The outgoing district attorney called the recent arrest of the county’s top administrator a “rash decision,” signaling a sharp divergence from the Victoria County sheriff.
Joyce Dean, the county’s longtime director of administrative services, was arrested Wednesday and charged with theft by a public servant. Dean has previously denied any wrongdoing.
The charges come five years after a Texas Rangers investigation was presented to Stephen Tyler, the Victoria County prosecutor. The Rangers investigation recommended Tyler consider charging Dean with theft by a public servant and tampering with a government document. At the time, Tyler declined to prosecute the case.
Tyler said in a statement Thursday that the allegations against Dean were beyond the statute of limitations when they were presented to him and there was not enough evidence to prosecute Dean.
The district attorney doubled down on his perspective Friday morning, when he joined the radio show “Wade & Carter.”
“There’s no case there five years ago,” Tyler said. “It didn’t get any better with time.”
He also called the search warrant executed to seize computers and records from Dean’s office a “grotesque overreach.”
“I think the sheriff’s office is better than this, but they listened to the wrong guys,” Tyler said.
Tyler also said Dean’s arrest could open up the county to a lawsuit.
On Friday’s radio show, co-host Brent Carter, who is running to be mayor of Victoria, questioned the merits of the case.
“Joyce is a dear friend of mine, and I think this whole thing reeks of inner-county petty politics that somebody got butt-hurt about something Joyce said to their kid 25 years ago,” Carter said.
The prosecutor’s comments show a split among top county officials over the complicated case. Dean, 57, was arrested by sheriff’s deputies, and Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor initially referred the case to the Rangers for investigation in 2010, according to the Rangers file. The sheriff did not respond to questions about Tyler’s comments on Friday.
Tyler lost his re-election bid during the Republican primaries in March.
The Rangers investigation accused Dean of using her government position and influence to improperly alter her son’s timecard records, repair her son’s home on taxpayer dollars and have a county employee drive him around town for personal business. Dean’s son, Robert Dean, worked in the county’s maintenance department. He died in November 2016 at the age of 25.
Dean’s attorney, Micah Hatley, said there was a “big problem with the statute of limitations” in relation to the charges.
“I certainly think that this is either a complete misunderstanding or a mischaracterization of justice,” Hatley said.
Dean will be placed on administrative leave starting Dec. 26 while the county conducts an internal review, County Judge Ben Zeller said Thursday.
Louis Clark, the CEO of the Government Accountability Project, said the public should pay attention to cases of possible misconduct because allegations against public employees are always more serious than crimes in the private sector because government employees are stewards of the public coffers.
“It’s not just the amount of money involved, it’s the fact that a person who has the responsibility of managing and running institutions should not have their underlings providing personal services to members of their family,” Clark said.
Advocate reporter Jessica Priest contributed to this report.