The Austin Chronicle

Maspero Heads for Rehab

By Jordan Smith, October 24, 2003, News

On Monday, Oct. 20, Williamson Co. Sheriff John Maspero announced that he is entering an alcohol abuse treatment program. The announcement came a week after he was stopped by Georgetown police who had received two 911 calls about a drunk staggering down a city road and urinating in public. "Sheriff Maspero asked me to express his sincere apology to the people of Williamson County for the embarrassment caused by his actions," Maspero's attorney Ed Walsh read from a prepared statement. Walsh said that the sheriff is now seeking "professional help regarding problems that he has been experiencing in his personal life." During Maspero's absence, Chief Deputy and 20-year veteran Richard Elliott will be running the sheriff's office.

Whether rehab will solve Maspero's official problems is uncertain: a few days before the sheriff's announcement, Williamson Co. Attorney Gene Taylor asked that Maspero resign his post or face a thorough -- and likely public -- investigation.

Police stopped Maspero on Williams Drive, off of I-35 in Georgetown, just before 1am on Saturday morning, Oct. 11, after receiving two calls from motorists reporting a man "falling all over himself" while walking down the road. "And I'm worried about him falling into the road," the female caller reported. A second caller reported that the same man was urinating on the side of the road. "He was just peeing," the male caller reported. "He had his -- he was peeing on the side of the road just now when we passed by."

Georgetown Police Department Officer Ben Runkle was the first officer on the scene; he stopped Maspero as he walked. According to a memo prepared by Runkle, Maspero was drunk but not a danger to himself or others. Runkle's in-car video camera wasn't working, but the camera installed in the car of Mike Tackett, the second officer on the scene, caught the tail end of the Maspero stop as he got into the back seat of Runkle's squad car.

"That's Maspero, I do believe," Tackett says to Runkle after Maspero is safely deposited in the car.

"I mean -- he's drunk," Runkle replies.

"Oh yeah," says Tackett.

"I mean, you can smell it. I saw him staggering down the street," Runkle says while offering a wobbly imitation.

Ultimately, the officers decided to let Maspero go and Runkle gave the sheriff "courtesy transport" to a nearby house. (On Oct. 12, Runkle resigned from the GPD, in order to focus on his "educational goals" -- or so he wrote in a memo to GPD Chief David Morgan.)

Maspero later told reporters that after attending a Georgetown Chamber of Commerce cookout earlier that evening he decided that, since he had been drinking, he should just walk home. During an Oct. 16 appearance on KVET's Sammy and Bob morning show following reports of the incident, Maspero admitted relieving himself in some bushes -- but not in the roadway. (Maspero was not ticketed for public intoxication or for urinating in public.)

Taylor has offered Maspero a chance to resign -- or face the possibility of a public ouster. Taylor told the Statesman, "We have worked for years and years to get a tough-on-crime law enforcement reputation here, and to have your head law enforcement guy not obey the law doesn't sit well with a lot of people." Maspero later told a reporter he felt "betrayed" by Taylor's decision. According to the Local Government Code, a sheriff can be removed from office for "intoxication on or off duty." It appears Taylor may be looking not only at the Oct. 11 incident but "rumors" that Maspero has been drunk in public on other occasions. (Taylor did not respond to several calls requesting comment.) During an Oct. 20 press conference, Walsh said Maspero will not resign and intends to run for re-election next year.

Maspero is no stranger to controversy. The former Austin FBI agent has long been tied to the now-infamous allegations of criminal conduct on the part of local law enforcement officers stemming from the defunct Mala Sangre drug-trafficking case. Austin police investigators working the Mala Sangre probe alleged that Maspero and APD Assistant Chief Jimmy Chapman thwarted their investigation, in part by interfering with undercover surveillance activities. At the heart of the current independent investigation of Chapman is whether he and Maspero approached APD Internal Affairs investigators in an attempt to remove a set of Maspero's phone records from an unrelated and closed IA case file. And earlier this year, the sheriff's personal life made headlines after he was subpoenaed by lawyers for Britt Allen Bouffard to testify in court about his affair with Bouffard's estranged wife, Lisa.

Yet according to Maspero's attorney Walsh -- also a former Williamson Co. DA -- Taylor's decision to investigate his client is inexplicable. "I'm not in politics anymore, and I haven't kept up with the infighting at the courthouse," he said. "But I think [Maspero] has not endeared himself to a lot of [local] officials ... what with the divorce, affair, and the court case."

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