Two months after being sworn into office, Panola County Sheriff Ron Clinton was arrested by Texas Rangers and members of the FBI, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 on multiple charges.
Clinton has been charged with tampering with a government record defraud/harm, abuse of official capacity, and theft by a public servant. Warrants for his arrest were issued by the Honorable Charles “Brick” Dickerson, 123rd District Judge.
Clinton was released on a $20,000 surety bond for tampering with government record defraud/harm, $10,000 surety bond for abuse of official capacity, and a $20,000 surety bond for theft by public servant.
A statement by the Panola County Sheriff’s Office confirms the investigation and arrest: “An apparent investigation from two outside agencies has culminated in the arrest of the sheriff.
Detailed information as to the volume of the investigation has not been released to our office at this time. The Texas Department of Public Safety Rangers Service can be contacted for more details. We want to assure the citizens of Panola County that the operations within the Sheriff’s Office remain functioning. Our number one priority is the protection and service or our citizens.”
The Panola County Courthouse was evacuated at 4:20 p.m. Thursday. County employees and residents conducting business at the courthouse were told to leave with no explanation by two uniformed Panola County Sheriff’s office deputies. The Panola Watchman reporter Rodger McLane happened to be at the courthouse conducting an interview for a separate story when the evacuation took place. Calls to officials Thursday were answered with denials of any knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the evacuation. An anonymous source confirmed the evacuation was planned in advance to prevent anyone from possibly seeing the arrest.
At the present time, the Panola County Sheriff’s Office is operating under the guidance of Chief Deputy Kevin Lake who disputed this claim saying there was a drill that took place late in the day when business at the courthouse was winding down. “...It was a security drill, it was very bad timing, but it is not related to this (the Sheriff’s arrest).” Lake went on to dispute comments on Facebook speculating a correlation between the evacuation and the arrest. He said the Sheriff was arrested “...some five hours after the courthouse even closed.” The courthouse was evacuated at 4:20 p.m., putting the alleged time of Clintion’s arrest around 9:20 p.m. Clinton’s arrest and release was online in the jail records around 10 p.m., which can be found at www.panolacountyjudicial.com.
A statement released by Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson’s office said: “The Criminal District Attorney’s Office was and is unaware of any reason for, and received no notice of, the early courthouse closure. The criminal investigation continues.”
According to Davidson, on Thursday afternoon, due to the pending criminal charges, my office prepared a notice of Appointment of Special Prosecutor with an order approving same (arrest warrants) naming D. Matt Bingham, who is the Criminal District Attorney of Smith County, Texas, and four of his assistants to serve as special prosecutors with all the rights, duties, privileges and responsibilities of a Panola County Assistant District Attorney in connection with the investigation of and prosecution of criminal actions and civil removal actions against Sheriff Ronald Worth Clinton.
Other courthouse officials have confirmed that there have been no security drills performed or carried out in the past.
Clinton’s arrest was not included in the arrest report for Thursday. The arrest reports are usually sent daily around 5 a.m. for the previous day’s arrests by the Panola County Detention Center.
Warrant No. 1033-69 - Abuse of Official Capacity - a Class A Misdemeanor; Warrant No. 1034-69 - Theft by Public Servant - a State Jail Felony; and Warrant No. 1035-69 - Tampering with Government Document - a State Jail Felony - all show Clinton stands accused by written affidavit under oath of Ranger Brent Davis filed before the Magistrate in and for Panola County anterior to the issuance of the warrants.
The official warrant affidavit/complaint supporting the arrest of Sheriff Clinton states: “The State of Texas County of Panola Arrest Warrant Affidavit
Before me, the undersigned authority, on this day personally appeared the undersigned affiant who after being by me duly sworn on oath deposes and says: My name is Brent Davis and I have good reason to believe and do believe that on or about the 11th day of January 2013, in Panola County, Texas, Ronald Worth Clinton did then and there intent to obtain a benefit or with intent to harm or defraud another, intentionally or knowingly misuse government property or any other thing of value belonging to the government, to wit confidentially informant (CI) fund, which had come into the defendants custody or possession by virtue of the defendants office as a public servant, namely Sheriff of Panola County, by utilizing the fund moneys to pay a personal debt, and the value of said money was $500 or more but less than $1500.
Against the Peace and Dignity of the State:
My belief of the above is based on the following facts and information:
Affiant is Brent Davis, a Texas Ranger assigned to the Texas Ranger Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Affiant has been a licensed Peace Officer for approximately 16 years.
Affiant was assigned a special investigation into allegations that the Panola County Sheriff Ronald Clinton misappropriated funds, which concern cash payments to informants.
On 11-26-12 Clinton was issued a travel advance of $882.50 for meals to attend a new Sheriffs school in Austin in December 2012. On 11-26-12 Clinton was a public servant, serving as a peace officer with the Panola County Sheriff’s Office.
On 1-1 13 Clinton took office as Sheriff of Panola County, Texas.
On 1-10-13 the Panola County Auditor’s Office requested receipts for funds appropriately used and return any excess funds.
On 1-10-13, Sheriff Clinton prepared a written request to the Panola County Auditor to take funds out of Seizure and Forfeiture Fund to cover expenses incurred during the aforementioned training. The Panola County Auditor denied his request.
On 1-11-13, Sheriff Clinton received $1000 out of the Confidential Information (CI) fund to pay an informant for information relating to the theft of oilfield equipment in and around Panola County.
On the same date, Sheriff Clinton repaid the outstanding balance of $810.58 in the same monetary denomination as the CI Fund to the Panola County Treasurers’ Office.
On 1-30-13 the Panola County Auditor’s Office conducted an audit on the CI Fund and Sheriff Clinton provided an official document to wit: a CI receipt, which had an illegible signature of the informant and on witness signature. The receipt did have Sheriff Clinton’s signature.
On 2-13-13 Affiant interviewed Sheriff Clinton and was provided [the informant] name of “ Joe Stanley”, but Affiant was told he could not meet said informant.
On 2-27-13, Affiant interviewed [the informant] and was told Sheriff Clinton came to his residence in Gary, Panola County, Texas and asked [the informant] to meet with Texas Ranger and tell him that he ( [the informant] ) received $1000 in twenty (20) dollar bills for drug information.
[The informant] further advised he did not sign any documents and Sheriff Clinton provided him the name of Joe Stanley to use as the informant name. Sheriff Clinton stated he would attempt to help with [the informant’s] probation if he did this for him. Sheriff Clinton also gave [the informant] a $20 bill before leaving.
Later on the same date, Affiant received a telephone call from Sheriff Clinton inquiring if everything was okay after [the informant] interview. Affiant Informed Sheriff Clinton he needed to provide the truth and the conversation ended.
I was informed that Sheriff Clinton brought [the informant] to the Panola County Sheriff’s Office and had him provide a written statement stating the Texas Rangers and the FBI forced [the informant] to say things that were not true.
On the same date at approximately 6:47 p.m., Affiant received a text message from Sheriff Clinton advised the aforementioned written statement had been prepared.”
The arrest warrant affidavit was received Feb. 28, 2013 by Panola County J. P. Court Precinct 1, by Judge David Gray.