The 10 Best Observer Stories of 2016: ‘Above the Law’

Pamela Elliott was the new sheriff in town. But instead of law and order, she brought chaos.


Editor’s Note: Rural America is too often forgotten or ignored by the media. Journalists and major media outlets are in the big cities. Reporters usually come from urban backgrounds. Small-town newspapers are, I regret to inform, often reluctant to rock the boat out of fear of losing advertising dollars and because, perhaps, the publisher plays golf every Sunday with the county judge, the banker and the school superintendent. I’m proud of the Observer for treating rural Texas as a source of more than urbane amusement or news of the weird fodder. Alex Hannaford’s investigation into the Edwards County sheriff was an important service: It showed how one far-right sheriff, far out of the spotlight, can trample on voting rights and create a climate of fear and intimidation in a small community. —Forrest Wilder

Above the Law
By Alex Hannaford
Published May 2

In any case, the Democrats didn’t launch any legal action against the sheriff’s office, and Elliott never apologized. Instead, the strange showdown became another in a long list of Elliott power plays that have plunged this isolated county into political turmoil. Her detractors say that since her election as sheriff in 2012, she’s waged an aggressive campaign to intimidate Democrats, voters and the Latino community.

The sheriff has arrested elected officials and gone to war with the superintendent. Her office has accused voters of electoral fraud with little evidence. And while embroiled in political combat, she’s been accused of bungling an investigation into a high profile murder case — one that’s haunted Rocksprings for 20 years. Elliott appears to be motivated in part by a growing far-right movement that exalts sheriffs as the last line of defense against a tyrannical federal government.

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Read more of the Observer‘s Best of 2016.