By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Valentine's attorney contends the county created the unsigned and often undated disciplinary reports that accuse Valentine of raising her voice to the constable, insubordination, poor telephone etiquette, unprofessional office demeanor, frequent errors, not doing work in a timely manner, being uncooperative with co-workers and making numerous personal calls. "We think they manufactured evidence," Josephson says.
The county attorney's office explains that when the D.A. subpoenaed Valentine's personnel file, all disciplinary documents were missing. The documents are unsigned because a clerk reconstructed the file by printing out Microsoft Word documents; the county attorney's office emphasizes the documents were verified by the original authors.
Valentine's supervisor said in a deposition that Valentine was an uncooperative employee who disregarded office rules and policies and was "very grumpy, dissatisfied and unhappy."
If Valentine was so unemployable, Josephson asks, why did the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office hire her as a file room assistant less than a month after she was fired from Precinct 7?
She's since taken a new job with the county, and now works as a human resource representative in the public health department. She took a $3.50-an-hour pay cut and is three months behind on her Visa and MasterCard bills.
Williams spent his career striving to be Harris County's first African-American sheriff. Williams grew up on Snook Lane about ten houses from Wooten. The two went to grade school together, played on the Tomball High School football team and when Wooten's parents moved to a new subdivision, Wooten's younger brother, James, moved into the Williamses' home.
Williams has a degree in criminal history and worked for the Harris County Sheriff's Office for 26 years. His performance evaluations were all good, except for a three-day suspension in 1978 for failing to call dispatch. Williams says he was patrolling Spring Branch when a guy blocked the road, made racial slurs, pulled a weapon and said he was going to waste him. Williams fired at the man but missed. "He was gonna kill me. I didn't have any choice," Williams says. He says he didn't contact dispatch because an HPD officer already had.
Wooten offered him the job of chief deputy, promising Williams would run the office. Williams thought the added responsibility would prepare him to run for sheriff.
Two months after Wooten took office, Williams says, he reported to the county attorney's office that Wooten required employees to work an extra hour every day without pay to "give back to the community." Williams says he asked if it was legal to require people to work without compensation; an assistant county attorney e-mailed him that it most certainly was not legal, and he took that e-mail to Wooten.
Near the end of July, Wooten told Williams he found had porn on Williams's county computer. "I said, 'No, no, no,' " Williams insists. He explains that he never intentionally went to a porn site -- he says he received an e-mail and clicked on a link that accidentally took him to a porn site.
Williams says Wooten told him the county attorney wanted to fire him; he suggested Williams take a few days off until Stafford cooled down. Wooten wrote in Williams's file that he was placed on a 15-day suspension.
When Wooten stepped down, Michael Butler was appointed the new constable. His first full day in the office, Butler gave Williams a letter saying that when Wooten was suspended, Williams's employment with the agency ended. "When I took over office, everyone's term here ceased to exist," says Butler, the former Precinct 1 chief deputy.
Butler hired a new chief deputy whom he had known for 20 years; Butler says he wanted to work with someone he trusted. He says he didn't want to humiliate Williams by demoting him. "Usually when a person has been in a position of chief it's hard for him to do something else," Butler says. "I thought it would probably be best if we just part company." Williams was only 16 months away from being eligible to retire with a full pension and benefits.
Josephson argues that Williams was fired because he knew too much about Wooten not paying employees. "It looks pretty bad if you've got a guy that comes forward and says, 'You've known about this, you could have done something about this two months after Wooten took office,' " Josephson says.
Josephson filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that the county had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. The original petition asserts that "thousands and thousands of dollars have been withheld from the hard-working people" of Precinct 7. Josephson says the county attorney did not protect Precinct 7 employees by investigating the wrongdoing Williams had reported.
The county attorney's office counters that Williams never specifically reported illegal action. The county claims that Williams spoke hypothetically, asking, If Wooten did this, would it be wrong?
Technically, Stafford says, Williams wasn't terminated. Since Wooten placed Williams on suspension, the new constable "left the suspension in place, which was tantamount to letting him go," Stafford says. "Bottom line is he no longer works here."
The county's main defense is that Harris County policy permits a new constable to hire a new staff. As soon as a constable is sworn into office, everyone in the precinct is automatically terminated and it's up to the constable's discretion to rehire employees.