During election season, the Lewisville Texan Journal receives email messages, Facebook messages, phone calls, and the occasional anonymous manila envelope on a regular basis. People hear things or find things about candidates and elected officials that they want looked into.
One such manila envelope showed up on my doorstep in March, and it contained printouts of emails that seemed to paint a picture of Constable Raburn's office that was less than flattering. You had prominently in the packet, an email from one of Raburn's deputies that referred to President Obama using a highly offensive racial slur, and a memo regarding the same deputy who left her loaded service weapon in the ladies room there in the government building where Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Becky Kerbow, Raburn, and County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell work. The emails also seemed to show a flawed working relationship with Kerbow. Then there was a memo from a seemingly agitated Raburn apparently trying to regain some control and discipline in his office.
On March 23rd, we submitted an open records request with Denton County to try to obtain more emails to see whether Raburn had responded to the racially offensive email, or disciplined the deputy. We also requested some emails between Raburn and Kerbow to see how they were working together.
We Learn More
While we were waiting on the request to be filled, we learned that Jeri Rodriguez, the deputy who had written the offending email and forgotten her weapon, had been promoted to Chief Deputy. Things had become very difficult in his office, and the other deputies and employees blamed her for it. He lost some employees, and fired others.
One of those fired was his former Chief Deputy Richard Tackett, who is now listed as a supporter of Raburn's challenger in this year's Republican primary election, Barry Minoff. According to Tackett, he was fired while on FMLA leave after a mental breakdown. Allegedly, Raburn sent a deputy to Tackett's home while he was hospitalized to retrieve his patrol car. Rodriguez, we were told, had been involved in a wreck in hers, and they needed another one.
The other thing we found curious, as we were researching was that when we pulled Raburn's TCLEOSE report, listing his law enforcement experience, we found that although his campaign website claims he is a retired state trooper, he had only served 11 years and 10 months with the Texas Department of Public Safety- well short of the normal 20 years one would serve in order to officially retire. 20 years is not a hard-and-fast rule for retirement, since some entities offer buy-outs or early retirement. Further, state law restricts public information about retirees.
Curiously, when we received the response to the open records request, neither the offensive email nor any responses to it were among them, even though I specifically had asked for all emails containing that term. Given the age of the email, it was possible it had just been deleted.
There were a fair number of pretty awful emails included, but many of those had been sent by Jerry's wife, Avie Raburn to him and others in Denton County government. These included various chain emails, such as a collection of Photoshopped images of American icons embellished with Muslim symbols, implying that our nation would be “Islamized” if President Obama had his way.
The requested emails also included one sent from Jerry Raburn's account with a racist rendition of "The Night Before Christmas", rewritten with President Obama as Santa Claus and containing every imaginable derogatory black stereotype. That email, sent to what appeared to be the whole office, was labeled "From Manetta Toth on behalf of Jerry Raburn". It included Jerry Raburn and Manetta Toth in the “To” addresses, along with Rodriguez and five others . Toth, we have learned, was Jerry's assistant, and had the ability to read and respond to his email on his behalf.
Some of the emails between Kerbow and Raburn painted a picture of a sometimes dysfunctional relationship, one that came to a boiling point when Jeri Rodriguez took over as Chief Deputy. One of the duties of the constable is to serve as bailiff and security in the JP court and Kerbow holds court four days a week. There were several emails from Kerbow to Raburn chastising him for not having someone in her court on certain days.
From the J.P.'s Perspective
Knowing that emails don't always tell the whole story, we called Judge Kerbow to see if she could shed some light on how that relationship was working. She thought the work was getting done and warrants handled correctly, but admitted that the relationship with Chief Rodriguez had at one point been difficult, as evidenced by a frustrated email to Raburn pondering whether Rodriguez was "hormonal".
Kerbow explained that in the past, the two offices had worked together very informally, but that the turnover and change in leadership had put a strain on things. Processes that had been handled informally in the past had been pushed back on by Rodriguez. Kerbow said that Raburn's office had been on edge, people were nervous for their jobs, and Rodriguez was seen by the employees as being the cause. Kerbow hired Raburn's former assistant Manetta Toth, whom she says took a pay cut to leave the constable's office and work for her. Kerbow was very happy with the hire.
Kerbow said that she had no problems with Raburn's service overall, and that she had confidence the job was getting done. She said that the constable's office held about 1,500 warrants from her court, and that civil papers were rarely returned unserved.
Kerbow also noted that she runs a tight ship, and that she does monitor employee email to ensure compliance with Denton County email policy.
We Need to Talk
On April 18, we contacted Raburn via his county email to see if we could ask some questions. The email was answered two days later by an assistant, who said that Raburn would answer questions if we emailed them beforehand. We initially sent questions about how his office functions, with the intent of following up on the emails, thinking that discussion about those might derail any conversation about the business of the office. After not hearing back from Raburn's office, we received a call from an attorney in the Civil Division of the District Attorney's office, Moira Schilke. She called on April 27 to say that Raburn was going to answer the questions by the next week, but that didn't happen.
On May 7, the week before the primary elections were to start early voting, we called Raburn's office. His assistant told stated that Schilke was supposed to send us the answers. After contacting Schilke again, it had seemed she was treating the exchange as a public information request rather than a media inquiry. She took the blame for Raburn not responding to emails, but no one had satisfactorily answered why a DA was representing him on these matters.
After sitting on these emails for weeks and not getting a response from Raburn, we posted a screenshot of the offensive email on our LTJ Facebook page. That apparently touched off a firestorm, and some very hateful and bigoted comments there were the first we have ever had to remove from that page.
Finally, We Talk
Last Friday, we received an invitation from Raburn's office to sit down with him and County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell for a discussion on Tuesday - two days into primary voting. Mitchell, who is black, had previously worked in Raburn's office before being elected as County Commissioner. She also oversees his office's budget. Raburn was willing to go on camera, so we have included a video of the discussion.
We will note that the original plan was not to post the video, but we felt like the questions were serious enough that the best way to present the answers to them was to give you the full uncut video.
Raburn was very cordial and somewhat contrite, acknowledging problems in some cases, but assuring that they would never happen again. He clarified the numbers of outstanding warrants and papers to serve. He described the processes he now has in place to ensure that work is getting done and that his deputies cover Kerbow's court. The only questions that Raburn would not answer were those related to Tackett's case.
In a follow-up phone today, Raburn wanted to make it clear that Rodriguez had his full confidence. "She is one of the best police officers I've ever been able to work with. Her people would walk through fire for her." Raburn said that Rodriguez and Kerbow had met for a time after this all happened to iron things out.
Notes: 1. In the video, you can hear me say at one point that I had only had the emails for about 3 weeks. That was incorrect. Looking back, I've had them since March. I started the process to ask about them around 3 weeks ago. 2. Raburn references his new employee Ashley in the video, whom he and Rodriguez hired, and were very comfortable with. Raburn mentioned that he wanted to introduce her to me. Although she was not in the office when we finished the interview for me to meet, Raburn mentioned that Ashley is black. 3. This should go without saying, but the comment about just shooting people instead of using a Taser was a joke - my joke, not his. 4. We have not spoken to Toth or Rodriguez, but made efforts today to try to see if they want to comment. 5. Certain portions of this post are subject to our deletion policy.