by SEAN KIMMONS
Sheriff Gary Cutler fought off his arch-rival once more to retain control of Hays County’s largest law enforcement agency for the next four years.
Final tally of Tuesday’s Republican primary had Cutler with 6,111 votes, or 65.07 percent, to former Sheriff Tommy Ratliff’s 3,281 votes, or 34.93 percent. There are no Democrat challengers. In November 2010, it was a closer race when Cutler defeated Ratliff with just 55.7 percent of the vote.
“We want to continue to meet the demands of growth we have here,” Cutler said after his victory. “This is one of the fastest growing counties in the state.”
He mentioned that his department would work toward alleviating traffic issues, and not wasting taxpayer dollars in regards to the county jail.
“We will continue to keep the inmate population very manageable and pass all inspections,” Cutler said. “It’s a big thing that costs us a lot of money.”
While in office, Cutler touted that he saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by ending Ratliff’s practice of outsourcing the overflow of Hays County inmates to other jails.
Ratliff did not return calls for comment.
Ratliff ran as a Democrat in 2010, a year that saw all opposed local Democrats swept out of office, but switched sides in this year’s sheriff race.
When he jumped into the ring against Cutler again, Ratliff said he’d really been a Republican all along but that he’d agreed to seek office as a Democrat when he was appointed to the post by the Demcrat-controlled Hays County Commissioners Court. They named him to serve as the county’s top law enforcement officer in January 2009 after Sheriff Allen Bridge’s sudden death.
But it wasn’t Ratliff’s political preference that proved to be the hot topic. The department’s morale plummeted under Ratliff, says Cutler, one of the main reasons every law enforcement association in the county endorsed him.
“We had a tremendous amount of support, especially from my employees,” Cutler said Tuesday night. “Also, the citizens like the direction that the sheriff’s office is going in and we’re going to continue that.”
During his term, Cutler said that he placed the department of about 300 employees into a civil service model, which has due process for disciplinary actions. If an employee is found to have violated a departmental rule, Cutler says remedial training, such as use-of-force instruction, defensive tactics, reporting skills and interview and interrogation training can guide them onto the right path.
In addition, Cutler said that he sits on an advisory board representing the department’s sections, and he entertains their suggestions. Ratliff asserted that he did this as well.
Internal documents released to the Hays Free Press showed that Ratliff’s reign of 22 months had almost three times more terminations or resignations resulting from criminal investigations than Cutler’s term of 19 months. Ten out of 12 suspensions also occurred under Ratliff.
On the other hand, research showed that there were more lawsuits filed against Cutler (5) than from incidents during Ratliff’s term (4). Most of the nine cases are ongoing and only one has reached a settlement. That case, under Ratliff’s watch, involved 80-year-old Robert Threadgill allegedly beaten by deputies during his arrest in June 2010. Threadgill was awarded roughly $60,000 in damages, according to county officials.
In his campaign, Ratliff accused Cutler of running off experienced officers when he took office, including former jail supervisor Richard “Dickey” Haverda, who filed suit against Cutler for wrongful termination in September 2011. In the suit, Haverda says his friendship with Ratliff caused him to be demoted twice from captain to corrections officer in just two months. He called the moves “constructive discharge” and eventually retired. That case is still pending.
SEAN KIMMONS reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.