Words, weapons worry city hall
Reports that Mayor Claude Brown made threatening statements against public officials were taken so seriously by top Port Aransas city officials last month that Police Chief Scott Burroughs considered launching a criminal investigation, according to an internal city hall memo obtained by the South Jetty.
Burroughs wrote in the June 19 memo that he found evidence that at least three city employees heard Brown, who was having tax problems, angrily state that he was going to kill everyone at the Nueces County Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office and others.
The allegations against Brown became public when Port Aransas City Councilman Keith Donley posed a question to the mayor during a discussion of his taxes at a council meeting on Thursday, July 16.
“Did you threaten to kill everybody in the tax appraisal office?” Donley asked Brown.
“No,” Brown responded. “God, no.”
After Donley and Councilman Rick Pratt pressed Brown on the matter, Brown said an offhand comment he had made during a conversation at a Port Aransas restaurant had been twisted and blown out of proportion.
“I said, ‘Someone is liable to go postal over there,’ ” Brown said.
But City Manager Michael Kovacs said he heard Brown say something different, at a different location. In an interview, Kovacs said he and Brown were talking during a break in a city council goals workshop June 16 when the mayor started complaining about his tax situation. He was angry at the county appraisal district and the Nueces County Tax Assessor-Collector.
“He said, ‘I’m going to go over there and kill them all. I’ll start at the bottom, so no one will get out,” Kovacs said.
The memo quoted Kovacs as telling Burroughs that Brown also said “he was going to kill all of the drug dealers, drunks and sons of bitches in Port Aransas,” or words to that effect.”
Acting with Kovacs’ blessing, Burroughs not only considered a criminal police investigation, he also contacted Austin prosecutors “to determine if they had venue as a public integrity issue,” according to the three-page memo, which was addressed to Kovacs and City Attorney Michael Morris.
The chief went so far as to contact a Texas Department of Public Safety official who scheduled a meeting that was to include Burroughs and Nueces County Sheriff Jim Kaelin so they could discuss whether the sheriff’s department should investigate, the memo said.
But the meeting never took place, and no criminal investigation or public-integrity probe was launched. Brown has not been charged with a crime.
Burroughs and Kovacs instead decided to change course and enlist the help of Brown’s longtime friend, Nueces County Precinct 4 Constable Bobby Sherwood, according to the memo.
Burroughs asked Sherwood to meet with Brown to discuss the matter. The chief wanted to be included in the discussion, but Sherwood said he wanted to meet with Brown alone, and Burroughs acquiesced, the memo said.
“Constable Sherwood was confident that Mayor Brown would be forthright with him and that Constable Sherwood would be able to determine if a formal investigation was warranted or if Mayor Brown was simply inappropriately venting his frustration,” Burroughs wrote in the memo.
Sherwood reported back to Burroughs later the same day.
“He said he had spoken with Mayor Brown and was confident that Mayor Brown posed no imminent threat,” Burroughs wrote in the memo. “Constable Sherwood advised me that Mayor Brown was very angry with the tax situation and was also angry with Ms. Balentine.”
Burroughs referred to Glenda Balentine, a council member whom Brown shouted at during a June 18 council meeting, saying she had repeatedly engaged in personal attacks against him. (Balentine has denied personally attacking Brown.)
“Constable Sherwood assured me that he would continue to monitor the situation and would immediately inform me if he believed that Mayor Brown’s demeanor changed and/or he believed that Mayor Brown posed a threat to any individual or entity,” Burroughs wrote.
Burroughs and Kovacs have confirmed that the memo obtained by the South Jetty is authentic.
In an interview, Burroughs explained why no criminal investigation was launched.
“There are certain elements (that must be present) to have a criminal charge, and we were trying to trying to decide if those elements were present, and there is no evidence there were,” he said.
But Burroughs said he still believed Brown should have been contacted by someone in law enforcement and that Sherwood was the best choice. Kovacs agreed.
“He’s a county law enforcement official, and that was good, because we didn’t want the appearance of city politics involved, and he knows Claude well,” Kovacs said.
Kovacs said he trusted that Sherwood would treat the situation objectively, despite his years of friendship with Brown.
“We know Bobby has public safety as his number one objective,” Kovacs said.
Contacted for comment, Sherwood confirmed that he spoke with Brown at Burroughs’ request and determined that what Brown said was “not a credible threat.”
“All it was, was something taken out of context,” Sherwood said. “I know him better than anyone in Port Aransas. I have known him literally all my life. Anyone who thinks he is going to do something like that is really just taking it out of context. That’s just crazy.”
Brown’s comments were “no different from someone saying, ‘I waited in a long ferry line, and I’m going to blow up the ferry,” Sherwood said.
Even if criminal charges had been ended up being pursued, the only ones that could possibly fit the situation probably would be assault by threat or terroristic threat, and they’re both misdemeanors.
Shortly after the council’s goals meeting, Kovacs asked Burroughs to make “informal inquiries” to see if anyone besides Kovacs had heard Brown’s threatening comments, according to the memo. Burroughs had Lt. James Stokes check on that, and Stokes reported back Brown “may have made similar statements” to two other city staff members.
Burroughs spoke with a prosecutor in the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. The prosecutor “advised that his unit did not have venue,” Burroughs wrote in the memo.
“He also advised that it was his opinion that the facts may support a criminal investigation, but that it would be a difficult case to prosecute because the threats were not made directly to the tax assessor,” the memo said.
Burroughs said he chose the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to consult with because he spent more than 25 years with that county’s sheriff’s department before taking the job of chief of the Port Aransas Police Department in January this year.
“I have relationships with people there (at the Travis County District Attorney’s Office) I trust,” Burroughs said. “They are detached, and I trusted I would get a plain answer, because there would be no politics associated with any answer they gave me.”
Asked about his reaction to the allegations he made threats, Brown uttered one word:
“Politics.” In an interview, Brown would not name his political enemies or what their motivations
’ might be. He said he was afraid it would provoke more controversy. “I’m trying to be productive,” Brown said. “I’m tired of this. It’s time that we (council members) get back to work and do the right things.”
Brown insisted that he meant no real threat when he talked about county tax authorities.
“I assure you, no one at the tax appraisal district has anything to worry about me coming over there and creating any havoc,” the mayor said.
At Thursday’s council meeting, after Brown denied threatening to kill people at the appraisal district office, Donley asked Kovacs if he really did hear Brown make the threat.
“It was said to me,” Kovacs said.
Kovacs added: “I did not believe it was a credible threat.”
Still, Kovacs said he reported it to Burroughs, just to be on the safe side. Burroughs was present at the council meeting but did not speak.