Following the second shooting death of a Kaufman County, Texas prosecutor in two months, elected officials in the county east of Dallas are shaken and left appreciating the normalcy of their jobs.
District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia were found shot to death outside of their home March 30. This followed the still-unsolved Jan. 31 shooting death of Assistant Prosecutor Mark Hasse, in broad daylight as he walked to the county courthouse.
Gov. Rick Perry (R) will make an appointment to fill the district attorney’s seat, which is held in the interim by McLelland’s top prosecutor Brandi Fernandez. She will hold the job for 21 days.
“We’re still in a process of trying to believe that it happened,” said County Judge Bruce Wood. “We hope that the memorial service (April 4) will help people start the healing process. We know closure will be a long way off.”
Meanwhile, Wood said “Our employees have been showing up for work. I cannot brag about them enough.”
The U.S. Marshals Service has evaluated the safety of the courthouse, which contains the court facilities and county administrative offices.
The sheriff’s office’s public information officer had not responded to inquiries from County News by press time, but Wood said the latest he knew was that no physical evidence has linked the McLelland and Hasse cases.
“But in my opinion it’s more than a coincidence,” he said.
Though he is a high-profile public official in Kaufman County, Wood does not feel unsafe and acknowledges that the administrative work he does is a far cry from prosecuting crimes. Still, he feels safe.
“With all of this protection, it’s hard not to feel safe,” he said. “I’d never felt unsafe before. But now, everyone’s awareness is much greater.”
Plans were already in works for a larger facility, with a citizens’ advisory committee making recommendations as to safety concerns in county facilities. Those concerns are now amplified, Wood said.
Kaufman County has received the good wishes of its neighbors and many of the 254 counties in Texas.
“Everybody’s trying to help; we’re trying to do the best we can as county officials and employees to work through it,” he said. “People mourn in different ways, and the big challenge will be finding the way to normalize what happened. We’ll never go back to the way things were before, but we also want to never forget Mike, Cynthia and Mark. The old saying, ‘time is the great healer,’ I think there’s some truth to that.”
Media coverage has been intense, County Clerk Laura Hughes said, with television news vans filling courthouse parking lots. Wood said despite the volume of news reporters, they have been respectful and diligent. The challenge with them, he said, is letting the world know — the British Broadcasting Corporation is among the outlets carrying the story — that what happened is not normal for the rural county of more than 100,000.
“We want people to feel like our county is still a great county, we have great citizens and unfortunately we also have some people who are out to harm others.”
To the west, in Tarrant County, the courthouse closed on April 2 in memoriam to the McLellands, just as it had earlier for Hasse.
County Judge Glen Whitley, a NACo past president, said even on the other side of the bustling metropolis, county employees were feeling the impact.
“Everyone’s awareness is a little more on edge, it’s brought us back to reality that these things happen,” he said. “Prosecutors deal with dangerous folks day in and day out.
“I hope they know we’re all thinking about them and we’re available to do whatever it is they need us to do,” he added. “Whatever they need, we’re willing to help.”
“NACo extends its sympathies to Mingo and Kaufman
counties for their tragic losses. Keeping the community safe is a
bedrock county government service. Brutal attacks on those who serve and
preserve the safety of their communities remind us all of the debt we
owe to those who freely choose to keep us safe.”
— NACo Executive Director Matt Chase
West Virginia sheriff killed in his car
County law-enforcement officials are also being targeted in West Virginia, where Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum was shot in the head April 3 while eating lunch in his car.
Crum took office in January after serving as chief magistrate for Mingo County, resigning to run for sheriff, a general election he won unopposed after winning the Democratic primary by 8 percentage points.
“He was a lifelong law man,” said Commission President John Hubbard. “His life’s passion was to be sheriff of Mingo County. He was the only sheriff in county history to have attended the police academy. He did this because he felt a calling to do that work.”
Crum’s career included stops in two different police departments in Mingo County. He became a special investigator for the county prosecutor’s office and with Williamson Police Chief David Rockwell built a task force to combat the abuse of prescription painkillers, a pervasive problem in southern West Virginia.In the three months Crum was in office, 52 cases were brought to court, and more than 40 are ready to go to a grand jury.
“Eugene had the unique ability to speak with anyone make them feel worthy and important,” Hubbard said. “It was a true gift.”
On April 3, authorities said Tennis Melvin Maynard approached Crum in a parking lot and shot him twice before fleeing. Crum died instantly. A sheriff’s deputy chased and shot Maynard, who was taken alive to a local hospital.
Hubbard said Maynard was apparently stalking Crum. Crum usually had lunch with the county commission following its meetings, but with the commission tied up in another matter, Crum went off to eat alone the day of the shooting.
Crum’s duties will be performed by David Rockwell, the chief of police in the town of Williamson, and Crum’s widow, Rosie, will be appointed to his office.
“It’s something everyone in the department and the county supports,” he said. “This is senseless, in every sense of the word, how this happened.”