Twin Peaks shootout

A federal judge has extended a stay in civil rights lawsuits filed by bikers arrested after the Twin Peaks shootout. At the same time, the judge signaled he may not extend the stay further for unindicted plaintiffs without specifics confirming they are actively being investigated.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson, file

As McLennan County leaders prepare for the first trials from the May 2015 Twin Peaks shootout, commissioners have adjusted overtime rules for the Sheriff’s Office.

The county will offer overtime pay for extra hours deputies spend working trials related to the day that left nine dead, two dozen wounded and almost 200 behind bars. Typically, deputies receive time off to offset any overtime they work, rather than additional pay.

Chief Deputy David Kilcrease told commissioners that deputies are likely to accrue a lot of overtime because of the complexity of the security needed for the trials. The first trial is scheduled to start in April.

Many deputies work other jobs and likely won’t have time to earn the supplemental income during the trials, Kilcrease said.

“We’re going to have, not just two competing motorcycle groups who both have violent tendencies, but they’ve also got a lot affiliated groups,” he said. “There’s a huge number of people who may or may not be prone to violence or acting out in a way that’s inappropriate.”

County Judge Scott Felton said he doesn’t expect the financial impact of paying deputies overtime during the trials to be sustainable. The court can always reconsider its position, he said.

Felton said county leaders have no idea how much overtime the trials could require, but they know the trials could impact deputies’ ability to work other jobs.

“We have already stepped up security, not just for Twin Peaks, but for a couple other things too,” Felton said. “We just can’t take any chances. This is a time where, we always want to be good stewards of taxpayers’ money, but this might be a time when we don’t want to be too tight that we don’t provide enough security for the folks.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Kelly Snell asked Kilcrease to report to commissioners monthly with an update on overtime costs.

Felton said overtime pay is a flexible solution for temporary but high-profile cases when adding full-time staff isn’t necessary but more presence is necessary. Commissioners are not security experts, and the overtime allowance equips the experts to do their work, he said.

County Auditor Stan Chambers said there’s no line-item in the budget for overtime pay for deputies. However, especially with larger departments, there are always vacancies and turnover that leave budgeted money uncommitted, he said.

That uncommitted money is unpredictable, though, Chambers said. In the fiscal year 2016 budget, there was $20,063 left at the end of the year in the line-item for full-time employees. In fiscal year 2015, there was $93,282 remaining by the end of the year.

A trial a month for 150 defendants could spread this out over 12 years, and comp time is a vicious cycle, Kilcrease said.

When a deputy works eight hours of overtime, because the pay is time-and-a-half, that individual earns 12 hours of comp time, he said. Then that deputy takes his comp time, forcing another deputy to work overtime, and the cycle continues, he said.

Comp time isn’t as attractive to the county as it was 20 years ago, he said. Owed comp time is considered a debt that must be reported, and it is used in bond ratings. An employee’s comp time also rolls over year to year. A person can only accrue 440 hours of comp time. After that, the county must pay them, he said. Also, if an employee were to retire with accrued comp time, those hours are paid out at the last rate of pay, not the rate of pay of when it might have been obtained, he said.

Comp time also doesn’t allow a deputy to save up for a family vacation or other needs like overtime pay or off-duty work does, Kilcrease said.

Security measures outside the norm will be necessary for the trials, including a significant physical presence in and outside the building, he said. The sheriff’s office has reached out to other agencies about providing assistance, including the Texas Department of Public Safety, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and received positive responses, Kilcrease said.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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