This 2008 election years’ historic endorsement by all labor unions to endorse Councilman Adrian Garcia for Sheriff was momentous. Many of us celebrated the outcome of getting elected a new Sheriff for Harris County, Sheriff-Elect Adrian Garcia. Sheriff-Elect Garcia win was a historic because this put a big dent towards the end of the good-ole boy system of disparity in treatment, racist behavior and discriminatory practices in the sheriff’s office that has throughout the years under the Heard, Klevenhagen and Thomas regimes has affected AASDL members more than any other employee groups. When former President Roger Scales indicated that racism was alive in well within the department, he was almost immediately ousted from his president post in the white Union by its board-members. However, he was forced to resign soon afterwards.
Moreover, many people don’t know the plight we have traveled. The ultimately change came from the voters of Harris County to give Tommy Thomas his pink slip termination papers as he has done so many of our members. Many people don’t remember how almost every AASDL president was terminated who fought against racism, corruption and disparity in treatment that we publicly exposed to the public through constant news conferences, media contacts and the many letters to the US Justice Department demanding help. Many executive members were lost in these battles; President Robert Connors (terminated) Chairman of the Board Perry Wooten (resigned in lieu of termination, President Mark Sellers (terminated) President Robert Amoboree (terminated) Board-member now President J.M. “Smokie” Phillips, Jr.( terminated, reinstated than resigned). These presidents were lost in the battle but the fight did not stop.
Many people don’t know how former executive member Godfrey Eta of the League was placed in a room and threaten with termination. Faced with the challenge of making a decision of his and his family’s lively hood and career loss in the department versus fighting against a system of unfairness that the majority of Blacks in the Department remained silent and status quo about. Lieutenant Godfrey Eta wrote to Sheriff Thomas a letter resigning as vice-president of the League and later that letter was posted and paraded by white supervisors throughout the jails.
As president today, Godfrey has remained my friend because I knew the plight and the fight he put up against the barriers of racism and the blocks of discrimination. Even today, the fights we put forth together for a better Department still haunts him. Ironically, with all his training, law enforcement experience and a college masters degree, after being promoted over three years ago to lieutenant, he still remains on the nightshift in the jail. Other persons of his same rank and position with less tenure, with less experience and education have moved on and are assigned better positions in the department. In the eyes of Tommy Thomas and his co-horts he still has to pay for his disobedience. I haven’t talk to Godfrey Eta in a long time prior to writing this article, but my friendship remains with him.
It has been a burden of these Black union members to drain the poison of discrimination, corruption and racism from the Sheriff’s Department, no one else has lead and suffered the jolts of terminations and job losses. The League leadership only goal was to always get a seat at the table within the Sheriff’s Office. This was a necessary prerequisite to get to equality and fairness. We wanted to be a conduit of change. As many union leaders got seats at that table, thirteen (13) years ago Sheriff Thomas refused to give us a seat, the door was slammed in our face and we have never met with him since.
As an outspoken League member, I truly believe that in October 1996 a certain member of the Sheriff’s Office conspired with a FBI agent to facilitate with a criminal charge being filed against me to silence my criticism of the department. I was never given the opportunity to explain my position. I was never given the opportunity to fight this out, when other white deputies were given a chance to fight criminal charges pending against them. I learned that after receiving an incomplete copy of a fax indictment, the Patrol Major and the Sheriff without any departmental internal investigation terminated me from the department by sending a certified mailed letter delivered to my house by a postman. However, their actions would prompt a discrimination civil rights lawsuit at a later date that would cost taxpayer’s thousands and thousands of dollars.
Moreover, after the false and fabricated charges against me were dismissed and I was exonerated, I petitioned the Sheriff for returned but he refused to reinstate me to my position without any realistic reason outside the falseness of fabricated criminal indictment that was filled with outright lies. An indictment filled with erroneous statements from persons I never knew, statements from persons in distant federal prisons I never heard of, to a DEA report being plagiarized, to altered surveillance logs and a fabricated federal law enforcement report hand-written by FBI Agent Michael Johnson. Many of people observed Sheriff Thomas racist and arrogant attitude indirectly by his refusal to disclose payments to a county contractor and towards me, “the labor boss” was seen on Channel 13 during the Garcia/Thomas debate which aired on Sunday, November 2, 2008. However, in 1998 filed a federal lawsuit against him and Harris County to force my return. The lawsuit was settled days before my trial, my termination was rescinded, I cannot disclose what I learned through depositions or disclose the settlement and monetary agreements but I swore to myself that I would never work for the Sheriff’s Office as long as Tommy Thomas was Sheriff of Harris County. I decided that I would continue my League involvement exposing this corrupt and racist Sheriff to the public and to make a change for the department that I loved. This is why for the last 10 years I remained in the League as a Board-member, Vice-President and now President. I told myself that I would see this corrupt and racist Sheriff voted out of office and that the League would play a part in his last days as Sheriff of Harris County. I remembered Dr. King, stating that, “silence about injustice is betrayal to America’s promise”. Sheriff Thomas betrayed that promise and many of you remained silent.
I liken the defeat of Sheriff Thomas as the end of slavery in 1865. Because many of the AASDL leaders felt the blunt of Thomas and his surrogates wrath while many Blacks in the department sat out and watched on the sidelines or criticized the movement we started to end the cycle of good ole boys, racism, corruption and discrimination. I remember many planning sessions to exposed corruption than plagued the department from employee thefts to civil rights violations against inmates and citizens. I remember press conference after press conference exposing injustice after injustice, corruption and scandal after scandal, from 16 African-American deputies being rounded up by white supervisors and an investigator and photographed as suspects, to a former retired Major Carl Broachers’ who referred to Black employees as the “n-words” and further citing racist and derogatory remarks towards blacks, women and homosexuals and during supervisor staff meetings Borchers would mimic blacks using Ebonics and used “nigger” and “queer” in his conversation, but Sheriff Thomas instead of firing this major, he was allowed him to retire months later, undisciplined or reprimanded for his remarks. This news conference regarding Borchers actions was more profound because this time we had a white captain and lieutenant who gave departmental affidavits regarding Borchers conduct.
The information reported by 13 undercover was not a mistake because for many years the League has worked with different Houston mainstream media TV and newspapers reporters to get the story of corruption, racist and discriminatory practices by Sheriff Thomas and his good ole boy surrogates out to the public. These media efforts were to let the public know, not only about the plight of Harris County deputies but what was happening within the Department against Black employees. We wanted highlight the conduct of Sheriff Thomas and his closet allies within the Department. During these days; No employee Union would join us in exposing what was happening. No employee Union would stand with us. We (AASDL) were on our own.
However, Sheriff Thomas never knew that a brother from miles away who challenged America to “dream and change” from “politics and policies, as usual” would be so crucial to his re-election. Sheriff Thomas never knew that this brother unlike his political satire racist e-mail joke of Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton seemingly blowing up and puffing away on his office desktop computer, to other racist e-mails found throughout his command staff depicting people of Muslim faith was not a command staff joke. That this brother would be the turning point that would change not only America but the Harris County Sheriff’s Department. Tommy Thomas never thought that a Chicago politician known only as Obama, the son of an African Kenyon; born to a White woman from Kansas and the many good people of Harris County wanting change was challenging and later would change his career as Sheriff of Harris County. We never knew that one day a young brother name Barack Hussein. Obama showed up. This brother too was a dreamer. This brother heard something unordinary. This brother was a politician with a new vision and capacity to connect with people of all colors across America, Harris County and around the world. This brother was like a great earthquake and the subsequent actions of his campaign sent aftershocks or little quakes down to Harris County, Texas that awoke a mass people who wanted change but this defining election and moment will be an extraordinary page in the electorate books of Harris County but in the history books of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department that brought down a start to the end of the good ole boy system that we now as people and employees of Harris County will work close. I predict that Sheriff Thomas will not cooperate with this change. The doors for transition will be hard to break and his co-horts and buddies will find sacred sanctuary positions within the department before the new Sheriff arrives.
In closing, many Blacks, White and Brown became dreamers of the day that Sheriff Thomas and his surrogates would leave or be kicked out of office and positions. They were dreamers of a fair and equal system. The Obama jolt of change for a real America as the dreams of Dr. King, Bobby Kennedy, Thurgood Marshall, and Medgar Evans to the dreams of Abe Lincoln. I remember shaking Barack Obama’ hand in Chicago years ago at the Rainbow Push national conference. The hand shake was like a connection that dreamers shared. The same feeling happened when I shook his hand in Houston during his 2008 campaign visit this year at the CWA offices. Perhaps this is something that dreamers share.
Since the elections I feel some days that my time as president of the League is nearing its end. The elections were so exciting for me and a million or so others. The experience of change in the Sheriff’s Office was so gratifying. Many days I woke up early in the morning putting out signs supporting candidates, talking to people from McNair to Katy, going to churches on Sundays, being on the radio airways and depending on the many friends and family to get the word out that if time now and we cannot miss this defining moment and this golden opportunity to make a difference.
Restoring the Sheriff’s Office credibility within the communities should be job one for Sheriff-Elect Garcia. Under Thomas watch many deaths occurred that affected the minority communities more, from questionable shootings of several Black men, to the majority of inmate deaths being minorities in the jails. Sheriff Thomas never reached out to the minority communities to explain; he thought that promoting a few Blacks who scored high on the promotional exams to supervisory positions in the department would erase a record and years of Jim Crow type behavior. Sheriff Thomas never publicly apologized to the people of Katy for some of the abuses his deputies committed which led Ms. Beard and others to protest against him in the late 90’s. He never publicly or privately apologized to the 16 Black deputies rounded up in the jail but most recently he saw fit to apologize to the Muslim community for the racist e-mails found on command staff computers but he never saw fit to apologize to the people of Harris County. The resonation for change that President-Elect Obama and the American people dreamed was heard in Harris County ending the 40 year career of Sheriff Thomas in shame and disgrace.