up his application to ensure that he landed the DEA job.

When he got the job, life seemed perfect. They belonged to two different worlds, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Treasury, drug dealers and white collar criminals. It was the perfect combination … for a time, she says.

Ernest Vera didn’t know he’d picked up the pound of marijuana for a DEA informant. The 23-year-old was just picking up the weed for his brother-in-law, who drove down from Wichita Falls to pick it up, he later told the federal court for the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth. When a Fort Worth police officer pulled him over, Vera tried hiding the marijuana under the front seat of his pickup. But in April 1995, there was no hiding from the DEA or Special Agent Will Travis once he’d picked up your scent. 

Travis had been working “north of the border” for about a year in Wichita Falls, busting over-the-road truckers transporting cocaine in the back of their trailers and hunting drug dealers across North Texas. “[One trailer] was completely filled with cocaine from top to bottom, front to back,” he says. “We dealt with things like that north of the border, and we worked our butts off.”

Travis didn't have to work too hard to pick up Vera's scent. Travis’ friend, Wichita Falls police officer Tony Ramirez, called and told him about two “cooperating individuals,” or “CIs,” who reported that Vera allegedly owned a marijuana stash house in Fort Worth. Like many low-level drug dealers, it was a family affair.

Travis met with the two confidential informants, one of whom was Vera's brother-in-law, later that evening on April 6, 1995. They came up with a plan that involved the CIs buying a pound of weed from Vera, in hopes that he would lead agents and officers to his stash house located at the 5900 block of South Hampshire Boulevard.

Vera’s stash house was actually a cream-colored frame home with brown trim that he rented to his wife’s brother Adrian Garcia, who lived there with his fiancée of three years, Victoria Barela, and their two children. When his brother-in-law from Wichita Falls called and said he needed some weed, Vera called Garcia and sealed the deal over the phone that evening.

The next morning he dropped off his brother-in-law from Wichita Falls and the other cooperating individual at a flea market on Henderson Street. Then he headed over to Garcia’s house just like any other normal day, visiting family and picking up a little weed, completely unaware that a swarm of nearby agents was waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

Travis and other agents watched Vera enter and, a few minutes later, leave his brother-in-law’s house carrying a white plastic bag filled with a pound of weed. It only took him five minutes to pick it up and just a few more for a Fort Worth police officer to pull him over at the 1300 block of East Northside Drive.

It’s hard to understand why a man carrying a pound of weed would agree to a search, but Vera agreed, then acted surprised when the officer revealed the weed under Vera’s front seat. “The weed isn’t mine,” he told the officer. “It was already there.”

It’s the usual excuse, one that officers deflated when they told him that Special Agent Travis’ task force had been watching him all morning. Fort Worth police officer Michael DeLaFlor, who worked with the DEA drug task force, turned the pound of weed over to Travis, and Vera was taken into custody.

Less than an hour after Vera’s arrest, Travis wrote in his DEA investigative report that Special Agent Terri Wyatt had observed a black 1986 Buick Regal driven by Garcia pull up to the cream-colored frame house and pick up Barela and their child. She then observed several people walking in and out of Garcia’s house, so she and other Fort Worth officers secured the house until they could obtain a search warrant. The order to write the search warrant came from Colleen Murphy, who worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Dallas at the time. She told Travis, the lead agent on the case, and DeLaFlor to write an affidavit supporting their request for the warrant since they knew all the details of the drug bust.

DeLaFlor wrote the search warrant, including all the details from both agents’ observations and interactions with the two informants. But instead of reporting that Wyatt had witnessed Barela and her child get into a black Buick Regal driven by Garcia, he wrote that Wyatt had seen two black males loading packages into the back of a black car because that's what Travis told him, according to U.S. District Judge Terry Means’ July 28, 2000, memorandum opinion.

“The ‘observation’ was a fabrication by Travis,” Means wrote. “DeLaFlor relied upon, and was deceived by Travis. Task Force Officer DeLaFlor enjoys an unblemished reputation as a narcotics investigator and would not have knowingly made a false statement in an application for the search warrant.” The last sentence was rare for a district judge to write about an officer, law enforcement sources told the Observer.

Sitting in Sheriff Lucas’ old office, Travis denies ever telling DeLaFlor that Wyatt had witnessed two black males loading packages from a suspected stash house into a car. He points to his DEA investigative report opened next to a copy of their search warrant and the highlighted section where he reported that Wyatt had seen a white woman with a child getting into a black Buick Regal driven by a Hispanic man.

“It doesn’t say in that search warrant right there that I told him that Terri Wyatt had seen two black men,” he says. “He and I wrote many search warrants in the past, and we never had a single bad part in one of them until that one.”

The discrepancy about Wyatt’s observation wasn’t caught, and a Tarrant County judge signed the search warrant a couple of hours after Vera’s arrest. The task force searched Garcia’s cream-colored frame house about 30 minutes later and found another pound of weed, scales and a “Big Eight” (an eighth of a kilo) of methamphetamine, according to Travis' investigative notes. Travis later told the court that they had found 103 bricks of marijuana, or more than 1,200 pounds, according to a Jan. 9, 1997, court document. It's unclear from Travis' investigative notes where the 1,200 pounds were found, since only a little more than 2 pounds is listed as evidence discovered during his investigation.

Vera had also signed a document that claimed his brother-in-law “would negotiate with individuals in Mexico to buy large quantities of marijuana [that would then] be transported in semi-tractor trailers across the border where it would be placed in various ‘stash houses’ in Fort Worth,” according to the court document.

Vera and Garcia were convicted on charges of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and methamphetamine. Barela, however, never made it to sentencing. Her case was later dismissed.
The discrepancy about Wyatt’s observation wouldn’t be found until two years after Vera’s initial arrest. But by the time law enforcement officials discovered it, the 23-year-old Vera had already committed suicide in jail.

Cindy Travis says her ex-husband pushed her to the ground after she taunted him about his affair with their former 17-year-old nanny. He’d just strapped their  2-and-a-half year-old daughter in her car seat in his pickup in front of Cindy’s home in Flower Mound, ready to leave for their Wednesday night visit. He'd been arguing with Cindy on that April 2000 night when their argument turned physical.

When he first arrived, he had tried questioning Cindy about their daughter’s whereabouts for the past three days, but she ignored him until he verbally abused her, according to a police report. So she brought up the nanny, who was a high school senior when the then 36-year-old Travis started having sex with her, according to a Sept. 5, 2000, court document from the 16th Judicial District Court of Denton County. Their secret relationship ended his 9-year marriage with Cindy, who’d left the Secret Service to raise their daughter and later was elected to the Flower Mound Town Council.

Being a council member is what brought the 17-year-old high school student into Cindy’s home and into her husband’s arms. The high-school student's hair was red, and she looked like a young teenager instead of a young woman. She had been working at the daycare the Travises' daughter attended, and they had already developed a good relationship. So Travis and Cindy hired the high school student to babysit their daughter in September 1998. Several months would pass before Cindy discovered the nanny’s relationship with her husband. She was taking a photo of them together, and it was the way Travis wrapped his arms around the nanny, who wore a light blue prom dress. They were both smiling as Cindy snapped the photo. She planned to catch them together on the family’s San Antonio trip in a couple of weeks when the young girl approached Cindy and confessed to the affair with her husband.

That cool spring evening in 2000, nearly seven months after their divorce, Cindy says she wouldn’t have taunted her ex-husband about continuing his relationship with their former nanny if Travis hadn’t said, “You fucking cunt, I’m coming after you,” according to the Flower Mound police’s April 19, 2000, domestic violence report. She reported to police that Travis charged her with his hand raised as if he planned to hit her but instead pushed her to the ground. Travis reported to police that Cindy had slapped him in the back of his neck. “At that point I turned to defend myself, and [Cindy] ran from me,” he reported in an April 4, 2000, affidavit. “As I watched her run, I observed [Cindy] run into her political sign in her front yard and watched her trip and fall to the ground.

“At that point, I said that was justice ‘running into your own sign,’” he added.

Cindy was seeking re-election to Flower Mound Town Council, and he’d recently withdrawn from the sheriff race after questions were raised about his separation from the DEA, lying in federal court to obtain a search warrant and accusations of sexual misconduct with a DEA informant. 

The incumbent Sheriff Weldon Lucas was a vicious opponent who allegedly had been anonymously mailing manila envelopes with federal court records related to Travis’ separation from the DEA. Some say that Lucas had also included pictures of Travis dining out with his former nanny in the manila envelopes. In the 2000 temporary order hearing at the 16th District Court, the former nanny admitted to dining out with Travis after his divorce from Cindy in October '99.

Before signing the divorce papers, Travis required Cindy to sign a nondisclosure agreement that would keep her from speaking of his affair with a high school student until after a five-year period had passed ... unless he was elected sheriff, then she’d have to wait nearly a decade. Cindy says she signed the agreement because her husband had told her that he would have fought a long drawn out court battle to not give her any money if she didn’t sign it.

Travis had plenty of money to drag the case out in court, too. He’d inherited a large sum a couple of years before their divorce after his mother’s family sold their chain of Jitney Jungles, a popular grocery store chain similar to Wal-Mart that expanded across Mississippi, into neighboring states and eventually over to Florida. “Shopping a Jitney has been a Southern tradition for over 80 years,” according to one of the store’s commercials. “It was a very small chain,” Travis says, but that very small chain sold a majority of its controlling interests in 1996 to a New York law firm for $400 million, according to Funding Universe, a website that lists company profiles.

The nondisclosure agreement that Cindy signed in October '99 made it difficult for her to report to Flower Mound police exactly what she had said to piss off her ex-husband. She wrote in her victim statement that she started taunting him by saying, “Oh, poor little Will, poor baby,” without revealing that she had discovered that he had continued the relationship with their former nanny, who was a sophomore at North Central Texas College at the time. The police filed a report but never charged Travis with assault.

Travis refused to answer questions about the nanny but admitted to the affair in an August 2000 deposition. He also admitted to continuing the affair. The former nanny says she quit seeing Travis from July 1999 until January 2000, then continued to see him, sometimes staying at his house twice monthly, according to a Sept. 5, 2000, court document. She also told the attorney that her parents didn’t know about her relationship with Travis and if they found out, they wouldn’t approve.

In the August 2000 court document, Travis also admitted to a number of relationships occurring with other women besides the former nanny since his divorce from Cindy in October '99. One involved a Wichita Falls woman named Michelle Redmond, whom he met as a DEA agent working in Wichita Falls in the mid-'90s. He told the attorney that she had a 12-year-old son and a 2-year-old son now, and he admitted to continuing his relationship with her after his divorce was final.

The April evening when Cindy and Travis battled on her front lawn, Travis wasn’t only facing stress on the home front. The incumbent sheriff, Lucas, had been dragging skeletons out of Travis’ closet, and newspapers began questioning his separation from the DEA and running stories about the DEA informant claiming that they had sexual relations.

Travis told some newspaper reporters that he’d resigned from the DEA in November 1997 to spend more time with his daughter. The Denton Record-Chronicle reported that “he quit after an unrelated Department of Justice internal investigation.” He said later in the newspaper article that he’d been placed on administrative leave prior to his resignation because the DEA informant had accused him of sexual misconduct, but he wouldn’t elaborate on the nature of the sexual misconduct or reveal her name, because “it was unfounded by the DEA, and I was returned back to duty.”

But the DEA made him fly to headquarters in Washington to take a polygraph test over the DEA informant's sexual misconduct allegations. Some claim the DEA informant’s name was Redmond, the same woman whom he admitted to sleeping with in court documents when he and Cindy were still married. Cindy says they had gone to counseling over his affairs with Redmond as well as a woman from Virginia and a TV newscaster from Oklahoma City, whom he met when he spent three weeks cleaning up the Alfred P. Murrah federal building after the April 1995 bombing. But she didn’t know if Redmond was also the DEA informant who helped her ex-husband solve cases.

He also didn’t return to duty. Federal prosecutor Colleen Murphy reported in a Sept. 11, 1997, court document that she learned earlier that month that Travis had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility, only to discover a few days later that he’d been terminated by the DEA.

Travis declined to answer questions about Redmond. “If you believe I will respond to allegations made by a bitter ex-wife intent on revenge, then you're sorely mistaken,” he wrote in a Feb. 5, 2016, email response. He still maintains that he resigned from the DEA in November 1997, about the same time Cindy left the Secret Service, “to be Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” he says, and spend more time with their newborn daughter.

Cindy disagrees with his claim. “At the time, I did not believe Will’s version of events because, I believe, he had already been unfaithful to me more than once prior to this incident,” she says. “I am very disappointed when he tells people, ‘I resigned from the DEA for personal reasons, to be with my daughter.’”

Privately, Travis told Cindy in the summer of '97 that the polygraph test came back inconclusive, and the DEA planned to fire him if he didn't resign first. He told her that he was innocent, that he didn't have sex with the DEA informant, and she wanted him to fight his termination. “But he told me, 'It’s the government, and you can’t fight the government,'” Cindy recalls.

He also couldn’t win a fight against Sheriff Lucas. Too many of Travis’ mistakes were now in the media’s spotlight. News outlets were running stories about Travis’ fabrication of evidence to obtain a search warrant that, according to court documents, led to Adrian Garcia’s conviction being overturned and his immediate release from jail. Victoria Barela’s case was also dismissed.

Ernest Vera, however, was dead. He hanged himself while in federal custody in Fort Worth, according to law enforcement sources.

Travis claims that he didn’t need to fabricate evidence to bust Garcia because they’d witnessed Vera leaving Garcia’s house with a pound of weed to deliver to their DEA informants from Wichita Falls. There would be no need for him to lie to DeLaFlor about Wyatt observing two black males loading packages, he says, especially when he reported what Wyatt had actually observed — Barela getting into the car with Garcia — in his internal DEA investigative notes.

He told the Record-Chronicle in 2012 that he thought Lucas had somehow influenced federal prosecutors to tarnish his name and force him out of the race. Now he claims Murphy, the federal prosecutor, just wanted to discredit him and lie in court because it would be easier for her than retrying the case, since Vera, a main witness, was dead.

Karl Colder, the DEA agent in charge of Fort Worth, told the local newspaper in August 2000, “Travis' actions discredit everything that we do.”

Travis says he wishes he could have attended the final trial that vacated the convictions in July 2000. “All I want is my day in court to clear my name,” he says.

Travis hands over a copy of a document titled “Request for Personnel Action” by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. He claims it’s his resignation form, which is signed and dated November 1997, two months after the federal prosecutor reported learning the DEA had terminated Travis. The document is not stamped “received” or “accepted” by any official government source. Travis’ birth date is also incorrect on the document. It reads, “July 20, 1997,” instead of “January 22, 1963.”

“I’m ready to put this thing to bed,” Travis says. “Nothing speaks better than the truth in paper. If it’s on the Internet it’s not always true, but when it’s on paper, it’s definitely going to be true.”

It looks like the past couple of weeks on the campaign trail have been rough on Travis. He looks like a man trapped in a fight with an immovable opponent, one whose supporters have released everything from old court documents related to the Vera case to sext messages that they claim Travis sent to a lover whose phone number didn't belong to his current wife, Shelly. The "sexting" occurred between July 26, 2014, and Aug. 22, 2015, discussing everything from a menage á trois to taking his daughter to the University of Mississippi. The messages also included a photo of his penis, which appears in the photo like Jaws bursting through the waters on that old 1970s movie poster.

Travis' eyes no longer twinkle when he laughs, and his smile looks more like a frown. His face is flushed, and he looks like he might explode when the error with his birth date is pointed out and he learns that his ex-wife Cindy is now talking to the press.

“Well, there’s a reason why they’re called exes,’” Travis says.

Chief Deputy Rex George showed up to support Travis at this second meeting in early February.  “Just a little tidbit for you,” he says. “Cindy donated $2,500 to Tracy Murphree’s campaign, and they sat together at the last [Republican] forum.”

“So what do you think her mission is in all of this?” Travis asks, then answers. “To get me out of office. I think all she needs to worry about is that I’ve been a great dad.”

Cindy agrees that Travis has been a great father to their daughter. In fact, not long after the episode on her front lawn in Flower Mound, they found a way to get along for their daughter’s sake. They got along so well that he would attend church and school functions with Cindy and her new husband. When he decided to run for sheriff in 2012, she told him that she wouldn’t support him but if any reporters came asking about him, she would say, “No comment.”

Then, in 2014, she discovered that Travis had another daughter with a woman whom he’d gotten pregnant in early 2000, about the same time he was dating their former nanny. His youngest daughter was born in December 2000. Cindy, though, wasn’t mad because he had another child. She says she was angry because he didn’t have the nerve to tell her, which denied their daughter a chance to build a relationship with her little sister.

Cindy decided to support Murphree openly because of a text message that Travis sent her on Nov. 4, 2015. In the stream of text messages, she and Travis discussed giving back their daughter’s car, which he had purchased for her on her 16th birthday, then took away when she’d received a speeding ticket.

“Carmax and those places will only give me 15K because it’s been wrecked,” Travis texted. “So here is my offer: You and [our daughter] both write me a check to my campaign for $2,500 a piece.”

It was the last straw. “That’s why I donated exactly $2,500 to Tracy’s campaign,” Cindy says.

Since taking office as sheriff, Travis claims that he’s lowered crime in the county, and arrested even more people than the former incumbent, Benny Parkey, whom he ousted in 2012. He's also taken nearly $100 million worth of drugs off the street, although $85 million resulted from one traffic stop and a multi-state investigation with other agencies, his opponent points out. He improved the Sheriff’s Office badges by turning them into small shields large enough to stop several bullets. He claims to have undertaken projects such as spending $10 million to replace a radio system, but Parkey says his administration drew up the plans for replacing it.

Some law enforcement officials claim, though, that not everything under Travis’ watch has gone well. Besides using jailers to supervise inmates clearing a horse trail in Argyle in 2015 or hiring a jailer with a warrant for his arrest, he also did away with centralized internal affairs, according to his employees, which means employees’ supervisors investigate complaints. Not long after taking office, he was also investigated by the Rangers for allegedly bribing another candidate for sheriff to drop out of the race and join his administration when he's elected. They both denied the agreement, and the grand jury did not issue an indictment.

Travis is still refusing to sign off on releasing his DEA records, despite announcing he would do so to more than 150 Republican voters in January, and the attacks from his opponent’s camp have worsened. Questions about Travis’ past continue to creep up in Republican forums across Denton County.

At the meeting in early February with the Observer, Travis claimed that someone should be investigating Murphree, too, because of what he implied to be mysterious circumstances surrounding the golf cart accident that killed Murphree’s 34-year-old wife, Candace, in September 2011 at a downtown celebration in Sanger, a small town about 12 miles north of Denton. “We turn on a street and after a few feet, new pavement turned to old pavement,” Murphree posted on Facebook in response to rumors surrounding his wife’s death.

“There was an 8-to-10-inch drop off. When the cart hit the decline, it shook. I grabbed hold of a rail and out of the corner of my eye, I saw that my wife had lost her grip. I reached for her but could not grab her. Her momentum carried her backwards, and she fell, striking the back of her head on the pavement.”

Sanger Police investigated but determined it was an accidental death. The accident report and the police report, Murphree says, indicate that he was not the driver. Candace died at a hospital in Plano. She was on life support for approximately 24 hours. 

Murphree gave up his Ranger post in Denton County not long after his wife's death. He was filling two parental roles now, taking care of their four children. Former Sheriff Benny Parkey offered him a job overseeing the criminal investigation division and narcotics unit. Parkey lost his re-election bid to Travis shortly afterward. Murphree worked for Travis until January 2015, writing policies that, he claims, the sheriff's office still uses today. He resigned to take a consulting job in the private sector and run for sheriff later that year.

In Sheriff Weldon Lucas' old office, Travis repeatedly stressed that someone needs to look into the golf-cart accident that killed Murphree’s wife, to know for sure if what Murphree claims happened really occurred. The Sanger police report of the incident, he says, doesn't list who was driving the golf cart when Candace lost her grip. Murphree says he wasn't driving the golf cart but simply riding next to his wife when the golf cart struck the pothole, leading to his wife's death. Copies of Candace's toxicology report, which Travis says were sent to local media outlets, reveal that she'd been drinking that evening even though his opponent claimed that she hadn't been drinking, he points out.

“How do you know he wasn't driving?” Travis asks. “Did you investigate that?”

Next to him, his chief deputy squirms and says “Will” a couple of times, then “hold on now, Will” as the sheriff raises questions about his opponent. 

“Look, he’s not saying that he committed a crime,” George says.

“I’m not saying that,” Travis says. “I’m saying, ‘Investigate him.’”

“Will,” George says again.

Travis ignores his chief deputy. “What would happen to you if you ran over somebody? What would you get charged with? That's involuntary manslaughter.”

Murphree says he never said his wife had not been drinking. “Neither me nor my wife was intoxicated the night that she died,” he wrote in a Facebook post on his campaign page. “The driver of the golf cart was not intoxicated. I was not driving the golf cart. The one and only reason I left the Rangers was to take care of my children. If anyone tells you different, they are either ignorant of the facts or are outright liars.”

Not more than three months ago, Travis claimed if he ever had something to say about Murphree, it would be “relevant to his ability, or lack thereof, to protect the people of Denton County.” But this campaign season has been hell. Memes mocking his claims appeared online. The Time for a New Sheriff of Denton County Facebook page began sharing posts that revisited Travis' troubled past.

Court documents, website articles, internal documents, social media trolling — Travis finds himself surrounded, much like his namesake did more than 170 years ago.

Travis' campaign finance report filed in January shows that he loaned himself $245,000, nearly five times as much as Murphree, who reported raising $46,931. He's used some of that money for lamented fliers that appeared in voters' mailboxes with Murphree's picture on the front and the words “Fraud Warning” stamped in red next to it. He pulled a quote from an old YouTube video of his opponent speaking to a class of Sanger high school students about the dangers of partying: “...nobody could out-party me. Nobody could out-drink me.” Murphree says the quote is taken out of context, that he was speaking of his youth when he would have fun with friends in West Texas.

But unlike the Travis who penned the “Victory or Death” letter before making his final stand, Sheriff Travis has had second thoughts about his.  He penned a letter recanting his earlier suggestions about the death of Murphree's wife and sent it to the Observer on Feb. 5:

I have no intention of bringing up the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Murphree's wife, the unanswered questions in the police report about who was actually driving the golf cart, the fact that the toxicology report shows she was drunk when she died, proving that Murphree lied about it and the fact that he's using her death for political gain. I think it's disgusting, but I think it would be equally disgusting if you printed anything about it. It's personal. It's private, and I would never want to see his kids exposed to that sort of thing. Murphree might be a sonofabitch, but that doesn't mean his kids deserve to see their dad's name dragged through the mud.

“This race should be about the safety of Denton County, the job I've done as Sheriff, and Murphree's credentials to have the top job,” he added. 


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