Politicians often make their personal and professional records the centerpiece of their campaigns to secure a public office or be reelected to one.
In the Houston-area 22nd Congressional District, Republican candidate Troy Nehls, a career cop with a checkered past, has run on a “law and order” theme touting his law enforcement record as the primary reason why voters should send him to Washington. In fact, Nehls’ Facebook page sports a video calling him the “people’s sheriff.”
Let’s briefly examine the Fort Bend County “people’s sheriff’s” personal record.
In 1988, the people’s sheriff was arrested for “underage drinking” and “obstructing” the police trying to make his arrest. If that was the end of the story, one could, and probably should, excused the antics of a young man learning to become socially responsible. Most people would have taken that early life encounter with law enforcement as an opportunity to learn to respect the rules and live an honest, law-abiding life. Not so with the “people’s sheriff.” He would later lie about his arrest later when he applied for a job with the Ford Bend ISD Police Department, signing a form saying he’d never been arrested or charged with a crime.
Lack of Respect for Rules and the Law
Nearly ten years later, after military service, Troy Nehls decided he wanted a career as a Republican-driven law enforcement officer. He got a job with the Richmond Police Department. It did not go well. The people’s sheriff’s penchant for flaunting the rules, obstructing justice, and reckless behavior forced Chief of Police Bill Whitworth to terminate Nehls’ employment with his department. Chief Whitworth offered this staggering list of reasons for the termination:
- 01/31/97 – Failed to contact a victim for additional information as directed by Sergeant Kovar, then lying to said Sergeant by saying the victim had no further information, forcing the Sergeant to contact the victim to obtain additional information.
- 03/03/97 – Failed to properly handle evidence after receiving specific instructions through a written memo about handling evidence after past mishandling.
- 03-23-97 – Charged a wall plaque to the police department without authorization.
- 04/04-97 – need for verbal counseling from a supervisor about improper handling of evidence.
- 04/23/97 – need for verbal counseling after issuing an improper traffic citation to avoid making an actual arrest.
- 05/16/97 – need for written counseling for failure to comply with written instructions for the handling of Class C arrests.
- 05/20/97 – Written memo after he [Nelhs] was found at a store several blocks from where he checked out with dispatch.
- 06/03/97 – destroyed evidence after being instructed to enter the evidence as found property.
- 09/26/97 – failure to return property to owner as order to do so by a superior.
- 10/08/97 – written reprimand for failure to submit additional information for a report by the required deadline as ordered to do so by a superior.
- 10/22/97 – written counsel for being outside your vehicle in a restaurant without notifying dispatcher as required.
- 10/22/97 – three-day suspension without pay for disregarding written directive from supervisor denying an extra job request and misleading another superior about the circumstances of the incident.
- 11/04/97 – written request for completed responses to a memo dated 10/08/97 regarding city evidence of violations in assigned beat—less than half of the issues were addressed.
- 11/25/97 to 12/11/97 – received three verbal and one written order from a superior to write citations for an ordinance violation before the proper action was taken.
- 12/05/07 – verbal instructions to do more house watches as required.
- 12/10/97 – received a verbal reminder to fill out a liability release before taking a civilian in the patrol vehicle; took a rider without release on 01/08/97.
- 12/18/97 – second verbal reminder to do more house watches as required.
- 12/29/97 – one-day suspension for making an improper arrest.
- 01/08/98 – written warning about going to a restaurant without notifying dispatch.
- 01/14/98 – working an extra job without securing proper approval as required.
Nehls Mishandled Evidence, Made Improper Arrests and AWOL on Duty
That is hardly a record that would qualify someone to be the “people’s sheriff.” Yet, in 2004, the good people for Fort Bend County decided to give the “bad cop” a chance at becoming a “good cop” by electing Nehls their Constable. There’s not much evidence in the public record about how Constable Nehls performed his official duties and service to the people in that capacity. Nonetheless, in 2012, the voters of Ft Bend County elected Nehls as their county sheriff.
There is evidence in the public record that the self-anointed “people’s sheriff” would run his department much like he performed his assigned duties with the Richmond Police Department.
Deaths in County Jail and Racial Profiling
The Texas Tribune reported earlier this month that in 2015 the “people’s sheriff” was warned by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to take “corrective measures” after two inmates died in less than two months in the sheriff’s custody.
In July of this year, the Houston Chronicle published an article with credible evidence that a special narcotics task force under Nehls’ supervision was “racial profiling” Hispanics in its stops and searches in Fort Bend County. Members of the task force, including officer Aaron Gillory and Todd Ganey, pulled over — almost exclusively — people of color. In one example, Officer Gillory clocked Guillermo Sanchez flying two mph over the speed limit on U.S. Highway 59 and proceeded to pull Sanchez over. Gillory ordered Sanchez out of the car, frisked him, and interrogated Sanchez about his traveling, his cousin’s name, posed other racially motivated questions and then searched Sanchez’s car for drugs and money. That same day, Gillory pulled over four other people: Ricardo Rodriguez, Javier Leal, Cesar Hernandez, and Armondo Segura.
Statistically Impossible to Find Race Neutral Reasons
Officer Todd Ganey, another member of Nelhs taskforce, reported that in 2019, just under 90% of the motorists he stopped were Black or Hispanic. The Houston Chronicle reports it is statistically impossible for Latino and Black motorists to be pulled over at such a high rate without race being a driving factor. In other words, Sherrif Nelh’s task force is scientifically proven to be, at its core, systemically racist. But, true to form, Nehls recently said, “we don’t have police reform issues here in Fort Bend County or this district.”
Of course, the U.S. Department of Justice can investigate Nehls for his racist task force, but Donald Trump has made such investigations exceedingly rare if not nonexistent. More on Donald Trump and Nehls below.
Fellow Fort Bend County Republican Kathleen Wall has strongly accused the people’s sheriff of being weak on enforcing human sex trafficking laws in Fort Bend County.
In a July 2020 article in the Texas Tribune, the father of a prominent sex trafficking survivor was quoted as saying to Sheriff Nehls:
“I’d love to look you in the eye and have you tell me how you can possibly sit there and not do your job and not protect my family because that’s what you’ve done for years.”
The grieving father’s charge of “failure to perform your job” refrain is similar to complaints found in Chief Withworth’s termination letter two decades earlier. Perhaps Qanon members should look into Sheriff Nehls.
People’s Sheriff Embraces Trump Ideology
In his bid to become the “people’s Congressman” in the 22nd district, Sheriff Nehls has embraced President Donald Trump’s lunatic, race-baiting rhetoric. Saying he was with Trump “100%” and supporting the President’s wall, he bragged that he has “locked up over 2,500 criminal illegals” and worked to have them deported.
During the Republican primary, Nehls proudly displayed his support for Mr. Trump, saying that he would “stand with President Trump to defeat the socialist Democrats, build the wall, drain the swamp, and deliver on pro-economy and pro-America policies.” After winning the Republican primary, the “people’s sheriff” quickly removed these campaign pledges from his website, underlining his willingness to say anything to be elected.
Nehls Equates Protestors with Domestic Terrorists
Nehls has also openly embraced the racist dog whistle promoted by Trump that Democrats want to unleash “hordes” of non-whites on white suburbs across America, falsely claiming that every Democrat running for elective office wants to defund the police. In the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd, Nehls joined in far-right talking points and falsely claimed that the protests had been “hijacked by domestic terrorists seeking to sow fear and anarchy in our communities.”
Far-right dog whistles and fear-mongering are nothing new to Sheriff Nehls. In the wake of Hurrican Harvey, and the devastating floods that followed, Nehls famously told a Fox News reporter that the residents of Ft. Bend County “support the Second Amendment and that people who come and prey on our people…could leave this county in a body-bag.” Again, Nehls removed this boast and news feed from his website when he cleared the primaries.
Nehls, Trump, and ‘Alternative Facts’
Nehls’ ‘claim to fame’ is rooted in Trump-ism. When Fort Bend County resident Karen Fonseca displayed an anti-Trump decal on the back of her vehicle, Nehls posted on his Facebook page that he was seeking charges against Fonseca. In Trump-style intimidation, Nehls threatened legal charges unless a “modification” of the decal was made. The backlash was swift, with Nehls receiving condemnation from the ACLU, Fort Bend County residents, and other free speech organizations. Even Fort Bend’s DA at the time, John Healey, distanced himself from Nehls by saying the he “did not believe it was a prosecutable case.” Nehls deleted the post shortly after, but not before the ACLU published a screenshot of Nehls’ hostility toward free speech. The “People’s Sherrif” should know that the use of his official capacity to intimidate political speech is unacceptable and entirely unethical. Perhaps Nehls should be more familiar with the U.S. Constitution before running for Congress.
Nehls made further efforts to prove his unquestioned loyalty to the President during his 2020 primary campaign. In addition to his “100%” support of Trump, Nehls spread conspiracy theories on his Facebook page and the campaign trail. He has repeated baseless charges about mail-in voting – first during the election against his primary opponent Kathaleen Wall and then about the U.S. election system nationally. Many of the posts and articles Nelhs shared about mail-in voting contain debunked information and conspiracy theories, including statements from the President on social media that Twitter flagged as “unsubstantiated” and “false.” Nehls, seemingly unbound by honesty or truth, has no problems misleading and lying to the people of Fort Bend County.
It is often said that “birds of a feather flock together.”
Sheriff Troy Nehls has a personal and political agenda much like the President. The country has had enough of this type of divisive politics. These bad character traits question Sheriff Nehls’ ability to represent all the people of the 22nd Congressional District.
*Note: I write this blog from my perspective as a Board Certified criminal defense lawyer who has advocated for criminal justice reform for over 25 years. I have not endorsed or contributed to any candidate in the 22nd Congressional District race. This article contains my personal opinion and does not reflect the position of any other organization to which I belong – John Floyd