UPDATED 4:52 p.m. APRIL 13: Ratliff denied the reborn allegations and says results of a 1989 polygraph test prove he didn’t beat his ex-wife, Amarillo physician Ann Harral. Story here.
by BRAD ROLLINS
Confronted during a debate in October 2010 with the explosive allegation that he had seriously injured his ex-wife during an attack more than 20 years ago, then-Sheriff Tommy Ratliff called the claim “absolutely a full-blown lie” and said the accuser should be ashamed.
In the days after Ratliff’s denunciation, the San Marcos Mercury found a friend of Ratliff’s former wife who said Ratliff, then a Texas Ranger stationed in the Panhandle town of Pampa, broke his spouse’s collar bone and caused a concussion when he picked her up and slammed her against the floor during an argument in September 1988.
Ratliff’s former supervisor, retired Rangers chief Bruce Casteel, meanwhile, told the Austin American Statesman that Ratliff had been investigated for assaulting Harral but that the investigation was dropped when Harral changed her story after a few weeks.
Doubling down on his denial, Ratliff called on his opponent to apologize and issued a statement on county letterhead that said, “This incident did not happen and is nothing but pure fabrication.”
Without more proof of the allegations against Ratliff, the bombshell declaration never detonated; Ratliff lost the election to Gary Cutler in November 2010 but so did every Democrat on the ballot here. Ratliff didn’t lose by a particularly wide margin so it was hard to tell if the domestic abuse allegation played a role in his undoing. He has since switched parties and is running currently as a Republican against Cutler in the May 29 party primary election.
Now internal Texas Department of Public Safety documents, obtained this week by the Mercury, suggest that Ratliff’s chain of command thought Harral’s account, and those of other contemporary witnesses, were credible enough that they transferred the Ranger to desk duty in Austin, put him on disciplinary probation and upheld the punishment against his appeal.
In one internal memo dated December 16, 1988, Casteel wrote Ratliff that, “You fail to present evidence to convince me that the injuries caused to your wife were not committed by you.” And upholding his discipline two months later, DPS’s then-director Joe Milner writes, “I have decided there is no compelling reason for me to overturn the classification of ‘sustained.'”
After initially denying to Casteel and a DPS sergeant that he had thrown Harral to the floor, Ratliff told them later the same day that “he realized that what he had done to Ann was wrong and whatever we needed to do, just go ahead,” Casteel wrote in a summary of his investigation dated October 10, 1988.
“The relationship that a Ranger has with the law enforcement community and other people that he works with must be untarnished for the Ranger to be effective in his duty station,” Casteel wrote in a memo recommending Ratliff’s transfer to Austin. “Given this situation, the writer is convinced that Ranger Ratliff’s reputation has been severely damaged and he cannot effectively perform the duties of a Texas Ranger in Pampa, Texas. I have a belief that his actions have brought discredit to the Department of Public Safety.”
Ratliff did not return a phone call today from the Mercury seeking comment for this story.
According to handwritten statement Harral gave investigators, the argument that left her injured started days earlier when Ratliff became angry that he had not been invited to lunch with Harral and Sharon Story, whose husband Larry had been Ratliff’s supervisor as a state trooper. The next day, after another argument, Harral left town and stayed the night at a hotel to get away from Ratliff and the argument.
When she returned the following afternoon, Ratliff was furious that she had been gone overnight and accused her of having an affair, Harral told investigators.
“Tommy grabbed me, picking me up off the floor and throwing me to the ground. I landed on my left hip and left shoulder, strking the left parital region of my head on the floor. I ‘saw stars,’ so to speak,” Harral, a physician, wrote in her statement. She fled to her medical practice and locked herself inside before visiting a friend later and recounting the story.
The next day she was vomiting and unable to see patients. She went to the hospital, where she was treated by an emergency room doctor for what she told him was a horseback riding injury, according to witness statements included in the DPS documents. They took X-rays that showed she had a fractured clavicle and mild concussion, the statements say.
After the allegations were made in October 2010, the Mercury requested Ratliff’s personnel files under the Texas Public Information Act but was rebuffed by a DPS attorney who invoked a section of the states’ local government code that says “the personnel records of a commissioned officer of the department may not be disclosed or otherwise made available to the public.”
The documents arrived unexpectedly by U.S. mail in an envelope without a return address and a postmark smudged so badly it can’t be read. The letter inside says the documents were sent by a domestic abuse victim who doesn’t want to see Ratliff return to the sheriff’s office.
Ratliff is confronted with domestic abuse allegations by Wally Kinney, a Hays County Republican and Cutler supporter, at 7:09.Email | Print