People who live in glass houses usually learn not to throw boulders through their own living room windows. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples evidently never learned that.
I’ve watched the 'battle royale' between Democrat Hank Gilbert and Todd Staples with a lot of interest this cycle. I’ve found it particularly interesting that, although the media has given a lot of attention to allegations Staples has made about Gilbert (including that he has some old tax liens and bounced a check a decade ago), the media, at least the Capitol press corps, hasn’t done much to explore the problems with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) that Hank Gilbert’s campaign has worked pretty hard to make public (see here and here). To be fair, they have done a good job of covering Hank's plan to reform TDA, but they've mostly ignored the very real, very dangerous issues with TDA under Staples.
I find that even more ironic given information that I came across the other day about Staples having managed to escape prosecution for assaulting his step-son. Yes, it turns out that incumbent Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples does, indeed live in a glass house. Why the media hasn’t taken notice is anyone’s guess. After all, they've already set the precedent making Hank's family issues campaign issues.
According to police reports from the Palestine Police Department (the full originals which I've posted in the extended entry below), Staples’ has a bit of a record himself, having been investigated for Assault Causing Bodily Injury/family violence for throwing his stepson to the ground, getting on top of the kid, and beating him.
What’s worse, though, is that it looks very much like Staples may have used his Rolodex of political connections to have kept the charges under wraps for years. Back in 1998 while Staples was a State Representative, he was listed as the “defendant” in Case Number 0927-98. According to these police reports, victim’s statement, and multiple witness statements which were sent to me by an anonymous source (the Gilbert campaign says it wasn’t that source—see the statement from them later in this post), Staples grabbed his stepson, pushed or threw him on the ground, jumped on top of the stepson, and struck him in the face several times while threatening to “beat him black and blue.”
The file notes that Staples and his wife admit that Todd Staples was on top of the son while he was on the ground. Based on these police reports, it sure looks like Staples’ was given preferential treatment by the Palestine Police Department and the Anderson County DA’s office. For example, although the incident was reported on July 6, Staples wasn’t contacted about it until July 10th, and then didn’t return a message about it that was left at his office until the following Monday, July 13, 1998.
Then, in a highly unusual move for a police investigation, Staples and his wife were allowed to come to the police station, and then leave and return with their statements in writing. They were also allowed to delay providing contact information for material witnesses until they filed the written statements. Even more suspicious is that when the Palestine Police Department referred the case to the Anderson County District Attorney’s Office, it evidently vanished into thin air after the DA decided not to prosecute it. Months after the incident, on December 15, 1998, Jeff Herrington, the DA for Anderson County, sent a Jacksonville lawyer who was evidently representing Staples a glowing letter claiming that the incident had been reviewed by three separate prosecutors (three! not one, but three!) and Herrington in turn blamed everything on Staples’ stepson.
In spite of that letter, the case was evidently still open until midway through Staples’ run for Senate in 2000, because Staples stepson executed an affidavit of non-prosecution on June 23, 2000. Though the affidavit was on a typed form, the handwriting on the forms looks like handwriting we’ve seen belonging to Staples.
This all brings up some good questions.
NUMBER ONE: Was Staples’ given preferential treatment, and did he attempt to use his position to avoid being charged in the incident, or even taken before a grand jury?
NUMBER TWO: Why wasn’t Staples’ arrested when the incident was reported? Why did no one seek a protective order for the stepson?
When I contacted the Gilbert campaign about this, the campaign confirmed they were aware of the incident and had seen the records, and even offered a twist. This is a statement that the campaign sent me:
We are aware of this incident. The documents you sent us appear to be the same documents our campaign obtained from the Palestine Police Department under a Public Information Request earlier this year. Before we received it from the Palestine Police Department, someone identifying themselves as an Anderson County resident e-mailed the campaign copies of much of this information, too. Paper copies of these records were also mailed to the campaign’s P.O. Box earlier this year with a return address of a P.O. Box in Gun Barrel City which we could not trace.
Because it is not our intention to do what Staples has done and make this race personal, we have not used this material to date, although I can confirm that a number of reporters also possess the same information. The only additional information I can provide you is that when I requested similar files from the Anderson County District Attorney’s Office, I received back a letter saying that the Anderson County DA’s office has no records of the case.
That in and of itself seems odd. Usually DA’s offices keep these types of records. It looks like they vanished into thin air.
This brings up another question: Did Staples’ use his political influence to ‘disappear’ the files from the DA’s office? Dr. Jay Herrington, brother of Jeff Herrington, the DA at the time, is a contributor to Staples. What kind of relationship did then-legislator Staples have with Herrington? Did he help Herrington’s office with grants? Who knows.
Either way, Staples has a lot to answer for. So does the capitol press corps. Why have they, while giving plenty of ink to Staples’ allegations about Gilbert, not bothered to dig into Staples’ past?
Read the documents for yourself below.