As Bartonville town officials grapple with the fate of the police department, allegations of wrongdoing depict internal conflict in a department that has seen resignations of two top officers, discussions over disbanding the department and, recently, disagreement on personnel staffing.
Former Police Chief Dave Howell tendered his resignation in June, retiring effective July 1 amid discussions among town council members over disbanding the police department and contracting with neighboring law enforcement entities.
Both Double Oak and the Denton County Sheriff’s Office offered alternatives, though town officials did not respond to the proposal by the sheriff’s office and later learned that Double Oak town officials rescinded their offer.
With Howell’s resignation and the resignation of a sergeant, the Bartonville Police Department is currently operating with an interim police chief, Bobby Dowell, one full-time officer and a part-time officer working 32 hours a week.
On Tuesday, town council officials disagreed on a recommendation from the Texas Police Chiefs Association to staff the department with a police chief and four full-time officers — a staff level that was included in the proposed 2014-2015 fiscal budget.
In a 3-2 vote, town officials voted to delay a decision on staffing, seeking a third alternative proposal for a chief and three full-time officers after disagreeing over the first two alternatives, which included part-time officers.
Records from the Denton County District Attorney’s Office show a complaint filed by Bartonville officer Brownie Browning alleging the former police chief doctored time cards for Dowell, who was then an officer, while he was out of town conducting business for the Northlake Economic Development Board of which he was then a member. Browning alleged time sheets appeared to be changed on several occasions, based on his opinion.
Browning contended in his complaint that he believed Howell tampered with a government record, a Class A misdemeanor under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures, and also committed theft of $600 to $900 through the alleged illegal time card changes, which he claimed would be a state felony due to the chief’s status as a public servant.
Texas Ranger Clair Barnes conducted a preliminary inquiry into the charges and indicated to Denton County District Attorney Paul Johnson that there was no criminal wrongdoing by Howell, according to a memo dated Oct. 24, 2013. “After reviewing the records and speaking with local officials, it is believed that Chief Howell acted within his authority. Ranger Barnes has recommended that we do not move forward with a criminal investigation at this time, and his supervisor and I have concurred,” wrote Dewayne Dockery, major with the Texas Rangers, Company “B.”
The District Attorney’s Office confirmed Wednesday there is no “prosecution or status of any (pending) case with our office on the Bartonville matter,” according to assistant district attorney William Shultz.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, former mayor Ron Robertson chided the sitting council for their handling of the police department and the allegations of wrongdoing.
“Instead of following the proper chain of command, you consulted with a private attorney and he advised you to go straight to the District Attorney’s office. You didn’t know if those allegations had any merit or not,” Robertson said. “You were hell bent to destroy the police department. You would destroy Dave Howell’s reputation, his ability to make a living and you didn’t care.
“I served as mayor for 12 years and I’ve never seen anyone conduct business like you’ve conducted business,” he said to the sitting council. “You’re guilty of one thing — you’re all guilty of being morally and ethically challenged,” Robertson said.
Due to comments being made during the public comment portion of the meeting, council members could not respond to the comments, Mayor Bill Scherer told the packed town hall Tuesday.
“If a citizen makes a comment, regardless of how the mayor or council member feels, they cannot respond to it,” he said.
One resident referred to a letter sent out to Bartonville residents about the ongoing conflicts between the council and the Bartonville Police Department, telling the council that it was an inappropriate format for airing differences of opinion.
Council members were considering a number of options for police service, ranging from a chief and four full-time officers to alternative staffing, which included the use of part-time personnel.
Chief Deputy Rex George with the Denton County Sheriff’s Office said he met with town officials last month to offer two full-time deputies with a price tag under $200,000. The offer included 24/7 coverage with night personnel from the sheriff’s office filling in during the deputies’ time off. The sheriff’s office currently has similar contracts with Paloma Creek, Providence and Copper Canyon, he said.
“We feel like we could serve that community at a significantly less amount than what was offered [in the budget],” George said. “There’ve been no further discussions. We haven’t heard back from them.”