Erath County crime sees ‘once in a lifetime’ increase, Bryant says

By Robyn Tanter – 

The recent string of unusual, high profile crimes in Erath County – a double murder, a sexual mutilation, a string of robberies – are without precedent, Sheriff Tommy Bryant says.

“The kind of violence we’ve been seeing is a once in a lifetime deal,” he said in an interview. “We most likely won’t see anything like this again.”

Since Bryant assumed the role of sheriff in 1997, he has seen crime grow alongside the increasing population in the area.

“When I first took over in ’97, my office received about 6,500 calls a year; last year we received 80,000,” Bryant says.

He cites drug smuggling from Mexico as the reason Stephenville has seen so much violent, drug- related crime.

“The old ‘mom-and-pop’ meth labs in the area are gone,” Bryant says.  Cheap drugs smuggled over the border from Mexico undercut the prices local drug dealers maintained, forcing them out of business.  A growing population coupled with an outside source of illicit substances constitutes an environment where conflict over drugs and territory may occur, he says.

The slaying of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, along with the shooting of Chief Felony Prosecutor Mark Hasse a few months ago, is reverberating through courthouses around the state, including in Erath County.

Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash said the Texas District and County Attorneys Association recently advised law enforcement officials to step up security in counties across the state. Nash says he has been briefed on security protocols should such an incident occur here.

Investigators are trying to determine who’s responsible for the murders, whether it’s the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas or some other group of individuals.

“It’s as much media speculation as it is law enforcement speculation,” Nash said. Kaufman County had recently prosecuted members of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang.  Regarding the threat of the Aryan Brotherhood, Nash says that to his knowledge, Erath County has not actively prosecuted a white supremacist group, likely removing the possibility of any such activity in the local area.

For the past year the American public has watched as a wave of brutal, high profile shootings has torn through the country.  From the Aurora, Colo. shooting at a theater to the recent Sandy Hook school shooting in Conn., gun violence has become a common sight on newscasts and on the front page of newspapers.  For most people, these crimes take place far away, isolated from daily life.  Few places exemplify this sentiment as well as Stephenville, where the crime of urban centers like Dallas and Ft. Worth exist practically a world away.

This idea was shattered on Feb. 2, 2013, when Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and friend Chad Littlefield were murdered at Rough Creek Lodge just outside of Glen Rose.  With a shooting of international interest now having occurred in the area’s backyard, some are calling into question Stephenville’s safety, as well as the safety of the public in general.

Many have become fearful of their safety, even within their homes.

Although the number of crimes reported each year has increased, Bryant says, the types of crimes reported to law enforcement haven’t changed much. Bryant seeks to assuage the fears of the general public. “Stephenville is still one of the safest places in the country,” he says.

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