Maspero: Drinking, Whizzing, Barking
The Williamson County sheriff is accused of a slew of embarrassing transgressions
Last week couldn't have been a good one for Williamson Co. Sheriff John Maspero. On Nov. 12 a minor mob of local media descended on Georgetown, following County Attorney Gene Taylor as he silently entered the district clerk's office in the county's courthouse annex to file a lawsuit seeking to remove Maspero from office. In just under a month, Taylor's peace-officer-staffed public integrity task force interviewed 125 witnesses -- some more than once -- and came out of it with a slew of solid allegations of public intoxication, official misconduct, and incompetence on the part of Maspero -- which, taken together, beg for Maspero's ouster, Taylor said.
Along with a dozen allegations of public intoxication, Taylor's petition contains a host of additional accusations against the sheriff -- including two charges of sexual harassment of female deputies, three allegations of urinating in public, and the already much-publicized accusation that, while at the Penthouse Men's Club earlier this year, Maspero bit one of the club's dancers while he was crawling around on the floor, pretending to be a dog. But although many of the allegations contained within Taylor's 19-page petition are also criminal in nature -- like the assault on the Penthouse dancer, or indecent exposure stemming from his public urination -- Taylor did not file a criminal case against the sheriff, keeping the case in civil court. And when asked about possible criminal charges against Maspero, Taylor declined to comment.
Maspero's conduct both on and off duty has been in the spotlight since Oct. 11, when two Georgetown police officers stopped him as he staggered down busy Williams Drive, east of I-35. Passing motorists had called 911 to report an "older man" -- Maspero -- who was staggering and, a female caller opined, in danger of falling into the roadway; a second caller reported that Maspero had stopped to urinate on the side of the road. Maspero told the GPD that he'd had a "few beers" at a cookout at San Gabriel Park (on the other side of I-35) and had decided it would be a good idea to walk instead of drive. The officers, who said they could tell Maspero was drunk, gave the sheriff a ride to a nearby house without even issuing him a ticket for public intoxication.
By the middle of the following week, Taylor's office was "flooded with calls from citizens wishing to complain about this episode," he wrote in a prepared statement, "and [from] other citizens reporting rumors of misconduct on other occasions." Taylor asked Maspero to step down, but Maspero refused -- and added, via attorney Ed Walsh, that he was looking forward to running for re-election in 2004. (Maspero already had two declared opponents in the March GOP primary, and now has a third.) Last month, Maspero admitted to having a drinking problem and announced he was taking a temporary leave from office to enter a five-week outpatient alcohol treatment program. But that didn't dissuade Taylor from going forward with his investigation of the various allegations of misconduct by Maspero that his office was accumulating.
Taylor's public comments have been tinged with self-righteousness: Maspero's actions made a mockery of the county's tough law-and-order reputation, he said. However, Williamson Co. leaders, including the Commissioners Court and Taylor himself, have recently been embroiled in a string of other controversies -- including questionable contracts let to FT Woods Construction, one for building the county's woefully delayed Juvenile Justice Center, and the Commissioners Court's creation of new, well-paid county management jobs while cutting rank-and-file positions. "You can make your own judgement on how shocking [the allegations against Maspero are]," Taylor told reporters last week. "I'm going to be criticized no matter what I say."
Whether Taylor's crusade against Maspero is fueled by a desire to keep the county's reputation "clean," or is a bait-and-switch to refocus attention away from the Courthouse Gang, the allegations against Maspero are still serious. Within each of the 12 allegations of intoxication lies a host of other charges, including: sexually harassing a female deputy in March 2002, by "making suggestive comments" (such as, "Have you gotten laid yet?"); encouraging deputies to drink while on duty in May 2001, while at the sheriff's office working on budget documents; and exposing "his genitals in a public place" while urinating into a lake at two different budget retreats in Burnet Co.
Most recently, the petition alleges that on Oct. 21 -- after apologizing to Williamson Co. taxpayers for his inappropriate behavior and entering the outpatient alcohol treatment program -- Maspero called Chief Deputy Richard Elliott, whom Maspero appointed to head the department during his absence, and threatened to fire him "if he did not make media statements supportive of Maspero." Taylor's lawsuit contends that the threat constitutes a host of infractions, including coercion of a public servant and official oppression, and the allegation forms the basis for Taylor's request that a judge grant a temporary restraining order, enjoining Maspero from having contact with "any current or former employees" of the sheriff's office for the duration of the case. When asked about the veracity of the allegations in the suit, Maspero attorney Walsh told reporters that he hadn't asked Maspero about each individual allegation, but that the sheriff didn't think he should be removed from office. Walsh did not return phone calls requesting additional comments.
Notably absent from Taylor's 19-page petition is any detailed information about the witnesses against Maspero -- save for the nine-page affidavit of Randall Nichols, the chief investigator in Taylor's office. Still, less than 24 hours after Taylor filed suit, Visiting Judge James Clawson ruled that Taylor's petition contained enough information for the case to go forward, scheduling a Nov. 21 hearing to consider whether an interim sheriff should replace Maspero -- as Taylor has asked -- for the duration of the case. Friday's hearing will be the first time that witnesses against the sheriff will take the stand, and, presumably, Maspero will call his own, favorable witnesses.
Of course, that could present additional legal problems, especially if Maspero's witnesses are also law-enforcement officers. Indeed, if Maspero was with other cops during, for example, the Penthouse dog-bite incident, then those officers would be faced with having to explain why they failed to report the alleged assault on the dancer and failed to take any action against Maspero. "I'm looking forward to these things coming to a conclusion," Maspero told reporters last week, "and the facts will come out on the allegations that have been made."