Judge rules to temporarily suspend Sheriff Lyde

Clay County Sheriff Jeffrey Lyde sits and waits during proceedings Jan.  17, 2023, at the Clay County Courthouse in Henrietta.

Clay County Sheriff Jeffrey Lyde sits and waits during proceedings Jan. 17, 2023, at the Clay County Courthouse in Henrietta.

MONTAGUE, Texas — A judge ruled to temporarily suspend Clay County Sheriff Jeffrey Lyde from his official duties after a hearing Thursday for a petition to oust him from the elected office.

The judge did not designate an interim sheriff Thursday. Lyde’s suspension will not take effect until the judge appoints an interim sheriff and that person posts a bond.

Senior Justice Lee Gabriel requested both sides to send lists of potential candidates. She opted not to go with the petitioner’s request to appoint Clay County Constable Kirk Horton as interim sheriff, indicating the appointment must be completely her choice.

Lyde was briefly tested in his suspension hearing Thursday, and then both sides rested at about 4 pm at the Montague County Courthouse.

After the judge’s ruling, 97th District Attorney Casey Hall said she was pleased with the result of the hearing.

“I think it’s in the best interests of the county,” said Hall.

Lyde’s attorney, Randall D. Moore, said the ruling was a temporary setback.

About 4 pm when the suspension hearing was over, Gabriel retired to judge’s chambers and emerged close to 5 pm to deliver her ruling.

Clay County Sheriff Jeffrey Lyde was seen Thursday morning during a break at the Montague County Courthouse before the proceedings became tense.  In the afternoon, a judge ruled to suspend Lyde.

Clay County Sheriff Jeffrey Lyde was seen Thursday morning during a break at the Montague County Courthouse before the proceedings became tense. In the afternoon, a judge ruled to suspend Lyde.

Gabriel said based on the testimony he heard Thursday, he was of the opinion that the sheriff should be suspended.

Some of the testimonies involved two women who were administrative staff members.

One of them has accused the sheriff of sexually harassing her verbally and assaulting her by slapping her on the buttocks, but she was not called to the stand Thursday.

Another female staff member, who is not one of Lyde’s accusers, tested about a Clay County Sheriff’s Office where several women jumped or sat on Lyde’s lap, as well as exposing their naked chests.

“We just joke around a lot up there,” said the woman, who tested on Lyde’s behalf.

But the sheriff never approached women for a hug or to sit in his lap, the woman was tested.

She told the judge she was surprised about the allegations of sexual harassment against the sheriff.

She said the other staff member accusing Lyde of hitting her on the buttocks was flirtatious.

Lyde is accused in criminal court of sexually harassing three female staff members, as well as the assault of one with a slap on the rear end in the Sheriff’s Office.

Petitioner Frank Douthitt asked the woman to testify on the sheriff’s behalf if she thinks it is appropriate for Lyde to allow employees to sit on his lap.

“We’ve been friends for a long time,” the woman said.

A male deputy, who is on paid administrative leave because of legal proceedings against Lyde, testified that he has said about meetings, “Are clothes optional or leave the clothes at home?” He has made the statement while talking to women on staff and wearing his badge and gun.

The same deputy said the Sheriff’s Office is in a state of tumult, and he has been asked for help.

The sheriff was the final witness.

During Lyde’s testimony, Douthitt asked him, “So you pick and choose which ones can jump in your lap?”

“I don’t pick and choose,” Lyde said. “They do.”

Frank Doutitt, a Clay County attorney and former district judge, steps out of the 97th District Courtroom Thursday in the Montague County Courtroom for a quick talk.  Doutitt is one of the petitioners seeking to remove Sheriff Jeffrey Lyde from elected office.

Frank Doutitt, a Clay County attorney and former district judge, steps out of the 97th District Courtroom Thursday in the Montague County Courtroom for a quick talk. Doutitt is one of the petitioners seeking to remove Sheriff Jeffrey Lyde from elected office.

Other testimony described completely unwelcome remarks, such as how a shoulder holster made a young female investigator’s figure look. In addition, witnesses for the petitioners also tested that morale was low at the Sheriff’s Office, Lyde has described a deputy as “fat” and made a racial remark about Latinos.

Two male deputies told the judge they feared retaliation or got fired if they spoke up about what they saw as wrongdoing.

They are among four staff members on paid administrative leave because of their involvement in legal proceedings against the sheriff.

Lyde was questioned by Douthitt for about five minutes.

The sheriff tested that he couldn’t answer yes or no as to whether allowing female employees to sit in his lap was appropriate.

“I swore to tell the truth, and the whole truth,” the sheriff said in response to Douthitt’s question.

“I try to provide an environment where people can be themselves,” Lyde tested.

Thursday morning, Gabriel denied a defense motion to disqualify Hall from the petition to remove Lyde from the elected office.

The suspension hearing was a skirmish in petitioners’ battle to dislodge Lyde from elected office.

It is a lawsuit, and Lyde is expected to go to trial in civil court to respond to the allegations detailed in it. Douthitt and Hall are the remaining petitioners since Clay County Attorney Seth Slagle recused himself. Lyde has denied their allegations.

In addition, at least 14 people came forward to be sworn in as witnesses Thursday before the suspension hearing but only about six were tested, indicating more evidence can be put before the judge.

Senior Justice Lee Gabriel

Senior Justice Lee Gabriel

It was apparent during Thursday’s proceedings that the judges and attorneys were finding their way in how to handle potential testimony and other issues related to the petition.

The judge said the petition fell under a very old law.

Indeed, such petitions for removal from office seemed rare until five were filed in Clay County in recent memory against various officials. That includes two against Lyde.

Gabriel said she thinks the other petition to remove the sheriff from office is on a docket for dismissal.

She is a former justice for the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth who is eligible to try cases in the region including North Texas counties.

Check back with www.timesrecordnews.com for more on this developing story.

Lyde faced three charges of official oppression related to sexual harassment and one charge of official oppression connected to assault, according to indictments filed in December.

Moore has said the December accusations are politically motivated.

Lyde is charged with two more counts of official oppression related to a July 2021 incident in which a man and woman were allegedly held in jail without a finding of probable cause. He maintains his innocence of those charges.

Official oppression is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Trish Choate, enterprise watchdog reporter for the Times Record News, covers education, courts, breaking news and more. Contact her with news tips at [email protected]. Her Twitter handle is @Trishapedia.

This article originally appeared on Wichita Falls Times Record News: Sheriff Lyde hearing underground in Montague County

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