Commissioners’ diligence questioned in appointing Stofle constable

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) – Commissioners and a county judge are facing a civil lawsuit over alleged hiring practices for a vacant Constable position in 2013. Now they are also facing questions over how diligently they questioned the man ultimately appointed to the job and if the hiring process itself needs review.

Williamson County Judge Dan Gattis admitted he does not recall ever seeing a state police report showing then-candidate Kevin Stofle’s involvement in a friend’s DWI investigation from 2006.

Kevin Stofle

Kevin Stofle

“I don’t remember exactly, [we talked about] probably just his version, but I also know it was followed up with witnesses and so forth,” Gattis said when KXAN caught up with him outside a recent Commissioners’ Court meeting. (Several attempts to reach the judge for an interview resulted in a one-line email response indicating the issues involving Stofle had been discussed thoroughly).

During the impromptu conversation with KXAN’s Robert Maxwell, Judge Gattis added: “I think if I got a report from an individual and backed up from other people who were involved in that, I don’t know that reading a document would have been any different.”

Judge Gattis also told KXAN he was unsure if he ever read a second document that might have also proven valuable in helping decide if Stofle, a long-time Georgetown Police officer, was the most qualified person for the constable job. The 2009 survey from a state police association paints an unflattering picture of the Georgetown department’s leadership at the time when Stofle was assistant chief.

Gattis did say Stofle brought up both issues with him and the four County Commissioners during the job interview, and they were thoroughly discussed. The panel unanimously appointed him to the Precinct Three post in March 2013. Stofle has held the Constable job for 10 months, essentially in an interim role. He is running in the upcoming Republican primary hoping to win voters’ approval to make the job his by electoral process.

The Constable job came open in February 2013 when the former Precinct Three Constable Bobby Gutierrez suddenly resigned citing other career opportunities. State law states elected County officials appoint an interim successor to hold the post until the following election cycle when a special election will be held. County records show appointments have been made on other at least three occasions recently when commissioners have passed away or stepped down mid-term.

The 2013 Lloyd Lawsuit

The County Commissioners who appointed Kevin Stofle are no strangers to controversy. They are in the midst of a lawsuit over controversial questions asked to candidates for the same constable position in early 2013.

Robert Lloyd

Robert Lloyd

In the summer of 2103 former candidate Robert Lloyd, a Burnet County Deputy Sheriff with 28 years of law enforcement experience, alleged he was asked religious and political questions in violation of civil rights laws. Lloyd is now running as a Republican candidate for Williamson County Precinct Three Justice of the Peace.

At the time the suit was filed, Precinct Three Commissioner Valerie Covey told KXAN the controversial questions were aimed at preparing the candidate for the rigors of the job. Williamson County has paid a private law firm more than $29,000 dollars so far to prepare for the suit which has yet to go to court. Normally County Court hears civil cases. In this case, Commissioners farmed out the work to high profile legal firm Bracewell and Giuliani.

In addition to Lloyd and Stofle the other finalists included:

  • Fred Churchill, Morgan’s Point Police Chief
  • Wade Fowler, Williamson County Precinct 2 Deputy Constable
  • Robert Goodrich, A Texas Game Warden Assist Chief

The 2006 DPS Report (read the full report)

It’s not known exactly the depth of questions brought up during the Commissioners’ 2013 interview with Stofle.  The interview was held in private, and neither Judge Gattis nor Stofle will comment on specifics.

“I answered everything honestly and openly and didn’t withhold any information about anything,” Stofle said.

The police report shows how Stofle, then assistant police chief in Georgetown, picked up Gwen Abell, a friend who crashed her SUV returning home with her seven year-old daughter from a birthday party Stofle threw for his wife. The report goes into detail about how the responding trooper believed the crash involved alcohol and how Stofle tried to cover it up.

Soon after answering Abell’s phone call for help, Stofle got to the crash scene, half a mile from the party at Dale’s Essenhaus on FM 972 and called for a tow truck. He later told an investigating state trooper he didn’t see significant damage, that Abell was not drunk and believed the single vehicle accident could be reported within the 10 days allowed by law for a minor wreck.

Gwen Abell SUV

Gwen Abell’s SUV, courtesy DPS report

State law also reads that an accident with more than $1,000 damage must be reported immediately.  The tow driver at the scene told the trooper he thought there was at least $3,000. damage.

Police photos taken the next day show the truck’s damaged front end and three blown tires. Neither Abell nor her daughter was hurt in the wreck, but the crash was serious enough the property owners where the truck ended up called 911 for help.

The police report shows the SUV went ‘airborne about 20-30 feet, landing in the front yard, struck a tree and spun around. Then [the driver] accelerated heading towards the roadway. However the front end struck the embankment of the bar-ditch and stopped.’

The trooper was amazed Stofle, a 25-year law enforcement veteran, did not call for police himself.

“There’s no way he could’ve misunderstood that there was [more than] minor damage,” Trooper Sandra Adams told the tow driver on the scene that night. Her patrol car dash camera recorded the conversation.

“What really irks me, it doesn’t make any other sense for him to have handled this, this way. He knows better.”— DPS Trooper Sandra Adams

In his interview with KXAN, Stofle vehemently denied there was any intent to tamper with an investigation. He also said Gwen Abell was not drunk, but was reading a text when she went off the road.

The trooper interviewed Abell at her home two hours after the accident and wrote in her report she found signs Abell had consumed alcohol that night, But she admitted she could not put Abell behind the wheel of her SUV.

Did Kevin Stofle give Gwen Abell a ride home that night so she wouldn’t have to deal with police?

“Absolutely not,” Stofle told replied, “I gave her a ride home because she needed a ride home.”

Ultimately a Williamson County Grand Jury found there was not enough evidence to charge Gwen Abell with DWI endangering a child, a felony.  No charges were ever pursued against Kevin Stofle.

The 2009 TMPA Survey (read the full report)

During Stofle’s 2013 interview process, County Commissioners said they also talked about the 2009 survey completed by his former police colleagues.  The survey by the TMPA found a majority of officers thought their assistant chief was not open to new ideas and he did not support all officers.

Stofle said the men who commissioned the survey were disgruntled officers who the chief at the time had disciplined for certain actions. He said each eventually left the department. Stofle himself retired in 2012 after putting in 30 years. There is no evidence pointing to any personnel issues in his file.

Williamson County voters get to render their opinion on Stofle this spring.  “As long as people will continue to elect me, you know hopefully they think I’m doing a great job, and I’ll continue to serve,” Stofle said.

The Constable position pays more than $70,000 a year according to public salary records.

Early voting begins February 18 through the 28th. The primary is set for March 4th.

Judge Dan Gattis will be up for re-election in November. He’s a man who, with commissioners at his side, makes some powerful appointments. With Stofle’s appointment, the Judge said his confidence in the process was not shaken.

“I think the integrity of the process was not compromised,” he said — also promising to look through the DPS report KXAN left with his office in January. Neither he nor commissioners have offered further comment citing concern in contaminating the Lloyd lawsuit.

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