Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson responds with candor to patrol officers’ critical letter: The Golden Hammer interview

Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson responds with candor to patrol officers’ critical letter: The Golden Hammer interview

Image: Left to right, Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson, former Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and former Graham County (Arizona) Sheriff Richard Mack. Sheriff Henderson sat down with The Golden Hammer yesterday to respond to the patrol officers’ letter critical of his Sheriff administration in the following complete interview.

Conroe, March 15 – Sheriff Rand Henderson spoke with The Golden Hammer for about an hour yesterday morning, March 14, 2018, to respond to the patrol officers’ critical letter this newspaper had published on Sunday, March 11. Please see “With Rough Start To His Administration, Montgomery County Sheriff Henderson Requests – And Receives In A Major Response – Controversial Input,” The Golden Hammer, March 11, 2018. The complete interview follows.

Sheriff Henderson’s comments during the interview were very candid. He didn’t seem to want to avoid any questions. The Sheriff’s tone was very forthright. This newspaper wants to encourage forthright communication between the Sheriff, his Chief, his Captains, his Lieutenants, his Sergeants, and all of the peace officers who work for our community. Sheriff Henderson seems to want to encourage such communication as well and admitted during the interview that he needs to improve in that area.

The Golden Hammer (“GH”): Good morning, Sheriff. Thanks for giving this interview to The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper. What message do you want the women and men who work for you in the Sheriff’s Office to hear from you?

Sheriff Rand Henderson (“Henderson”): That I’m here for you. I’m listening to your concerns and take them very seriously. I’ve read the letter that appeared in The Golden Hammer repeatedly and am taking many elements of it into account in planning for the road ahead.  I appreciate this opportunity to dispel some rumors, including some that were mentioned in the letter.

GH: How did you receive the letter that appeared in this newspaper?

Henderson: I haven’t received this letter, but Captain [Kevin] Ray had received it. I read the letter online in The Golden Hammer.

GH: The letter started out discussing a lack of confidence inside your department, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office? Do you agree that there is a lack of confidence?

Henderson: There are definitely some people in the organization who have a lack of confidence. I believe the communication process will improve that situation. There are a lot of new things going on inside of our agency. There are new faces, new positions, and new philosophies. With those new things, comes stress. I understand that. I want to open the channels of communication. We’ll work on creating more confidence in the whole organization.

GH: Didn’t you experience similar problems earlier in your career when you saw new Sheriffs coming into the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office? How long have you been with the department?

Henderson: I’m in my twenty-fourth year. I started when the [Sheriff Guy] Williams administration was new. About this time in his administration, I saw similar problems, because he had brought a lot of new procedures and people with him as well. I watched closely during the [Sheriff Tommy] Gage transition and saw the stress put on the agency with new faces and new ways of doing things. I knew there’d be a lot of stress put on the agency and a lot of people who were affected by it.

But I also think I could do a lot better helping our people get through this period.

GH: When did Sheriff Tommy Gage come into office and what happened in his transition?

Henderson: Tommy came in 2005. He brought in a new command staff. The difference from my administration is that I promoted my entire command staff, the captains, from within the department with the exception of one person. Tommy Gage brought people from the outside. It created a lot of stress. Sheriff Gage and I discussed that at Randy’s funeral on Monday after the service. His advice has made it easier to understand the current climate and current culture. But they are all new position. There are some valuable points made about the captains in the patrol officers’ letter.

GH: Who was the one exception?

Henderson: [Bryan] Carlisle. He went to the same academy as I did in the 1990s although he graduated a few years earlier. He worked for the Sheriff’s Office during several years in the Gage administration. Then Captain Carlisle became the Assistant Chief of Police in the City of Shenandoah.

GH: As the letter seemed to imply, are you putting politics over and ahead of law enforcement and policy?

Henderson: I don’t think that I am.  I realize I had some political affiliations with Marc Davenport that were unpopular. I’ve severed ties with that political consultant. We’re going to double down on employees and focus on making this organization the best it can be.

GH: Are you going to hire another political consultant to take over the role of Davenport?

Henderson: I haven’t decided on any consultant. At this point, I’m going to rely on myself and my staff to work out these problems.

GH: Let’s discuss some of the points that were in the letter.

Henderson: I want to say that I was impressed with the way they went through the PACT philosophy that I’ve made central to my Sheriff’s Office administration. It’s obvious that the patrol officers are listening to what Ken [Culbreath, Chief Deputy] and I have been saying.

GH: In the letter there’s some discussion of a “police administrator (captain)” who supposedly had sexual relations with his subordinates and numerous allegations of sexual harassment. Is that true? And is it true that he’s involved in a relationship with another subordinate now?

Henderson: There was an allegation when he worked at Precinct 3 Constable Tim Holifield’s office. There was an extensive investigation that even involved the Texas Rangers. He was cleared of the allegations. He took a polygraph test and passed it. The accuser didn’t pass the polygraph test she took. As for the rumor that he’s having an affair with a subordinate now, the captain denies it and so does the subordinate employee. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a closed matter.

GH: There’s discussion in the letter, however, that there was a lawsuit and the current captain had to sign an agreement that he wouldn’t be in any management role in any local law enforcement agency. True?

Henderson: There was a lawsuit. The truth, however, is that the accuser had to sign an agreement that she wouldn’t work for the County government again as part of the resolution of that lawsuit. The accuser had filed a wrongful termination case, so she had signed the agreement that she wouldn’t work for this County again. The captain wasn’t involved in that agreement.

GH: There’s also an allegation in the letter with respect to “P” for Professionalism that another captain had a domestic disturbance at home with his wife and that the way emergency call was handled ultimately led to the retirement of Conroe Police Department Chief Philip Dupuis. What happened?

Henderson: The captain and his wife had an argument. There was a 911 call. There was no violence and no violation of the law. it was an argument in a private household between husband and wife. Both Conroe PD and the Sheriff’s Office reviewed the video of the situation. There was no violation of the law.

I don’t know about that rumor about why Chief Dupuis retired, but I’ve asked the Chief and he assured me that his retirement has nothing to do with this incident. I remember Chief Dupuis had made some comments during the 2016 election that he was slowing down and wanted to retire.  He even mentioned that he might want to become a bailiff in the local courts for the Sheriff’s Office. I didn’t take him seriously at the time.

GH: Is Philip Dupuis working in another job now?

Henderson: I don’t know if he’s working.

GH: The patrol officers’ letter mentioned under “A” for Accountability that the two captains aren’t accountable for their actions. How do you respond?

Henderson: Having sex with a subordinate is difficult to say the least. It’s a violation of our policy in the Sheriff’s Office and of the law. Family violence is a violation of our general orders, in the general orders manual, which are the absolutes that can’t be violated without termination. They’re considered offenses against the agency, especially if there is a violation of criminal law.

GH: In the letter, there is a discussion that there have been “quite a few” officers who threatened to commit suicide.

Henderson: Unfortunately, suicide is common in our society in general. Studies have indicated that it may be more prevalent in law enforcement. One of our first initiatives was the Chaplain program in order to have full-time people available for counseling officers. We also have a Crisis Response team that we’re trying to shore up to make it a stronger program.

The County government as an emergency assistance program, EAP. We’ve seen some failures in that program, which is for all County employees, that I’d want to address with Risk Management and the County Commissioners Court. That program covers everything from grief counseling to problems with paying your bills to full mental health issues. The County subscribes to a program, but they need to do more and they’ve seemed to fail in their mission.

With Captain [Randy] Eaves, the EAP failed him.

GH: Let’s talk about Captain Eaves. Did you and your department fail him?

Henderson: No. The letter says correctly that officers can do an emergency detention order where a peace officer can mandate that someone get mental healthcare. That order was done by one of our Sergeants for Captain Eaves. He got his mental health screening and the Sergeant tried to get Captain Eaves into the EAP program. The Sergeant met with some resistance. Randy signed up for private counseling. He met with the counselor one time. He needed more counseling.

Randy threatened suicide on a Monday night. He was in communication with his family during that time period and the remaining six days. There was no physical threat of suicide but a verbal threat.

We suggested to Randy that he needed to take four days off work, so he took comp time or vacation. On Monday night, the Command Staff met to discuss the situation. I urged that all the captains stay in constant contact with Captain Eaves. We told him “you need to take some time away from work.” He needed the personal time off, because he was very emotional. He was definitely acting differently on the Monday when he made the threat of suicide. He was emotion and distant.

The captains called Randy so many times during his time off that we sometimes even woke him up in the morning to check on him. On the following Saturday, he had lunch either with his family or just with his son. The next day, my son and I were out of town when I get a phone call. Otherwise, I would definitely have gone to the scene myself.

[At this point, the Sheriff become very emotional, so we took a brief break.]

Henderson: There was actually a lot of contact with Randy during the days when he was away from the office. We didn’t want to violate his privacy but we had to do a balancing act.

GH: Are there things you would have done differently with 20-20 hindsight?

Henderson: Looking back there are probably things that we could do differently. The chaplain was in contact with him. I wish we had had more face to face time where he was, but Randy didn’t give us his location.

GH: Was his job in jeopardy?

Henderson: No. Randy was reassured repeatedly. He just had to get his return to work evaluation. He fixated on his embarrassment. Randy Eaves is a really close friend of mine. This one really hurts.

GH: In the letter, there was the comment that “Tommy [Gage] would have made the scene without a doubt.” What’s your response?

Henderson: There is no big difference between how Tommy and I handle those situations. There are some scenes that I would have liked to make that I haven’t. I can do better. I’ll certainly strive to do more. I’m listening to the criticism from these men and women and I’ll listen continuously.

GH: The next page or so of the letter discussed all of the dissatisfaction among the employees of the Sheriff’s Office and changes you’ve planned for how to promote individuals to Sergeant. How do you respond?

Henderson: The dissatisfaction with new leadership is not uncommon. A lot of people left the department with Sheriff Gage. Some saw that changes were coming and left, while others were ready to retire.

There has been a sea change and philosophical shift since I became the Sheriff. We’ve gone from traditional patrol to community policing. We’ve taken patrols’ free time and make that time accountable. It’s uncomfortable compared to what many are used to doing. We’re all learning this new system. Mistakes have been made. As the letter says, “the bus” is community policing. I feel strongly that’s how policing should be done. Agencies see the most success when they involve the community as a force multiplier.

GH: Could you explain what you mean by taking away “free time” from patrol officers when you shift to community policing?

Henderson: Instead of free time between calls and reactive policing to those calls, we want patrol officers to go to hot spots, use crime analysis to determine where those crime hot spots are, and then analytically dispel geographic areas that are problems. The author of the letter talks about intelligent policing versus community policing. Actually, they work together.

When patrol officers have uncommitted time where they’re not reacting to a service call, they should identify and enlist allies in neighborhoods who are affected by crime. They shouldn’t just address the symptoms of the problems, which are the crimes themselves. Instead, peace officers need to get neighbors to buy in to trusting you, keep logs, help with home video surveillance, and other methods of observing what’s going on around them. That’s how we caught a human trafficking ring in The Woodlands, a success for which we’ve gotten national recognition.

Community policing is very different from reactive patrol, which is radio-based, where the time you wait for your next call is uncommitted time. Community policing definitely puts more pressure and stress on line-level patrolmen.

There’s no question, however, that how we do community policing is something we’re still learning, so we’ve got to be open to evaluating and tweaking.

GH: Is there a problem with the Sergeant selection process?

Henderson: With our sergeants, we want to have diversity. Right now, we’re still using the same techniques for promotion as under the Gage administration. But we’re using assessment groups to root our bias in our selection process and to focus on promoting broadly experienced individuals with many life experiences.

You may have heard in the Citizens Academy how we try to develop individual development plans with every peace officer in the Sheriff’s Office to plan to get the education, experience, and training each person wants to achieve. Those plans help us find the right people for each role. We also want diversity in experience and backgrounds within the agency. We’re trying to bring in more women and more minorities. I’m not happy with our progress in bringing women into positions as supervisors, so we’re looking for ways to make that happen more efficiently. I also want more Hispanics and African-Americans in positions of leadership.

GH: Are there really “two teams” in the Sheriff’s Office, the command staff and everyone else.

Henderson: I’m going to evaluate that issue. It’s very disconcerting if that perception exists and it does seem to be out there.

GH: Do you and the captains have an open door policy like Sheriff Gage?

Henderson: It depends on the topic that someone wants to discuss. If they want a formal response about an issue involving their duties or supervision, then they should make an appointment with their appropriate supervisor. If someone wants to express a concern, there’s no chain of command for that. There’s a misunderstanding right now in my department about what the chain of command is. We don’t want a hard and fast chain of command, because I want people to share their ideas with me and the captains.

I encourage people to come talk to me. No appointment is necessary to come see me. I’m out in the community a lot. I asked Tommy [Gage] about that and he said he wished he’d been out in the community a lot more.

GH: In the letter, the writer said that “Tommy Gage always made us feel like we were important to him, and we loved him for it.” Has that changed with you?

Henderson: I don’t think that’s changed. I’ve loved our employees. I’ve made efforts to celebrate our employees. We have promotion ceremonies, a tremendous celebration for our new cadets, and last Friday was one of the best commencement we ever had. We’re planning other employee recognitions, employee cookouts, and a lot of other smaller celebrations for employees. Our department has given more commendations to peace officers than I’ve ever seen.

We also have a PACT card for employees to commend fellow employees. Employee to employee peer evaluations are very important.

We’ve had more than 100 Club nominees than I’ve ever seen. We’ve recently had three award recipients for the 100 Club Officer of the Year.

I’m always looking for feedback.

GH: Sheriff, since you and your department are out in our community and have more interaction with the citizens than any other County department, do you think that Montgomery County is a unified community of people?

Henderson: I think Montgomery County is mostly a unified community. There’s a lot of pride and enthusiasm about living here. It’s a great place to live and that’s why it’s so popular. I admit the politics are not particularly unified. It’s a great place to live. People feel safe here. We get a lot of compliments on our area patrols. The community looks to the Sheriff’s Office as the leader in our jail environment. I’m very proud of our homicide unit, which solved 18 of 18 homicides last year. We’ve made great strides fighting human trafficking and made one of the largest busts in the entire region. We just received a national award for disrupting a drug ring. Our accomplishments have been phenomenal. Our agency is doing great work.

I will work to ensure that employees who feel disenfranchised feel that we value them.

GH: Thank you, Sheriff Henderson.

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