HENDERSON, Texas (KETK) – On the top floor of the Rusk County Jail is a spacious office with large windows that for years was used by the Rusk County sheriff.
Today the office is empty, except for a large conference table.
When Johnwayne Valdez took the oath of office a few weeks ago as the new sheriff, he ditched the spacious, sun-filled office for a smaller office with no windows in the sheriff’s annex.
Valdez said he took the smaller office so he could be down the hall from his criminal investigation division and closer to his sheriff’s car, so he could more quickly get to a crime scene.
“It’s all about being proactive,” the sheriff said.
Valdez announced he was running for sheriff in the spring of 2019.
“I am qualified, proactive and determined. My approach to law enforcement is simple: work harder and smarter. My goal is, if elected, to make Rusk County one of the safest counties in Texas!”Johnwayne Valdez, during campaign
He did not back down from accusing the previous sheriff, Jeff Price, of not doing a good job.
“I wouldn’t be running if the sheriff’s office was effective in its primary goal of reducing crime and getting criminals off the street,” Valdez said on his campaign website.
He pledged to increase patrols in rural areas and solve more crimes. He said that if he was sheriff, he would make sure his staff was better trained had better equipment. He told voters that his experience prepared him for the job.
Valdez boasted a 30-year career that included tenures with Chambers County Sheriff’s Office, Deep East Texas Narcotics Task Force and most recently 10 years in the Nacogdoches County Sheriff’s Office.
In Nacogdoches County, Valdez served as a shift commander, firearms instructor and SWAT member. He became a K9 officer assigned to handle K9 dog Destri.
“At that time, I had the only K9 in the county, so we stayed busy. The largest load K9 Dasti found was 56 kilos of cocaine on a traffic stop the city made,” he said.
Valdez was pitted in the Republican primary against Price, Rusk County deputy Nathan Parker and former DPS Trooper Jesse Stewart. Price received 44% of the vote, Valdez, 31%; Stewart, 19%; and Parker, 6%.
As top vote-getters, Price and Valdez advanced to the runoff. Price’s strong showing suggested he was on the road to re-election.
After the primary, Valdez was endorsed by Stewart and picked up a key endorsement from former longtime sheriff Danny Pirtle.
“Johnwayne Valdez will be the best person to lead this department and return it back to a department the citizens will be proud of. He will be proactive not reactive, putting the patrol back in the county and out of the city. The citizens of Rusk County deserve patrolling and protection of their property and safety the same as the city receives from their police agencies,” Pirtle said.
Valdez posted videos in which he questioned why there was a high turnover rate among deputies and why so few deputies were patrolling areas far from Henderson.
In the runoff, Valdez easily beat Price, winning 54% of the vote to Price’s 46%. No Democrat ran for office. Rusk County had a new sheriff.
Valdez is one of several sheriffs that began their tenures in January. KETK News recently met with some of these sheriffs who have begun implementing their plans.
Also featured in our exclusive series, New Sheriffs in Town, are:
- Cherokee County Sheriff Brent Dickson
- Anderson County Sheriff Rudy Flores
- Woody County Sheriff Kelly Cole
- Van Zandt County Sheriff Steve Hendrix
Valdez spoke about the challenges of providing law enforcement in Rusk County, which covers 938 square miles and has a population of 54,000. Most residents live in rural areas or in unincorporated towns that do not have a police department. They dependent on the sheriff’s department for protection and law enforcement.
“In Nacogdoches we were used to doing things very proactively,” Valdez said. “And that’s what I want to bring here.”
Valdez said being proactive includes putting more deputies on patrol in the county.
“Being more proactive is not about writing more tickets. We do traffic stops to actively look for other crimes and narcotics,” he said.
Valdez said making the patrol division stronger is a priority. He said he inherited a patrol division that was disorganized.
“The lack of focus, lack of planning, strategic planning on patrols and lack of leadership are the cause of some of this,” he said during the campaign. “Sheriff Price has also said that patrol is only a quarter of the agency and he is right about that. But as every police officer knows, patrol is the backbone of every and if it is not running strong, the rest of the agency will suffer. Patrol can be a rewarding job if leadership gives it the focus to be out in the unincorporated areas of this county.”
Valdez said his staff will be better trained. At the Nacogdoches Sheriff’s Department, he served in several training officer roles.
“Deputies will get improved training, not just state (minimum) mandates,” he said. “This will produce a better deputy to serve you.”
After taking office, Valdez said he watched deputies pull over a motorist and not follow best practice procedures that are used in Nacogdoches County.
“We were out here (the parking lot) at 5:30 in the morning going over procedures,” he said.
Valdez said the department has good employees, but until they are better trained “they are not utilizing their talents.”
Valdez said he plans to talk frequently with other law officers, county officials and the public.
On the first day after being elected, Valdez met with county leaders, including the district attorney and county judge. He has spent time talking with every police chief in Rusk County.
“We are all in this (law enforcement) together,” Valdez said. “It’s going to take all of us. I am here to work with everyone in uniform.”
Valdez promised to be open about how he deals with problems. That promise was quickly put to the test.
Days after he took office, the Texas Rangers informed Valdez the agency was investigating one of his deputies for allegedly assaulting someone. On the department’s Facebook page, the sheriff said the deputy had been placed on administrative leave, charged with misdemeanor assault and booked into jail.
The department is conducting “an internal professional standards investigation,” he said.
“The Rusk County Sheriff’s Office is cooperating fully with the Texas Rangers and we want to assure the citizens of Rusk County that this agency will exhibit integrity, transparency and professionalism,” the sheriff said. “At the appropriate time, the community will be updated as to the progress of the internal investigation.”
Valdez said during the campaign that Rusk County residents told him over and over again they want more crimes solved and more criminals behind bars. He said he will make that happen.
“When someone is elected to office, they make a promise to the voters who elected them, to keep the oath of office and uphold the law to the best of their ability,” he said. “An important part of that promise is to take responsibility for results. Results like clearance rates for crimes. Results like utilizing the jail. Results like reducing turnover rates for personnel.
“Excuses are just another way to avoid responsibility. No excuses.”
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