A criminal investigation by the Texas Rangers and the FBI has led to the arrest of Panola County Sheriff Ron Clinton.
According to Trooper Jean Dark, Sheriff Clinton was arrested Thursday on multiple charges which include tampering with a government record defraud/harm, abuse of official capacity, and theft by a public servant.
No details about the nature of the criminal investigation or what prompted it have been released.
Texas Rangers say the courthouse was evacuated before the arrest, but acting sheriff Kevin Lake says the evacuation and the arrest were completely unrelated and happened hours apart. Lake says they're not trying to hide anything, calling the evacuation "just a security drill."
The Panola Watchman reporter Rodger McLane was in the building conducting an unrelated interview when it was evacuated. He tells KSLA News 12 that there was no explanation, and that deputies just asked everyone to leave the building. McLane says there was no mention of a drill.
Jean Smith, who works in the courthouse, shares a similar account. "I was filing as I usually do in the office and a sheriff came to the window and asked one of our deputies to step outside. When she did she came back and told us that he told us to evacuate immediately and that everything was taken care of and there was nothing to be frightened about, just move swiftly out of the building."
In a statement released Friday morning, Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson noted that an order to appoint a special prosecutor and four assistants from Smith County to serve as special prosecutors "in connection with the investigation of and prosecution of criminal actions and civil removal actions against Sheriff Ronald Worth Clinton" was not filed as planned on Thursday because of the early closure of the courthouse.
That order is expected to be filed today.
Davidson also noted that "The Criminal District Attorney's office was and is unaware of any reason for and received no notice of the early courthouse closure."
Meanwhile, Clinton is free on $50,000 bond.
The Panola County Watchman reports that Clinton was released after posting bail for all three charges. Clinton was released on a $20,000 surety bond for tampering with government record defraud/harm, $10,000 surety bond for abuse of official capacity, and a $20,000 surety bond for theft by public servant.
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