Sheriff Bowles: Gone, But Not Forgetting

Was Jim Bowles defending Lupe Valdez when he sent The Dallas Morning News a letter this weekend, or was he covering his own behind?

On Friday, The Dallas Morning News ran an editorial regarding the poor job performance of Sheriff Lupe Valdez--or, as the paper version of Unfair Park put it in Matt Pulle's cover story a few weeks ago, "Sheriff Who?" The editorial offered some suggestions about, among myriad other things, how Valdez could do a better job running a jail that's being investigated by the feds (it's amazing there was enough room in the entire paper, much less on the editorial page), but it also gave her an out: The mess at the Dallas County Sheriff's Department ain't her fault. No, really. Said the braintrust at Dallas' Only Daily: "Jim Bowles left you a mess. Fixing it would take time."

Which came as news to Jim Bowles. So, on Saturday, he dashed off a letter to The News damning the paper for blaming him, when the real fault, he insists, lies at the feet of the Dallas County Commissioners Court that refused to give him more money for more jailers and more room for all the prisoners the state stuck him with. Though the paper's yet to publish his missive, you can read a version of it at; Allen Gwinn asked the ex-sheriff to fax him the letter, which he posted to the blog two days ago. In short, it says this:

"When will you get it?

Nobody can succeed as Sheriff as long as the Commissioner's Court says NO!"

I called Bowles yesterday to ask him precisely why he sent the letter: to defend Valdez or to stand up for himself? He said he was doing a little bit of both.

"It was more of a case of, let's clear the air," he said Sunday evening. "The News sees fit to come up with an editorial that lambasts the sheriff, and they couldn't leave me out of it. Damn it, leave me alone. That was the ol' straw that broke the camel's back. I am not her defender, and I am not her assailant. God doesn't work that way. I feel compassion for her. She has to do it on her own. I am thankful for the people who helped me do my job during 19 years in office, and I feel grief and sorrow for the people who sabotaged my department in the last year and tried to grease the wheels to make me lose. God'll get them."

That soliloquy came at the end of a 90-minute phone call, during which Bowles quoted Shakespeare ("The evil that men do lives after them/The good is oft interred with their bones"), damned the media for failing to clear his name after a judge threw out all the charges the Dallas and Collin county district attornies lobbed at him regarding his relationship with commisary vendor Jack Madera in 2003 and '04 and offered his account of how the Dallas County Commissioners Court refused to provide him with the funds and folks necessary to run an overcrowded jail that, during his tenure, passed 18 of 19 inspections with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. While much of the conversation was off the record, this much became crystal-clear: Damned if Bowles is going to let the media or the county commissioners or anyone else continue to portray him as a man who let the sheriff's department go to ruin.

For instance, he talked at great length about commissioner Mike Cantrell's assertion --in Pulle's September piece about health conditions in the jail--that Bowles refused to let commissioners even into the jail. That, Bowles says with a slight rise in his voice, "is a bald-faced lie. I begged those people to come over there. Jim Jackson, when he was commissioner, came over a few times and worked a shift. Ask Cantrell how that happened if I wouldn't let them into the jail." He insisted the commissioners refused his pleas for more staff, for better medical facilities, for "more realistic pay." As he put it, "Dallas County's at the very bottom of the scale. We're the fifth-largest jail in the country, and they're paid more in Duncanville to handle book-ins for overdue library books than Dallas is to handle what we have to, which is prisoners of all ages, all sexes, those who are pre- and post-adjucation from class-C misdemeanors to felonies." And he talked about his family's history in law enforcement--his grandfather was a deputy marshall, his father a Dallas police officer--and how being a peace officer "is what God created me for."

Keep in mind, this was to be a short chat about a short letter sent to another newspaper. But two years after being hung out to dry--by, Bowles insists, the media and people with whom he worked--the man wants it known he will accept no more blame for having done what he believed to have been a good job. "I will not knowingly do anything wrong," he insisted. "But that's the way life is, fella. Doesn't make a damned bit of difference how well you do or for how long you do it. If somebody decides to turn on you, you'd better watch your back side." Spoken like a man who still runs a county jail. --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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