“Video-Gate”: Doyal should face consequences; benchmarking law enforcement

“Video-Gate”: Doyal should face consequences; benchmarking law enforcement

Image: Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson.

Conroe, May 30 – The “Video-Gate” scandal involving Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal’s filming of political advertisements in his official County Judge Office inside the Sadler Administration Building is a test of the integrity of our law enforcement community. There is every reason to believe that Sheriff Rand Henderson and his excellent team are entirely up to the challenge.

Recent History: Seiler, McCarty

In 2016, a Montgomery County District Judge Mike Seiler lost his job, his career, and his accumulated pension, because he sent some letters, for which he paid, inviting some former jurors to a political function. Law enforcement authorities gave the Judge the opportunity to take a pretrial diversion rather than face the criminal charges.

The political function to which Judge Seiler invited the jurors was on a Thursday evening at Genu-Wine, a local wine tasting shop between Magnolia and The Woodlands. A week later on Friday afternoon the District Attorney’s Office had already begun negotiating a resolution of the criminal charge with Seiler and Seiler’s attorneys. That case establishes a clear time line with which to compare the “Video-Gate” scandal.

It took six (6) business days for law enforcement authorities to investigate the Seiler case and to begin to resolve it. Seiler ultimately agreed to resign from office approximately nine (9) business days later. The Seiler investigation occurred inside of the Public Integrity Unit of the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. In this instance, since Sheriff Henderson had campaigned on the issue of conducting public integrity investigations inside of the Sheriff’s Office, Henderson undertook this investigation.

On April 25, 2017, Liberty County Commissioner Mike McCarty was convicted and removed from office for using less than $750 of county services in the form of county employees to feed his cows and use a trailer for a political fundraiser.

Doyal’s “Video-Gate” problem

In May, 2017, Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal faces criminal charges for “abuse of power” (Section 39.02, Texas Penal Code) and for violating Texas Election Code Section 255.003. Doyal filmed a political advertisement in his official County Office. The Texas Ethics Commission, in Opinion Number 443, made clear that such conduct constitutes a Class A misdemeanor under Section 255.003 of the Election Code. Doyal filed the advertisement on Friday, May 19, 2017, during normal County business hours in his office. He had previously filmed a political advertisement to support his political friend City Councilman Duane Ham on October 31, 2016. The second film is now also part of the investigation.

Will Doyal face any consequences whatsoever? Doyal’s actions would seem more serious than Seiler’s and McCarty’s. The value of Doyal’s office as a film location exceeds $750. Doyal directly used County property for political purposes. Using the County Judge’s office as a film studio would seem far more serious than thanking some jurors in a letter or feeding some cows.

Do the ties bind?

Montgomery County is fortunate to have District Attorney Brett Ligon and County Sheriff Rand Henderson involved in the investigation. Ligon showed his independence in the Seiler case. Seiler was a former Assistant District Attorney (under District Attorney Mike McDougal) and was very friendly to law enforcement as a judge. Seiler was an excellent judge, although he was often controversial, because he would express his pro-law enforcement opinions from the bench once in a while. There was every reason for Ligon to protect Seiler, but Ligon did the right thing and brought swift closure to the Seiler matter.

Will Sheriff Rand Henderson follow Ligon’s excellent lead? Henderson is new to the office of Sheriff, although he’s a highly experienced peace officer who worked his way up inside the Sheriff’s Office under Sheriffs Guy Williams and Tommy Gage. Gage ultimately hand-picked Henderson as Gage’s successor. Gage’s selection has seemed to be a very strong choice for a law enforcement leader so far.

Henderson does have some connections to Doyal. Henderson’s political consultant is Marc Davenport. Henderson believes he is very dependent upon Marc Davenport. Davenport is married to County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport. Davenport’s clients tend to be very loyal to each other and to Davenport and stick together as a political team. Stephanne Davenport’s Treasurer’s Department “houses” (her terminology) Doyal’s daughter as an employee. Doyal contributes substantial political funds to Stephanne Davenport, supports her politically in Commissioners Court meetings and elsewhere, and has hired Marc Davenport himself. Doyal and Marc Davenport are co-defendants in the Texas Open Meetings Act prosecution pending before the Beaumont Court of Appeals.

Doyal is one of five votes on the Commissioners Court which oversees Henderson’s Sheriff’s Office budget.

Voters elected Henderson largely based upon a perception that he has great personal integrity and based, in part, upon his campaign promise that he’d conduct public integrity investigations inside the Sheriff’s Office.

Despite Henderson’s connections to Doyal and the Davenports, there is no reason to question Henderson’s personal integrity or his integrity as a peace officer. Henderson’s reputation as he worked his way up through the Sheriff’s Office was excellent. His leadership team is also outstanding. As citizens, while we should remain vigilant, we should give Henderson the opportunity to complete this investigation of “Video-Gate” and do the right thing.

The Benchmark: Six (6) and Nine (9)

The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, broke the “Video-Gate” story on Sunday, May 21, 2017. The facts of “Video-Gate” are far simpler and require less investigation than even the Seiler matter.

Therefore, it’s easy to benchmark the Sheriff’s Office’s investigation into Doyal. By the middle of this week, six (6) business days will have elapsed since the story broke and since citizens delivered the videos to appropriate law enforcement authorities. By approximately Wednesday, May 31, 2017, discussions between the District Attorney’s Office, as the prosecutors, and Doyal’s legal team should begin. If the Seiler matter is a “benchmark,” then Doyal’s matter should reach final resolution – and public knowledge thereof by approximately Tuesday, June 6, 2017, which, interestingly enough, coincides with the next meeting of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court over which Doyal presides (as well as D-Day).

There is no reason that citizens should question Henderson’s integrity or his ability at this point.

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