WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — The next hearing in a petition to remove Clay County Sheriff Jeff Lyde from office is set to take place on Thursday, February 23, 2023.
The hearing is set to be held at the Montague County Courthouse on Thursday, February 23 at 10 a.m. Clay County officials said this hearing will address “motions”, and that it was originally set for Tuesday, February 14, 2023, but was rescheduled.
Thursday’s scheduled hearing would be the first hearing in the petition to remove Lyde held in person in over a month. Following a brief hearing on January 17, a Zoom hearing was held on January 30, with the case’s newly appointed judge, Lee Gabriel, presiding.
Judge Gabriel was appointed after 97th District Judge Jack McGaughey voluntarily recused himself on January 20, 2023. Sheriff Lyde’s defense attorney, Randall D. Moore, filed a motion for his recusal on January 17, only a few hours before a hearing over which Judge McGaughey was set to preside.
Since the abbreviated hearing on January 17, several more motions, responses, answers, and orders have been filed with the Clay County District Clerk’s office in this case.
Motion to hold Sheriff Lyde in contempt of court
On January 24, attorney Frank Douthitt and the State of Texas, represented by 97th District Attorney Casey Hall, filed a motion to hold Sheriff Lyde in contempt of court for violating a temporary restraining order originally signed on January 2, 2023, and extended on January 17.
According to the restraining order, Sheriff Lyde was restricted from any type of retaliatory actions against current employees of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, and he was not permitted to alter any employee’s job status or rate of pay, among other provisions.
The State alleges that a violation of that order occurred when on January 19, 2023, Sheriff Lyde placed four CCSO employees on administrative leave, two of which were alleged victims of sexual harassment committed by Sheriff Lyde that lead to his most recent indictments for official oppression.
The State said in the motion that since two employees placed on leave are witnesses and two are victims, Sheriff Lyde’s actions are clearly retaliatory.
Motion to dissolve temporary restraining order
In response to the motion to find Sheriff Lyde in contempt, the defense filed an answer and counterclaim, denying all allegations made in the petition.
The defense then asked for the temporary restraining order to be voided on the grounds that Hall and Clay County Attorney Seth Slagle, an original petitioner, were disqualified from serving as counsel in the hearing, claiming Hall is a key fact witness in the case and that Slagle is the Sheriff’s attorney as a matter of law.
The defense then moved for the court to dissolve the temporary restraining order against Sheriff Lyde because it violates Texas state law. The defense also commented on the complaints against Sheriff Lyde that lead to his most recent charges of official oppression.
“It is truly amazing these complainants complained of a hostile work environment where they were sexually harassed to the extent three indictments for official oppression were handed down, and yet now complain about not being at the work place they complain of, with pay and no loss of rights or benefits,” the response said.
Sheriff Lyde also offered a counterclaim, alleging the petition was brought in bad faith.
The motion to dissolve the restraining order was granted by Judge Gabriel on January 30.
Sheriff Lyde explains administrative leave
After the temporary restraining order was dissolved, Sheriff Lyde resumed posting weekly Facebook Live videos to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office Facebook Page, which he has done regularly since taking office.
In a Facebook Live video published on January 30, Sheriff Lyde said the judge ruled that the restraining order was “defective on its face”, and said he “wanted to clear some stuff up here” concerning the four CCSO employees placed on administrative leave.
“They did not lose their badge, nor their gun,” Sheriff Lyde said. “They didn’t lose their ability to work off-duty jobs. They did not lose any pay or benefits, and they’re actually still accruing vacation and sick leave.”
Sheriff Lyde said the four employees were placed on administrative leave due to his obligation to conduct his duties as the sheriff of Clay County, and having those four employees come into work would be a violation of his bond conditions.
“Those people have not been fired, really they haven’t lost anything. They’re just at home,” Sheriff Lyde said. “They haven’t been damaged in any way, and they’re certainly not in any danger of being fired.”
State answers motion for disqualification
On February 2, 2023, Slagle voluntarily recused himself from the case, and in so doing, made the request for disqualification a moot point.
A response was filed on February 7, in which the State argues that Hall is in fact not a key fact witness because prior to Sheriff Lyde being indicted on charges of official oppression in 2021, Hall recused herself in those criminal proceedings.
Since Hall chose to voluntarily recuse herself from other criminal proceedings, no conflict of interest exists according to the State, so they requested the judge deny the motion made by Lyde’s defense team.
State files amended petition to remove Sheriff Lyde
On February 6, the State filed an amended petition to remove Lyde on February 6, again seeking Lyde’s immediate suspension without pay and the appointment of a temporary replacement Sheriff.
In the amended petition, the State alleges Sheriff Lyde “engaged in intentional, unlawful behavior relating to official duties entrusted with the administration of justice or the execution of the law.”
The State claimed in its amended petition to remove Sheriff Lyde from office that he “is a corrupt public servant” and has engaged in “a pattern of official misconduct” that lead to five indictments for official oppression.
Included as examples of his alleged misconduct by the State was the “illegal detention of Clay County citizens” that lead to his first two official oppression charges, threats made to citizens of Clay County, and the allegations of sexual harassment made against him.
“Sheriff Lyde is guilty of a series of egregious acts of corruption and official misconduct,” the amended petition said.
The State then recommended Sheriff Lyde be suspended while the case proceeded. They also recommended that Constable Sidney Horton be appointed to serve as the interim sheriff.
Most recently, on Monday, February 13, the State notified Lyde’s defense team of their intention to introduce over 400 pages of records from the DPS pertaining to Lyde’s employment there.
As of Thursday, February 16, 2023, Sheriff Lyde has 5 pending charges of official oppression against him, a civil suit pending, and the four CCSO employees remain on administrative leave after nearly a month.