Suspended Hill County Sheriff Michael J. Cox, his former chief deputy and a former captain were indicted Thursday on charges stemming from a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement investigation into an alleged officer-licensing scandal.
Cox; his former chief deputy, Mark Wilson; and a former captain, Leroy Rodriguez, all were named in multi-count indictments, charged with tampering with governmental records and other charges.
Since Cox’s arrest in April, additional investigation by special prosecutor David Deaconson led to a new count against Cox, an allegation that he misused his office by coercing an employee to prepare papers and to assist him with a test he was taking for college criminal justice courses.
Cox, 39, a former Hillsboro police officer who became sheriff in January 2013, was removed from office temporarily by court order after his arrest.
He was indicted on charges alleging two counts of tampering with governmental records, abuse of official capacity and breach of computer security, all state-jail felonies punishable by up to two years behind bars.
Wilson, 61, was indicted on seven counts of tampering with a governmental record and one count of breach of computer security.
Rodriguez, 35, was indicted on two counts of tampering with a governmental record and one count of breach of computer security.
Bryan Winget, 27, a jailer, also was arrested in April on one count of breach of computer security. But he was not indicted Thursday and testified in front of the grand jury.
Deaconson, appointed to handle the cases after Hill County District Attorney Mark Pratt recused his office, said he did not present Winget’s case to the grand jury, but “will consider it at a later date.”
Deaconson declined additional comment because he said the investigation is ongoing and he would not discuss pending cases.
Deaconson called three other witnesses during the three-hour grand jury session Thursday morning. They were Kristy Patterson, a sheriff’s office administrative assistant; Haley Watkins, another sheriff’s office employee; and Tracy Weems, a sergeant with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
TCOLE is a state agency charged with training and licensing peace officers.
Dallas attorney Pete Schulte, who represents Cox, did not return emails or phone messages left at his office and cellphone Thursday.
According to the four-count indictment against Cox, he is charged with “requesting or directing” a sheriff’s office employee to prepare papers for him in February 2014, March 2014, April 2014, September 2014 and December 2014 for a college criminal justice class he was taking.
Cox also got the employee to help him take a test in November 2014 and to prepare a PowerPoint presentation in December 2014, the indictment alleges.
The second count charges the sheriff with using the TCOLE data distribution system to obtain a telecommunicator’s license that he reportedly knew to be fraudulent.
The final count alleges that Cox accessed the TCOLE database and, as an authorized test proctor, submitted his allegedly falsified state licensing exam.
The counts against Wilson allege he submitted notarized county jailer appointment applications without an original signature of the TCOLE chief administrator “with the intent that it be taken as a genuine governmental record containing accurate and truthful information.”
Rodriguez is charged with providing his personal username and password to Winget or others, who reportedly completed a portion of the basic county jailer’s certification course in Rodriguez’s name. He also is charged with submitting false records to TCOLE.
Thursday’s indictments come a month after a Hill County grand jury indicted former Hill County Deputy Alan Markwardt, Cox’s 60-year-old father-in-law, on charges alleging tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, tampering with a governmental record and theft. Markwardt, who was arrested in December and later fired by Cox, remains free on $75,000 bail.
Markwardt, who managed the sheriff’s office property room, is charged with stealing $560 that was seized in a criminal case in October 2013 and then deleting any reference to the seized funds on offense reports using a county computer.
His alleged crimes came to light when the wife of the man whose funds were seized asked that the funds be returned. Officials thought she was lying about the money because there was no report of it being seized, the records state.
But Hill County officials called in the Texas Rangers to investigate after the woman produced a copy of the sheriff’s office report, which reflected the seized assets.