Tag Archives: Joel Richardson

This indictment is, um, huge!

I am trying to catch my breath after hearing some shattering news out of the Texas Panhandle.

I need to be very careful with what I say with this blog post.

A Randall County grand jury has indicted Sheriff Joel Richardson on a charge of “misuse of his position.” He faces prosecution on a second-degree felony. I saw this news and, to be honest, it took my breath away. I am utterly floored.

Nothing I have read offers any specifics about what the grand jury has determined to be worthy of prosecution. Thus, I cannot comment on the allegation.

I do want to make a couple of points, one about the sheriff and another about the process.

First, I long have considered Joel Richardson to be one of the finest law enforcement officials I’ve ever known. I got to know Richardson while I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. He always has been a stand-up cop, a fine leader of men and women and is highly respected among his law enforcement peers. Richardson is not running for re-election this year.

Second, I served on a Randall County grand jury years ago. We would meet regularly and hear complaints brought to us by the district attorney’s office. None of the complaints we heard rose to anything approaching the level of what the current grand jury has delivered regarding Joel Richardson.

I can say this without hesitation: Grand juries do not indict people with Joel Richardson’s community standing without considering seriously the complaint that has been brought forward. I am not passing judgment on Richardson. I am saying that grand jurors take their responsibility seriously.

I want to believe in the sheriff.

Now, though, I need to catch my breath.

A ‘battle of the badges’ is brewing in the Texas Panhandle

Randall County Sheriff Joel Richardson is as honorable a man as I’ve known in public life. So, when he posts a document taking a fellow law enforcement official to task, well … I tend to look carefully at what he has to say.

Richardson is disturbed by what he alleges is being done by the county’s Precinct 4 constable, Chris Johnson. Richardson has endorsed Johnson’s opponent in the upcoming Republican Party primary election.

To say this is unusual is to, um, commit the Mother of All Understatements.

Richardson, who is not seeking re-election as sheriff, wants GOP voters to back Paula Hicks in the March 3 primary for Precinct 4 constable.

He has issued a blistering statement that accuses Johnson of some pretty catty behavior while serving as constable. He alleges that Johnson has been abusive to juvenile drivers, he accuses Johnson of driving away in a sheriff’s deputy’s cruiser and driving it well in excess of 100 mph through Amarillo, he says Johnson has “frisked” motorists who had been stopped by deputies “without probable cause.”

I won’t endorse the specifics of what Richardson has alleged. I just know the sheriff to be a man of integrity and a decidedly non-political cop, even though he has politicked for the office he has occupied for more than 20 years.

What’s more, for a sheriff to get involved in an openly political contest involving another law enforcement official — albeit a fellow politician — suggests to me that the sheriff has a serious bone to pick with the fellow he is criticizing.

Richardson refers to his statement as an “urgent and open letter to the voters of Randall County, Texas, Precinct 4.”

They would be wise to pay attention.

Well done, Sheriff Richardson

I just got word via social media that a great police officer and a courageous public servant is calling it a career in Randall County, Texas.

Sheriff Joel Richardson is retiring. A former Randall County district attorney, James Farren, has endorsed Chris Forbis to succeed him. I don’t know Forbis. I want to speak briefly about Richardson.

I wrote a blog more than 10 years about how Richardson stood up to take the heat when an inmate escaped from the county jail in south Amarillo. He said clearly it was no one’s fault but his own. Richardson didn’t toss any corrections officers under the proverbial bus. The inmate escaped from a “non-hardened” cell, crawled over the razor-wire fence, hitched a ride with a couple of fellows, who took him into Amarillo. The cops arrested the escapee later that evening.

The sheriff took the heat for the embarrassing incident. That’s what leaders do.

With that, I want to say it was my honor to know Sheriff Richardson during my years as a working journalist in the Texas Panhandle.

Here’s what I wrote in September 2009.

Taking the heat, like a man


Sad Monkey RR to smile again

sad monkey

One of my four part-time jobs enables me to write news stories for KFDA-NewsChannel 10 TV here in Amarillo.

We call it “Whatever Happened To …” and it explores issues that might have dropped off people’s radar. The Sad Monkey Railroad once ran through Palo Duro Canyon. Then it shut down when the owner couldn’t comply with demands being made to make the train accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities, under federal law.

Guess what? The train is coming back to life … sort of.

Canyon City Manager Randy Criswell informed the station that the train “has recently been purchased, and will be refurbished and loaned to the City of Canyon for display at one of our parks … the train is actually being moved as we speak to the Randall County Sheriff’s Office, where it will be restored by the inmates there.”

The train had been sitting on some property near the entrance to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It had ceased operating on the canyon floor in 1996. The former owner, who’s now deceased, decided just to park the locomotive and several cars next to the park entrance road.

The coolest aspect of this is that the sheriff’s office will allow inmates — I presume they’ll be jail trusties who get assigned to these work details — to refurbish the ol’ Sad Monkey train. Sheriff Joel Richardson agreed to the deal that will save taxpayers a whole lot of public money. Think about it: The train’s been sitting idle for nearly two decades, through scorching heat and bitter cold all that time. The cost of repairing and dressing up the cars would be immense if the city had to hire, say, a contractor to do the job.

Sad Monkey won’t be running on tracks through the park where it will be put on display. It will serve as a sort of kids’ playground.

It doesn’t matter. The Sad Monkey train has been given new life.

I believe I’ll give thanks today to Sheriff Richardson for providing the manpower to fix it up — and to the new owner, Barbara Logan, for her generosity in rescuing the old train from further decay.


Armored car joins sheriff's force

Randall County, Texas, is where I live. It is a nice place, full of nice folks. It has its share of soreheads and criminals, but it’s not a place thought to be a haven for violence.

And yet …

The county sheriff’s department has just purchased — are you ready? — an armored car.

It’s one of those beastly vehicles associated, say, with battlefields. You know, places where enemy soldiers fire big-time ordnance at each other.


Sheriff Joel Richardson, a good guy and one of the top cops in Texas, has purchased a Lenco BearCat. The armored car is designed for ultimate protection and defense.

I’ll hand it to Richardson, though, for recognizing the public relations hurdle his department must clear.

According to NewsChannel 10: “Richardson’s biggest concern is making sure the public realizes the department is not trying to militarize law enforcement.”

“This is a vehicle not intended for aggression, this is a vehicle that is intended to make our community safer and to save lives,” said the sheriff.

Interesting, don’t you think?

The police in Ferguson, Mo., deployed some pretty heavy equipment when citizens there rioted after a young black man was shot to death by a white police officer. Critics then called Ferguson’s response a bit overheated.

Indeed, little ol’ Randall County’s crime issues seem tepid compared to what the cops in Ferguson faced.

If the armored car is intended to “make our community safer,” as Sheriff Richardson insists, then he’d be wise to keep it under wraps until all hell breaks loose. I’ve lived here slightly more than 20 years and have yet to see anything close to that happening.


Randall County makes a dubious list

It’s not every day that little ol’ Randall County, Texas, gets a mention in a Washington Post investigative story about local government spending.

But that’s what happened recently when the Post included the county in a list of government agencies that used asset-forfeiture funds on things that, um, could be seen as a bit extravagant.

Here’s the Post story:


At issue is a $637 coffee maker that the Sheriff’s Department purchased with money seized from drug busts.

The rationale is a bit odd. Sheriff Joel Richardson said the money didn’t come out of taxpayers’ pockets. It came from drug forfeiture money, the money the cops take in when they bust people for carrying illegal “controlled substances.”

I haven’t bought a coffee maker in a good while. But it does seem as though that $637 is a bit expensive to spend on something that might cost, oh, about a 20th of that price. I think I saw a Mr. Coffee unit at Wal-Mart selling for about $30.

“It’s typical restaurant equipment,” Richardson told my pal Jim McBride at the Amarillo Globe-News. “It’s for any meeting with might have there. Yes, it’s a legitimate expense.”

The Post story chronicles some high-dollar expenses from drug forfeiture funds around the country, including a $5 million helicopter for the Los Angeles Police Department and a $1 million mobile command center for Prince George’s County, Md.

That’s pretty serious dough, but those expenses seem related directly to law enforcement activities.

The Randall County Sheriff’s Department coffee maker? It might be necessary for staff meetings after hours.

But at that price?