RUSK, Texas (KETK) – When Brent Dickson was deciding whether to run for Cherokee County sheriff, he turned for advice to a man he knew would be brutally honest about the challenges of being sheriff — a man who had his best interest at heart and he could depend on for support.
Before Dickson ran as a Republican to fill the seat of retiring sheriff James Campbell, he had long talks with his father, Jimmy Dickson, the sheriff of Cherokee County from 1989 to 1993.
“I was running around here (sheriff’s office headquarters) as a kid in this office and in the squad room,” Dickson said of growing up as the sheriff’s kid.
Dickson’s father taught him it was honorable to serve the community.
“I grew up wanting to make a difference,” Dickson said.
After serving 25 years as sheriff in Cherokee County, Campbell announced in 2019 he would not seek re-election.
Five people ran in the Republican primary to replace him: Dickson, who was a detective in the sheriff’s office at the time; Roy Cavazoz Jr. and Johnathan Rhodes, who were detectives in Rusk County Sheriff’s Office; Ben Ellis, who worked for an emergency medical service and in the oil industry; and Eric Long, a Special Ranger for the Department of Public Safety.
No Democrats ran for the office.
During the campaign, Dickson emphasized his experience in law enforcement. After briefly working as a firefighter in Jacksonville, he was hired in 2011 by Campbell. In 2012, Dickson, who was 26, was selected by his peers as the sheriff office’s Employee of the Year.
While at the SO, Dickson has been a deputy, patrol corporal, K9 interdiction deputy, SWAT team leader and narcotics investigator.
“I’ve worked everything from the jail to capital murder and am familiar with each aspect of the job,” he told the Jacksonville Daily Progress when he announced his candidacy. “And knowing what my guys need, because I have been in that position, I think will help me along the way.”
He told voters he would lock up drug dealers and users because they commit a lot of crimes. He said he would find a way to put more deputies on the streets, acquire better equipment for the department and gain the trust of the residents.
On the day before the election, Jimmy Dickson posted the following on Facebook: “I am so proud of my son, Brent Dickson, and what he has accomplished as a law enforcement officer and the way he has conducted himself during his campaign. I could write a book about why I think he is the right man at the right time to lead the agency he loves. … I am confident he will be a sheriff that will get up every morning and go to bed every night working to make this County we love a safer and better place.”
Dickson and Long were the top vote-getters in the primary. In the runoff election, Dickson received 52% of the vote to become the sheriff elect.
And then Campbell caught some by surprise by announcing that he was retiring early. His last day wearing the badge would be Aug. 31, instead of when his term would have ended on Dec. 31. County commissioners appointed Dickson to serve the remainder of Campbell’s unexpired term.
For the first time in a quarter of a century, Cherokee County had a new sheriff.
Dickson is one of many newly elected sheriffs in East Texas. Most were sworn into office Jan. 1. After telling voters they would make their sheriff’s office run better, solve more crimes and have deputies more often patrol rural areas, they are on the job.
KETK recently spent time with several new sheriffs to learn more about their plans and what they have accomplished in the first few weeks as their county’s top law officer.
Other stories will feature:
- Van Zandt County Sheriff Steve Hendrix
- Wood County Sheriff Kelly Cole
- Anderson County Sheriff Rudy Flores
- Rusk County Sheriff Johnwayne Valdez
Dickson talked about the challenges of being in charge of enforcing law in a county that covers 1,062 squares miles. Cherokee extends from Bullard in the north, 54 miles south to Wells near the Angelina County line.
Deputies patrol portions of heavily traveled U.S. Highway 69, 79 and 84 and communities on the shores of Lake Palestine, Lake Striker and Lake Jacksonville.
WHILE IN OFFICE
Since taking office, Dickson has made changes to improve the department. He:
- created a Transport Division for moving inmates between the court and jail
- added a position to the People Crime Division to “be more efficient in processing sexual assault and assault related crimes”
- added a patrol deputy
- started a K9 unit
- assigned two people to exclusively work property crimes
- and asked commissioners to spend county federal CARES Act money to buy new computers to go in patrol cars.
He also has faced challenges that would by trying for even the most experienced sheriffs.
In September, the SO and Wells Police Department began investigating the disappearance 5-month-old Armaidre Argumon. A family member called 911 to report that the baby’s father, Deandre Argumon, and the baby were missing.
Police arrested the baby’s father and charged him with endangering/abandoning a child. He did not have the baby and was uncooperative, Dickson told KETK.
Dickson said other family members were not believed to be involved in the disappearance and held out hope someone had the baby. No one has come forward with information.
In October 2020, the jail failed its state inspection.
The inspector found mold in showers and food preparation areas, sinks and lights that didn’t work, a hole in a cell wall and exposed electrical wires. Jailers were cited for not giving inmates enough exercise time and not following other regulations.
“I agree with the findings 100%,” Dickson said. “I demanded that we fix the problems and I told the staff that I would not tolerate that it would be like it was.”
He put procedures in place to quickly make repairs in the jail and now has standards tougher than what the state requires.
When the jail passed its re-inspection in January, he thanked “all of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office jail staff for working hard every day to improve our facility.”
Dickson is still dealing with the toughest test of his administration. On the night of Jan. 14, one of his deputies shot and killed a man outside a house.
“While on routine patrol Cherokee County Sheriff Office patrol deputies encountered a vehicle on a property located off of CR 1111 (in the Atoy community),” Dickson said in a news release. “The property was on extra patrol for reoccurring burglaries. Deputies attempted to make contact with the (two) individuals on the property and an incident occurred.”
One of the deputies shot to death 26-year-old Justin Pegues, of Jacksonville. The other man, 35-year-old Anthony Brooks, of Rusk, was charged with criminal trespass.
What happened leading up to the shooting has not been made public and the deputy who fired the fatal shot has not been identified. The Texas Rangers are investigating the shooting.
“This office will refrain from further comment so that nothing interferes with the Texas Rangers’ investigation,” Dickson said.
Pressed for more details two weeks later, Dickson told KETK his office is cooperating with the Texas Rangers. The findings of the investigation will be presented to a grand jury probably within a few months, Dickson said at the time.
The grand jury will determine whether the deputies should be charged with a crime.
Dickson said dealing with the shooting death has been difficult.
His faith and family get him through trying times, he said. “I rely on the Lord. I pray. He (God) helps me through my daily struggles.”
Dickson also turns to a man who can be brutally honest about the challenges of being sheriff – a man who has his best interest at heart and he can rely on for support when he needs it most.
“I’m still turning to my Dad for advice,” Dickson said after months on the job. “I talk to him on a daily basis.”
When his time in office ends, Dickson wants to be remembered as a sheriff who cared about others.
“I want people to know that I made a difference … that I made Cherokee County a better place.”