Animal Welfare

County Judge in West Texas Has Been Arrested on Cattle Rustling Charges

These cattle ain't for stealin'.
These cattle ain't for stealin'. Photo by Andreas Klammer on Unsplash
Skeet Lee Jones is one of the preeminent lawmen of Loving County, located on the New Mexico border and home to fewer than five dozen people. But the 71-year-old county judge was arrested last Friday for allegedly committing a crime that we’re kind of surprised still exists: cattle rustling.

For those of you who didn’t grow up with Spaghetti Westerns, cattle rustling is the act of stealing livestock. It’s one of the oldest offenses in the Lone Star State, one that still goes down in 2022.

Late last week, Jones was arrested and hit with three counts of livestock theft worth less than $150,000, The Guardian reported on Monday. He also faces a count of engaging in organized criminal activity.

The county judge could spend up to 20 years behind bars if convicted on the latter charge, plus up to 10 years per each count of heifer theft.

Jones' office did not return the Observer's request for comment by publication time.

Loving County is rich in oil and gas but is otherwise pretty desolate, earning the distinction of being the least-populous county in the continental U.S. It’s a roughly 7-hour drive west of Dallas and is home to the lowest poverty rate in the state, per Axios.

Jones rakes in roughly $133,000 annually and has worked as county judge for around 15 years. He was arrested along with three other men following an investigation by the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, which cracks down on agricultural crime. The suspects have all since been bonded out.

The Guardian reported that Jones and his alleged accomplices have been accused of selling stray cattle. They purportedly flouted procedures in Texas’ agricultural code, which mandate people tell sheriffs about wandering cattle so that they can be reunited with their rightful owners.

Jones has apparently made some acquaintances hot under the collar, such as election lawyer Susan Hays.

“You can’t make this shit up,” she said, speaking with NBC. “It’s a pain in the ass to round up cattle and take them to market. And then to risk real trouble for it? It’s just asinine to me.”

Making this story all the more Shakespearean, Jones’ nephew, Loving County constable Brandon Jones, told NBC that his uncle was on an extended power trip.

“He’s had free rein for the entire time since he’s been the judge,” the nephew said. “That’s given him a sense of power and impunity that he can do whatever he wants whenever he wants. Even the feeling of self-righteousness. That he can do no wrong.”

Texas true crime has been making a splash on TV in recent months.

Hulu’s airing Candy, a dramatized series centered on Candy Montgomery, a Wylie mom who was put on trial over the 1980 ax murder of her friend. HBO recently announced it’s launching a series about Rex Cauble, a Denton-based Western wear millionaire accused of heading a marijuana smuggling ring.

So, Hollywood, if you’re hard-up for material and need a new idea, the case of Skeet Lee Jones might have serious potential. Cast an actor who already shares two of three names with the lead character, and you’ve got yourself a surefire hit.
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter