The Texas Attorney General’s Office has dismissed the criminal case involving two Erath County sheriff’s officials - former chief deputy Jason Upshaw and former captain Randy Fowler - because of “insufficient evidence,” their attorney Bob Glasgow said.
In exchange for dropping the charges, both men agreed to relinquish their peace officers license, keeping them from ever entering law enforcement again.
“The AG dismissed the case because there was insufficient evidence to prove the allegations against them,” Glasgow told the E-T Wednesday. “Upshaw and Fowler had no problem relinquishing their licenses; they didn’t want to keep them. They have given up on that profession.”
Upshaw and Fowler were indicted by an Erath County grand jury in February for abuse of official capacity and aggravated perjury.
The dismissal of those charges caps off a more than three-year string of events that began in June 2016 when the late sheriff Tommy Bryant came under investigation by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement after it was discovered that a former deputy had completed a continuing education class for him.
Six days after those allegations were made public - in December 2016 - Bryant took his own life.
Hours after his death, Erath County officials named Matt Coates as interim sheriff. At the time Coates was working as an investigator for District Attorney Alan Nash.
On the day Coates was appointed - and in the midst of swirling allegations of wrongdoing at the sheriff’s office - Upshaw and Fowler were suspended and eventually terminated.
In July 2017 the men filed federal lawsuits against Erath County, Coates (individually and in his official capacity) and commissioners Dee Stephens, Herbert Brown, Joe Brown and Scot Jackson (in their official capacity) claiming they were deprived of their civil rights and due process.
The suit alleges that the men were terminated and escorted out of the sheriff’s office in a “hostile and humiliating manner, creating an impression of wrongdoing.”
The lawsuit seeks a name-clearing hearing and compensation for mental anguish, lost wages and damage to their careers.
UPDATE ON CIVIL CASE
Following Wednesday’s resolution of the criminal case, the E-T contacted Arlington attorney Frank Hill who is representing Upshaw and Fowler in the civil matter.
Hill told the E-T that rumors the civil case will also be dismissed are false and said he expects the matter to be heard in a federal courtroom in Dallas, though he is not sure when that will take place.
“(The timing) is very uncertain right now,” Hill said. “The federal judge who was handling it has transferred the case to another federal judge.”
Hill said Upshaw and Fowler continue to maintain that they were terminated from the sheriff’s office because they reported an alleged affair between Coates when he was employed with the district attorney’s office and a woman who previously worked at the sheriff’s office.
That woman, according to Hill, has testified under oath that she had a sexual relationship with Coates. But in a sworn deposition under oath, Coates disputed that claim.
“I guess it will be up to a jury to decide who they believe,” Hill said. “The silly criminal charges were filed because we filed the civil suit. It was retaliation and now that the criminal case was dismissed, I don’t know how they are going to explain any of this to a jury.”
ERATH’S ATTORNEY RESPONDS
Attorney Jim Hryekewicz is representing Erath County, Coates and the commissioners in the civil complaint.
Hryekewicz told the E-T that he has filed a motion with the federal court for a summary judgment.
“We are asking for the claims to be thrown out because there is no evidence to support them,” he said of the civil lawsuit.