Probe Continues Into Smith County Sheriff's Department - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

1/13/04 - Smith County

Probe Continues Into Smith County Sheriff's Department

Smith County Commissioner Sharon Emmert is frustrated.

"Yes I'm very frustrated because it's been very difficult to get the answers."

Since November she's been asking Sheriff J.B. Smith about hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal surplus items.

"We're not talking about screw drivers and wrenches we're talking about big ticket items."

The Sheriff's Department attempted to show Commissioner Emmert many of those items during a tour Tuesday. She says that attempt fell short.

"This is just a drop in the bucket compared to the volume of things that it appears has come into the county and if we can't account for them then it is not a good thing."

The issue is complex, but the program is not.

It works like this:

Smith County houses federal prisoners, in exchange they receive money and surplus federal property from the Marshal's service.

The Sheriff's Department takes possession of those items, catalogs those with serial numbers and/or titles, and discards the ones which are unusable. The items they can use are then handed out to other departments within the county.

Cataloging items may be the key. But acting District Attorney, Matt Bingham, says according to a previous Texas Ranger investigation this summer, the Sheriff's Department has done that.

"(Texas) Ranger (Phillip) Kemp told me two things he said: 'I don't even know if I have jurisdiction over this sensitive federal property but, assuming I do when the Sheriff's office went to pick up property it would say 2,000 tools, they're not serial numbered how do I verify one tool is the tool they picked up," Bingham said. "He said every item that they were requested to keep track of they kept track of."

Commissioners have the same report but say they would like another opinion. Bingham say's he'll help with that.

"I've always been willing to contact the Attorney General's office and re-contact the Rangers," he said. "All I ask that the commissioners court do is provide me what evidence they have."

Emmert says no matter what she'll continue to pursue the issue.

"I don't know how we are ever going to get to the bottom of this, I really don't but we have got to get some help."

After weeks of debate this may come down to Commissioners taking the Sheriff Department's word that property, such as the dozens of lawnmowers found at the county's low risk facility, were received from the Marshal's Service. They have no serial number and are harder to keep track of.

No charges were filed following the investigation this summer.

Matt Bingham says Commissioner Emmert has given him 11 pages of documents containing items she feels the Sheriff's Department should be accountable for. He sent those items along with a request for another investigation to the State Attorney General Tuesday afternoon.

He says he's not sure what, if anything, they'll do with it.

Chris Gibson, reporting

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