This information was obtained in accordance with the freedom of information act, with proper written approval.
According to a report from the Texas Department of Public Safety Texas Ranger Travis Brazil Shelby County Sheriff Willis Blackwell is under investigation for the criminal charge of Abuse of Official Capacity.
On 1-2-16, Texas Ranger Travis Brazil was contacted by Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Shedrick Sparks about allegations he received concerning Shelby County Sheriff Willis Blackwell. Blackwell had reported used the SCSO Mobile Command Center trailer for personal use on his deer lease. The deer lease was in Panola County and the trailer at the time was not at the SCSO.
On 1-12-16, Ranger Brazil was contacted by Shelby County Judge Allison Harbison about the allegations against Sheriff Blackwell. The County Auditor had traveled to Sheriff Blackwell’s deer lease and photographed the trailer being used on the lease. Judge Harbison expressed her desire for the allegations against Blackwell to be investigated.
On 1-13-16, Texas Ranger Brazil was contacted by Shelby County Attorney Gary Rholes, who informed him that Sheriff Blackwell also allegedly used the county owned utility vehicle for personal use.
On 1-13-16, Ranger Brazil was also contacted by Shelby County District Attorney Ken Florence. Ranger Brazil presented the information that he had collected to D.A Florence, who then requested that the Texas Rangers investigate the allegations of Abuse of Official Capacity by Sheriff Blackwell. D.A Ken Florence provided a letter stating he would seek an indictment and would prosecute any violations of Texas criminal law determined by the investigation.
On 3-9-16 approval to conduct the investigation was authorized by Assistant Director of the Texas Rangers Chief Randall Prince. On 3-23-16 at about 9:58 a.m., Texas Ranger Ron Duff received an email from Ranger Lieutenant Robert Smith indicating Ranger Duff was assigned to conduct the investigation regarding the allegations against Sheriff Blackwell.
On 3-28-16 Ranger Duff conducted interviews with Chief Deputy Sparks who state that “The trailer had been used previously at some of the local festivals. Sheriff Blackwell wanted to take the trailer to the deer lease for a fish fry in 2015.” According to Sparks “the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office never had a meeting in 2015 at the deer lease, but the trailer remained at the deer lease.” Chief Sparks was told by Blackwell that he had utilized some pipe recovered by SCSO. Sparks also stated that “Deputy Roy Bailey had taken the trustees to the deer lease.”
Chief Sparks went on to explain that the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office had been awarded a black Jeep in a Federal Investigation, and the Jeep was kept at Sheriff Blackwell’s residence. In addition, he also kept a Mule (UTV) and trailer to haul the UTV, which belonged to the SCSO. According to Deputy Sparks the Jeep was kept at Blackwell’s residence because it was used for undercover work and that keeping it there kept the inmates from recognizing it. According to Deputy Sparks County Auditor Clint Porterfield had asked where these items were, and they were brought back to the SCSO. Sparks reported the pipe utilized at the deer lease had been stored at the SCSO. He was not aware how the pipe arrived at the deer lease.
On 3-28-16 Texas Ranger Duff interviewed SCSO Deputy Bailey. According to Deputy Bailey he drove his county issued vehicle to the deer lease to mow around the SCSO Mobile Command Center trailer. Deputy Bailey recalled carrying two or three inmates with him, along with two riding lawn mowers, a push mower, and weed eater all on a trailer, all of which belonged to the SCSO. Deputy Bailey said, “He was instructed to perform this work by Sheriff Blackwell.” Deputy Bailey went to the deer lease at least twice to mow and the third time he visited he brought two inmates and a blue Miller Bobcat welding machine to tack weld some pipe. They welded some pipe that was already at the Sheriff’s deer lease. Deputy Bailey was instructed by Sheriff Blackwell to carry out this task.
Deputy Bailey recalled mowing the grass at Sheriff Blackwell’s residence sometime after Sheriff Blackwell had back surgery. Deputy Bailey was instructed by the Sheriff to mow the grass at his residence. Deputy Bailey used the same county lawn mowers and equipment that he had at Blackwell’s deer lease. Bailey noted that the SCSO Mule was at Blackwell’s residence at that time. On another occasion Deputy Bailey went to Blackwell’s residence to collect the seized black Jeep and get it inspected. Deputy Bailey said” His understanding was the Jeep was kept at Sheriff Blackwell’s residence because it was utilized for undercover investigations.
Texas Ranger Duff was currently a Patrol Sergeant for the SCSO. Sergeant Barbee stated after Sheriff Blackwell took office in 2013, the SCSO Mobile Command Center trailer was gone from the SCSO for extended periods of time. In the fall of 2015 Sgt. Barbee noticed that the SCSO had a substantial amount of pipe that belonged to Devon Energy. The pipe was stored in the SCSO storage facility where the SCSO normally kept evidence. Sergeant Barbee said” an outside trustee told him he had a long weekend welding for the Sheriff.” The trustee indicated the pipe being stored at the SCSO was take to Sheriff Blackwell’s deer lease and was utilized for a bridge. Sergeant Barbee explained Deputy Bailey had transported the trustees to the deer lease, and they used a welding machine in custody of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office to do the welding. Sergeant Barbee said, “he observed the inmates build a hog trap at SCSO for Sheriff Blackwell.” An inmate was also utilized to work on an ATV at the SCSO for the Shelby County Jail Administrator. According to Sergeant Barbee Sheriff Blackwell utilized SCSO inmates to check his hog traps. Sheriff Blackwell and the inmates brought some hogs back from the deer lease and cooked the hogs at the SCSO. Sergeant Barbee stated inmates told him the SCSO UTV and trailer were also at the Sheriff’s deer lease.
On 3-29-17, Texas Ranger Duff interviewed Sheriff Willis Blackwell. Sheriff Blackwell stated that the SCSO Mobile Command Center Trailer was taken to the deer lease for a SCSO fish fry and meeting. The trailer stayed at the deer lease for weather. Sheriff Blackwell admitted to retrieving the trailer from the deer lease and taking it to the Poultry Festival, then taking it back to his deer lease.
Sheriff Blackwell stated 14 or 15 pieces of pipe were recovered for Devon Energy and stored at the SCSO. The pipe was magnetized and could not be sold. According to Sheriff Blackwell, Devon Energy did not want the pipe, so they used it around the SCSO. He admitted to taking six or seven pipe joints to his deer lease to use in the construction of a bridge across a creek and using inmates to weld it. He admitted to using a welding machine from SCSO that was abandoned property. Sheriff Blackwell admitted Deputy Bailey utilized a County vehicle and trailer to haul the welding machine to the deer lease. Sheriff Blackwell explained the reason he took the pipe to the deer lease was because it was in the way at the SCSO and he had been weed eating around it for three years.
Sheriff Blackwell admitted to taking the SCSO Mule to the deer lease and taking inmates with him at the deer lease and killing four hogs. The hogs were taken back to the SCSO and cooked for the inmates and employees. Sheriff Blackwell also admitted he kept the SCSO Mule at his residence and the undercover Jeep. He kept the Jeep there so it would not be seen by inmates. He also admitted to using inmates to mow his residence.
Sheriff Willis Blackwell consented to take Texas Ranger Duff to his residence to photograph the area. He also consented for ranger Duff to photograph the equipment at the SCSO. The investigation has been forwarded to the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution.
Attached is the Synopsis if you want to read it the last few pages were omitted for containing sensitive information.