Small town cuts out police department

October 6, 2009 9:50:51 AM PDT
The natives are restless in the tiny town of Shepherd, Texas, all because of what a city councilman is accused of doing. They say it's big trouble in a small town. The police department, which is comprised of just one officer, is off the job. Some say this is a story of revenge. Others say it's a case of a town simply needing to balance the books. You decide.

A little over 50 miles up the Eastex Freeway, you'll get to the town of Shepherd, population 2,029. And if you ask some residents, they say they've got big problems.

"I don't think it's right how they done him," said Shepherd City Councilmember Cynthia Diese.

"The city of Shepherd does not have city police coverage," added councilmember Cynthia Diese

A week ago, last Monday, the city slashed the budget and in the process, got rid of the city's police chief, who was also its only officer.

"There's not much I can do because the council can vote either way it wanted," said Shepherd Mayor Pat Lunsford.

And they voted the chief out. Police Chief Chris Simmons is no longer on the job. His cruiser is behind a fence at the San Jacinto County Sheriff's Department. He can't arrest anyone anymore.

"As a police officer, he did a good job," said resident Juan Cantu.

Being without a police chief or police department hasn't made everyone happy.

"It makes you wonder, is this retaliation," said Shepherd Volunteer Fire Department Chief Cindy Nicklas. "It makes you wonder."

Earlier this year, Chief Simmons arrested city Councilman Kevin Thoms, who is now indicted, accused of selling counterfeit movies. The indictment didn't stop Thoms from spearheading budget cuts.

"I know what it appears, and that's the consensus of the general public is," said Nicklas. "And it's not in a good light."

Cynthia Diese is on the city council.

"What I've seen is a vendetta against Chris Simmons," she said.

And she wants to know exactly what happened.

"I don't know what's next at this point," said Diese. "That's what we're trying to see. I hope the bad can be undone."

Her city council colleague, Derlin Barnhill, says the explanation is simple.

"It's about money," said Barnhill. "Every bit of it is about money."

He says there's no vendetta at all, just a city trying to get back in the black.

"Listen to the TV," he said. "People are going through this all over, this budget all over this state and everywhere else."

In all, seven people were written out of the budget. San Jacinto County sheriff's deputies will be patrolling in the department's absence.

And depending on which city council member you ask, they have a different message for residents.

"I don't feel like the people of Shepherd have a voice. Fromwhat I've seen, they've been told to sit down and shut up," said Diese.

The vote sends different messages to city residents.

"If 23 sheriff's deputies, 4 of 5 DPS and four constables are not enough, then they're going to have to hire their own security," said Barnhill.

Councilman Thoms says he hasn't done anything wrong and he will remain on the city council. As for law enforcement for the city, that falls on the San Jacinto County Sheriff's Office.

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