FLASH STAFF REPORT
ERATH COUNTY — Three years after being escorted out of the sheriff’s office, losing their jobs, a TCOLE investigation, charges filed against them with the Attorney General office and a civil lawsuit former Erath County Chief Deputy Jason Upshaw and deputy Randy Fowler have been cleared by the Texas State AG due to “insufficient evidence” in the case against them.
An Erath County Grand Jury had indicted both men on charges of abuse of official capacity and aggravated perjury in the case, which began in 2016 when then-sheriff Tommy Bryant was under investigation by TCOLE for not completing his continuing education classes himself. According to TCOLE, the investigation revealed numerous issues in the sheriff’s office.
According to information from the Texas AG, both Upshaw and Fowler had to relinquish their peace officer’s licenses, which will keep them from working in law enforcement in the United States ever again, in order for the charges to be dropped.
In 2016, amid the controversy, current Erath County Sheriff Matt Coates was appointed by the Erath County Commissioners’ Court. He was the authority figure who suspended, and later fired, Upshaw and Fowler. Others were also suspended and fired at that time included current Dublin Police Chief Bobby Mendez who was cleared of charges against him and hired in Dublin.
Later, as the TCOLE/AG investigation dragged on, Upshaw and Fowler filed a civil suit against Coats and the commissioners (Dee Stephens, Herbert Brown, Joe Brown and Scot Jackson) in 2017. That case is still ongoing in a federal Dallas court, and despite being delayed and then transferred to a new judge, Upshaw and Fowler’s attorney feels good about the case moving forward.
In that case, Upshaw and Fowler are asking for name clearing in the form of a hearing and compensation for “mental anguish,” lost wages and damages. There has been lots of name-calling and finger-pointing in the testimonies taken for the civil case including accusations that Coates had an affair with a woman who was also an employee of the county.
Upshaw and Fowler say they were fired, not because of their wrongdoing in the case with Bryant, but because Coates was mad they previously reported him for having an affair with another county employee while he was an investigator for the District Attorney’s office and she was an employee at the Erath County Sheriff’s Office where Coates is now the top cop.
In court documents obtained by The Flash Today from the federal court in Dallas County, the woman, who was employed at the sheriff’s office, gave sworn testimony to verify the affair and other situations and claims made by the two men. However, Coates gave sworn testimony denying everything. Lawyers involved say it will be a case of who is more believable in proving or disproving the affair and other accusations in the testimonies.
Now it is just a matter of having the case heard, which there is no definitive timeline for as the listed judge in the case transferred it to another judge. Upshaw and Fowler plan to follow the case through to the end, especially now, since the investigation charges against them have been officially dropped.