Observer, he learns the voters have turned him out, when an employee brings him the news. In the day’s runoff election, fellow Republican Hugh Sigers, a retired police officer from Baytown, defeated Kreuzer by roughly 150 votes. By this slim margin, the voters of Chambers County narrowly avoided four more years of calamitous leadership in their sheriff’s department. Kreuzer’s tumultuous reign provides the entire state with a case study of what can go wrong when deputies are hired and fired by a newly elected sheriff based largely on political loyalties rather than on personal integrity and job performance. There are no checks and balances in place to ensure the quality of the new personnel. Overnight, a sheriff can stack a department with second-rate cronies and arm them with high-powered guns. Maybe it was the flap over the grenade launchers that cost Kreuzer the election, as he seems to believe. Others could point to his chief deputy’s recent conviction for perjury, or the accusations of racism and civil rights violations, or the sex scandals involving departmental staff. But for the officials charged with overseeing the county budget, it could well have been the skyrocketing legal costs. The year before Kreuzer took over as sheriff, Chambers County paid $26,314 for lawsuits involving law enforcement liability. In 2003, they paid $338,173. But tonight Kreuzer can’t get past the “faction” of adversaries who jammed up his grenade launchers. “It was a complete mischaracterization,” says Kreuzer of the ordeal. “My whole three years in office has been a mischaracterization.” reuzer r had been promising the voters of Chambers County bigger guns since he first ran for sheriff in 2000. At the time, Kreuzer was working for the ahuac public school system, managing the bus barn. In his spare time, he volunteered as the chief of the fire department and as a reserve deputy, first at the sheriff’s office and later at a school in Liberty County. Law enforcement had been Kreuzer’s hobby all his life, never his full-time job. But in the summer of 2000, he saw an opportunity. After eight years in office, the incumbent sheriff had decided to retire. His chief deputy, Wesley King, was running to replace him. In terms of experience, King had every advantage over Kreuzer. King was a veteran cop who had helped run the sheriff’s office for years. He had the blessings of the outgoing sheriff and many supporters throughout the county. But Kreuzer saw King’s major vulnerability: He was running on the wrong side of the ticket. For as long as anyone can remember, the sheriffs in Chambers County had always been Democrats. But in 2000, all of Chambers County was swinging toward the GOP. When the general election rolled around, the Republicans steamrolled the Democrats up and down the ticket. Chambers County residents turned out in droves to support George W. Bush, who received 69 percent of the vote. Kreuzer rode the Republican groundswell right into office. Upon taking over in January 2001, Kreuzer upended the department. Many of the deputies and jailors were loyal to the former sheriff and had publicly supported King during the election. Kreuzer got rid of them en masse, including experienced officers in key positions. The purge left Kreuzer scrambling to fill the resulting vacancies. He needed to hire more than 70 employees in under a month. Looking back, Kreuzer admits that he made some bad choices. “We had a rocky road with personnel for a while,” says Kreuzer. It’s about as close as the soon-to-be ex-sheriff will come to apologizing for what was about to transpire. In his first big hire, Kreuzer chose Dearl Hardy to be his chief deputy. About a year earlier, Hardy had been let go from the Chambers County Narcotics Task Force amid allegations of misconduct. Hardy allegedly had been caught using his undercover identity to rent furniture because he couldn’t get the credit using his real name. \(Hardy could not be reached for comment. According to his attorney, Greg Cagle, the former Since leaving the task force, Hardy had been working as a police officer at the same school for troubled teenagers where Kreuzer was volunteering as a reserve deputy. There the two men had bonded over a common cause: pumping up law enforcement in Chambers County. Throughout the campaign, Kreuzer had criticized the sheriff’s office for being too soft on criminals and had promised a more “pro-active” approach if elected. Kreuzer recognized that Hardy was the man for the job. He was young and aggressive, tough and unyieldingthe kind of guy who would enjoy patrolling with a grenade launcher strapped to his shoulder. Shortly after taking over, Kreuzer and Hardy held a meeting to explain the new approach to the rest of the officers. According to several witnesses, Hardy raised his badge in the air and told everyone in the room, “This gives you the right to do anything you want. This makes you like God.” reuzer wanted to rejuvenate the night patrols. So early in 2001 he assigned a cadre of young deputies to make the midnight rounds under the watchful eye of an experienced patrolman named Jack Kelley. A few weeks later, Kelley resigned from the department, disgusted with the tactics of his fellow officers. According to a sworn statement, which Kelley later provided to prosecutors, Kreuzer’s pro-active mandate had degenerated into something else: a reckless crackdown on the black residents of the county. “I am personally aware of numerous instances where the night patrol deputies exercised excessive force, made arrests and/or detentions without probable cause, made improper felony takedowns and harassed the black residents of the Canal and Hankamer and the Spikes area,” Kelley recounted in the affidavit. In the spring of 2001, a group of black residents assembled in Anahuac to discuss the danger posed by the sheriff’s continued on page 16 5/7/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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