Madisonville residents are questioning the integrity of the city's police department after an officer is charged with a serious crime. Police sergeant Jeff Covington was arrested this week accused of having someone plant drugs in his ex-wife's car.
Accountability and credibility are integral characteristics that should remain unquestioned -- especially when you're wearing a badge.
“We enforce the law; we have power and our credibility is our livelihood,” explained Madisonville Police Chief Chuck May.
The departments’ credibility is what's fueling his desire to cleanup. Since taking over in September of 2011 May has been hard at work cleaning up his force.
May says six police officers have been fired or voluntarily resigned. David Sims was fired six months ago for breach of security.
The 46-year old former peace officer allegedly hacked into a Madisonville Police sergeant's desktop computer where he allegedly removed confidential electronic files from the system. That investigation is still ongoing with the Texas Rangers.
Covington resigned his position with the Madisonville Police Department prior to the grand jury convening Monday. He was booked into Madison County Jail Monday afternoon and was released that same day after posting bond.
The grand jury indicted Covington on two felony charges and one misdemeanor, related to an event that allegedly occurred in the Summer of 2011. Covington faces a third-degree felony charge of obstruction or retaliation, a state jail felony charge of delivery of a controlled substance, and a Class A misdemeanor charge of official oppression.
“If he's not guilty, he should be exonerated and the police force should be exonerated too, especially Chief May” said McDaniel. “I can't say enough good things about him and what he's done for the city since he's been involved with the police force.”
According to the Texas Attorney General's Office, in the Summer of 2011, the defendant allegedly attempted to recruit several narcotics informants to plant methamphetamine in the vehicle of an unsuspecting female. Court records revealed that the intended victim, Laura Covington, was the defendant's ex-wife and had been engaged in a lengthy child custody battle with him.
On the other hand, state prosecutors say after the methamphetamine was planted in the victim's vehicle, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper was told that she used the vehicle to transport and distribute narcotics. Unaware of the defendant's plot, the trooper later conducted a traffic stop and searched Laura Covington's vehicle. The search revealed the allegedly planted methamphetamine, which prompted the officer to arrest the victim and book her in the Madison County Jail for possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. After taking over the case, the Assistant Attorney General formally notified Laura Covington that the State would not pursue the case and the charge against her was dismissed.
“I’ve been doing this for 43 years,” explained May. “We're never really shocked; we're more disappointed than shocked.”
Many, including Chief May are still in disbelief after hearing the recent allegations against Covington.
"The least offensive charge and the one that aggravates me the most is official oppression," explained May. "Official oppression means restricting someone unjustifiably and it boils back to false arrest, that's what that stems from. I'm shocked at the charges, but not shocked at the disposition of the final outcome.”
Meanwhile, outside the walls of the department, locals are wondering what's fact -- or fiction -- after Covington's resignation on Monday.
"I'm not saying he's guilty, but we know the grand jury did indict him so there seems to be some evidence that he could be guilty,” said McDaniel. "We don't know what the real story is, and in a small town like this, everyone starts forming their own opinion, and that's not something people need to be doing because he'll get his day in court, just like everyone else."
Butch McDaniel says only time will tell and the truth will eventually unfold in court.
"I'm a firm believer in our justice system and most of the time I think it works the way it's supposed to,” said McDaniel.
In the meantime Chief May says he and his men have to adapt and adjust.
“The only thing it made me have to do is adjust our manpower and re-allocate it in different areas,” said May. “Since Covington played such a significant role in our narcotics force, we’re going to have to re-train someone with his K-9.”
“It creates a stigma and it makes you feel bad and you worry about everybody out there in the community thinking that if you've got one, then maybe they've got more,” said May.
“Of course it raises questions because it makes you think there might be one more like him, but I know the chief and I know he's done a lot to improve the integrity and personnel of the police so I'm sure he's going to do a lot,” said Butch McDaniel.
Covington served with the Madisonville Police Department from 2000 to 2004 and rejoined the department in 2009, after serving with the Brazos Valley Narcotics Task Force. He was awarded as the City's Employee of the Quarter in April 2011 and received a chief's commendation last month.