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Constant constable: After 38 years, Lavaca County official retires

Sonny Long

By Sonny Long
Sept. 14, 2010 at 4:14 a.m.
Updated Sept. 15, 2010 at 4:15 a.m.

Seventy-two year-old Joe Nieto spends his retirement time in his "man cave," where he keeps his collection of knives, guns and badges. A veteran lawman for 38 years, Nieto recently retired.

MOULTON - Joe Nieto never had to fire his gun in 38 years as Lavaca County constable, but he would have if he had needed to.

Recalling a big drug bust at an apartment complex in 1981, the 72-year-old who retired on Aug. 31 said, "You didn't know what you were facing, but you were prepared. It was your life or their life."

Nieto said he was never afraid when going out on a call.

"You can't be afraid because if you are, you aren't going to do anything. You are prepared," he said.

Nieto said one of the things he remembers most during his tenure was a bad wreck that killed three brothers.

"In my time, I saw a lot of good things and a lot of bad things," he said.

Others saw the good in Nieto.

"Joe was one of the first people I met when I went to work for the Lavaca County Sheriff's Office in 1989. We have been friends ever since," said current Lavaca County Sheriff Micah Harmon. "I could always count on Joe. He was a great asset to us and will be missed greatly."

Lavaca County Judge Ronnie Leck agreed with the sheriff.

"I have known Joe the entire time I have served in Lavaca County," Leck said. "I began with Yoakum Police Department in late 1973 and Joe was already working in Moulton. He has been a long time friend and fellow peace officer and I think the world of him. He's done a great job and will be greatly missed as a constable."

Nieto said his relationship with other members of law enforcement has always been a good one.

"When I started. I was the only Spanish officer around here. A lot of times someone would need an interpreter and I never told them no. I was glad to go," he said. "I had real good relationships with other law enforcement, the troopers, the game wardens. I respected them and they respected me back."

Nieto, a native of Moulton who completed only through the eighth grade in school, drove a truck for a living for most of his early adult life. A friend who worked as a reserve Moulton Police officer, asked Nieto to take over for him when he moved to Houston.

"I told him he must be out of his mind, that I was a truck drive," Nieto said.

But Nieto talked it over with his wife Lois and decided to try the new endeavor in April 1971.

The following year, the Moulton mayor urged him to run for constable and he won his first of 10 elections, defeating 16-year incumbent Dan Koranek, 426-111. He was 34.

"It made me feel great," he said. "From then, I just kept on working, treating people the way I wanted to be treated."

Opposed in about half of the elections he won since 1972, he handily defeated his last challenger Mike Mills 875-438 in 2008.

The father of six, including 20-year Victoria Police Department Sgt. Adam Nieto, said the decision to retire was an easy one. He gathered his family together to tell them.

"In 38 years of service, I've never been sued. I never had a judgment against me. I never had a complaint from the commissioners. I wanted to retire with a good record," Nieto told his family. "It's time to retire. I don't want to hurt anybody or shoot anybody in my last days. I am going to call it quits. I am 72 years old and it was time for some to take my place."



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