With an intelligent leader willing to acknowledge his mistakes, the Sheriff’s Office has a strong possibility – but not a certainty – to recover from the Davenport era

Sheriff Rand Henderson in the old uniform of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

Conroe, April 29 – The past two months have been terrible for Sheriff Rand Henderson and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. Here’s the tragic timeline since the end of February, 2018:

Wednesday, February 21 – Sheriff Henderson ended his political connections to corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport, the head of the Davenport Ring, after District Attorney Brett Ligon made clear that he would not support any politician affiliated with the political boss.

Sunday, March 4 – Captain Randy Eaves, Law Enforcement Division, committed suicide.

Monday, March 5 – The Golden Hammer received the patrol officers’ anonymous letter which they also submitted to the Sheriff’s Office.

Tuesday, March 6 – Republican Primary Election where County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport lost by a landslide as did County Judge Craig Doyal.

Sunday, March 11 – The Golden Hammer published the patrol officers’ anonymous letter. The letter alleged wrongdoing specifically on the part of Captain Bryan Carlisle, Executive Division, and Captain Kevin Ray, Patrol East Division. Although the letter discussed many specific details as well as broad issues, a primary theme was that the leadership in the Sheriff’s Office seemed to pay “political games of power.” Another important theme in the letter was that Sheriff Henderson and his leadership team were out of touch with the rank-and-file peace officers working in the Sheriff’s Office.

Monday, March 12 – Captain Eaves’ funeral service.

Thursday, March 15 – Sheriff Henderson’s interview with this newspaper appeared. Henderson answered many questions and didn’t avoid answering any. Many Sheriff’s Office personnel criticized Henderson for coming across as too political and not facing the reality of the canyon existing between the higher level officers and the line troops.

Thursday, March 22 – The Sheriff’s Office suspended Captain Carlisle and Captain Ray pending investigations.

Thursday, April 5 – Catherine Eaves, the widow of Captain Randy Eaves, gave an interview to The Golden Hammer after she had contacted the Publisher to tell her family’s story about what happened. Mrs. Eaves was very critical of Chief Deputy Ken Culbreath, Sheriff Henderson, and others in the leadership team. She also criticized Sheriff Henderson for being too political.

Tuesday, April 17 – Captain Carlisle resigned as part of a plea agreement with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.

Wednesday, April 18 – The Golden Hammer received a second letter from the patrol officers. The letter indicated that they also provided a copy of the letter to the District Attorney as well as the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE). That letter focused on two major concerns: (1) perceived poor treatment of Sheriff’s Deputies by Sheriff Henderson and his Captains, and (2) the behavior of the Captains, which included an allegation that Jail Administrator and Captain Oliver Coward had ordered a Jail Sergeant to take his annual certification course and examination for him.

Thursday, April 19 – Captain Howard resigned from the Sheriff’s Office and turned in his badge to Sheriff Henderson. The Sheriff appointed Chief Deputy Ken Culbreath as Acting Jail Administrator in addition to Culbreath’s other duties.

Sunday, April 22 – The Golden Hammer identified Sergeant Sample as the officer involved in the TCOLE incident with Captain Howard.

Monday, April 23 – Sergeant Sample resigned from the Sheriff’s Office.

Tuesday, April 24 – Sheriff Henderson appointed Lieutenant Andrew Eason as Jail Administrator and Captain.

Wednesday, April 25 – Chief Deputy Ken Culbreath resigned from the Sheriff’s Office in light of pending investigations of the District Attorney’s Office and the Texas Rangers.

Wednesday, April 25 – Captain Ray resigned from the Sheriff’s Office.

Wednesday, April 25 – Sheriff Henderson appointed Lieutenant Tim Holifield as the new Captain over The Woodlands Division and moved Captain Allison Allen to the position in charge of the Executive Division.

Although the Commissioners Court approved additional positions within the Sheriff’s Office, morale is at an all time low for at least the past several years while almost one hundred peace officers have left service. Numerous officers – both current employees and former employees – have described their frustration with the policies of Sheriff Henderson whom many of them say constructed an insular leadership structure that isolated him from what is actually occurring in the Sheriff’s Office. As the patrolmen’s letter explained, Sheriff’s Deputies have been unhappy with Henderson’s appointments to executive positions, personnel decisions such as requiring all officers to expend their comp time in order to reduce the County government’s liability, and other matters.

A clear picture has developed of what led Henderson astray. Henderson is a very intelligent man. He’s well educating and thoughtful. If you want to have a genuinely intellectual discussion of the theory of criminal justice, Rand Henderson is fully capable of making that presentation. He’s an adjunct professor at Sam Houston State University’s School of Criminal Justice for good reason. He’s an outstanding educator in that field. (There’s no one better than Sheriff Rand Henderson who can explain the details and nuances of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.)

As many have confirmed, Henderson had a strong career as a law enforcement officer before he ran for Sheriff. Former Sheriff Tommy Gage had every good reason to designate Henderson as his chosen successor.

As for personal integrity, it’s hard to judge someone in Henderson’s situation, especially for someone who is outside of the law enforcement community. What peace officers do every day is so different and requires so much specialization and training, that, in reality, it’s difficult for civilians to judge. There is one extremely positive result that suggests that Henderson is basically a good guy: his children. Henderson and his wife are raising two extremely bright, thoughtful, and well mannered individuals. There is no better reflection on a person’s integrity than how his children turn out.

So what in the world went wrong?!

Henderson suffered from one of the gravest problems that people who enter politics must bear. Henderson is not sure of his own political skills. It’s extremely ironic, because in truth Henderson is a natural politician and has enormous personal and political skills. He doesn’t need help from outsiders.

Unfortunately, Henderson’s past is entirely within the profession of law enforcement. Henderson clearly felt insecure about his ability to become a politician to run for a Countywide office, the Sheriff, in 2016.

As a result, Henderson looked for expertise outside of the Sheriff’s Office to help him win the position for which Sheriff Gage had already endorsed him. That’s precisely where Henderson ran into trouble. There was a very strange race between Henderson and his likely opponent for Sheriff, Montgomery Chief of Police Jim Napolitano. Ultimately Napolitano decided he wanted nothing to do with political consultant Marc Davenport. Henderson made the unfortunate mistake of hiring Davenport.

Marc Davenport is an unusual personality. Personally, he makes a bad first impression. Later impressions of Davenport aren’t much better. What Davenport is best at doing, however, is finding insecure people, such as former janitor Wayne Mack or logger James Metts, and turning them into his clients who become totally dependent upon Davenport and come to believe that all of their accomplishments are thanks to Davenport.

Henderson fell for the Davenport line. Henderson failed to recognize his own skills and allowed Davenport to lead Henderson’s political fortunes. But if there were ever any person who did not need Marc Davenport, it was Rand Henderson. Henderson already had the overwhelming support of the employees of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. With Gage’s endorsement and Henderson’s own career in the Sheriff’s Office, he engendered the support of an army of political supporters.

Rand Henderson did not need Marc Davenport. As a political consultant, Davenport’s work is well reputed among political consultants to be “rough.” His media output is not particularly piercing. In truth, Henderson likely come to the campaign with better political instincts than Davenport, and Henderson would have won the Sheriff’s race without Davenport in 2016.

The problems with Davenport began before the election and continued after Henderson took the oath of office on January 1, 2017. Davenport urges his “clients” to work with each other as a sort of band. Despite the fact that Henderson paid Davenport an enormous amount of money – $70,000 – Davenport sent Henderson on political missions such as the odd meeting on September 1, 2015, in which Wayne Mack urged Constable’s Captain Rusty Fincher to drop out of the race for Constable, Precinct 1. The vast majority of political consultants who were looking out for their client, rather than for their own interests, would have advised Henderson to stay away from such a meeting, because there was nothing for Henderson to gain by becoming at odds with Fincher. Davenport sent Henderson into a zone of political risk that clearly did not benefit Henderson.

The bigger problem with Davenport, however, is that he believes he should continue to “manage” his clients (to use Davenport’s term) even after they have won election and are already in office. Davenport urged Henderson to make politically-charged appointments and to make decisions based upon politics rather than what was best for law enforcement on its merits.

And that is precisely where Henderson got into trouble. Henderson appointed his leadership team based upon politics. It’s now clear that some of Henderson’s Captain appointments were extremely risky decisions based more on the person’s political support of Henderson and his or her willingness to go along with Henderson and the team politically than on the individual’s merit as a law enforcement officer. Henderson didn’t ignore merit. Rather, he allowed Davenportesque politics to trump merit.

Henderson has every ability to get away from making political decisions, if he will consciously catch himself if he senses he is making a political decision. Some of Henderson’s recent appointments appear to be merit decisions rather than political ones, which are signs that Henderson may, in fact, be on the right track. In particularly, the appointment of Eason as the Jail Captain was a decision with which the rank-and-file officers of the Sheriff’s Office seem very comfortable. The Holifield appointment is an interesting one. Holifield is very well-liked politically but he’s also very well-respected as a peace officer. Holifield is the real deal. It was clear that Henderson’s appointment of Holifield as a Captain was a strong decision based upon merit.

That’s the type of decision Sheriff Henderson needs to make. At the same time, Sheriff Henderson is moving – albeit slowly – towards more openness and transparency with his patrol officers. Henderson has begun to increase his contacts with the women and men who risk their lives every day to protect the citizens of Montgomery County. Henderson does seem to be moving away from the insularity which got him into serious trouble over the past two months.

On Friday, The Golden Hammer briefly interview Henderson for this article. The brief interview follows.

GH: What is your sense of what has happened in the Sheriff’s Office during the past 2 months? Why did all of that happen?

Henderson: “We had leaders in high places who lost the trust of their people. There was a fear that I would not act and would instead support the high ranking people and not listen to the complaints. I also think there was a fear by those who made complaints of retaliation so the complaints were done anonymously. This purge of personnel has been difficult, but a necessary process to restore that trust. I am humbled and pledge to right the course. I hate seeing the agency I love going though this. We are an honorable and professional agency and I am proud of the men and women who work here and for what they do to keep our community safe. We have made huge strides and achieved some great successes, but the negativity of leadership failures has overshadowed that in the past two months.”
 
GH: What have you learned from what has happened?
 
Henderson: “Trust then verify. I failed on several occasions to verify when I asked the right questions.”
 
GH: What is your reaction to what has happened?
 
Henderson: “I have made an effort to slow things down and get back to basics to include building and repairing employee relationships. The mission has not changed and I fully believe in the direction we are taking the agency. I feel the strategic plan is sound. The execution of that plan has been the problem. We will have a better approach to change as we move forward, but we will keep moving forward.” 
 
GH: What do you plan to do to address your relationship with your patrol officers and have you begun to implement those plans already?
 
Henderson: “I have begun increased communication efforts across the divisions with an initial focus on the non-supervisory ranks. My efforts have been focused on internal communication and less on the external. One forum is hosting “lunch with the Sheriff” events where representatives sit with me and ask questions. There are no supervisors in the room and it is just me with the employees. I have met with representative of five divisions so far. There have been frank conversations and work place changes have come about because of the feedback I have received. I meet with Jail Division representatives next week and I look forward to hearing what they have to tell me.”
 
GH: Are you still committed to zero based budgeting and when do you see that actually happening in full?
 
Henderson: “Yes, I am. We are doing zero based budgeting now and our budget request for FY 2019 is submitted in a zero based format with every request tying back to an organizational goal and strategy.”

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