UPDATE, March 10: Chief Laurence was fired by the Covington City Council during its March 9 meeting.
Wade Laurence, Chief of Police in a minuscule town called Covington, Texas, has been arrested by the Texas Rangers and charged with using a fraudulent prescription to obtain controlled substances, a third degree felony. With the Chief free on $20,000 bail, the City Council is planning to meet this evening (March 9), reportedly to consider disbanding the police force. Under Wade’s direction, the Covington PD has carried out what some residents of the town — including former members of the police force — describe as something akin to a reign of terror. In addition to fraudulently procuring prescription medications, Laurence has been accused of involvement in dealing drugs to local schoolchildren and illegal diversion of confiscated marijuana.
“They are scared to death now,” says City Council member Martha Smith. “They lock their doors, they lock their car doors because they are scared of the police.”
A report filed with the Texas Rangers by Officer Kayla Richardson (who provided a copy to Republic) describes how Wade — at the time a sergeant in the Covington PD — engineered the removal of Chief Dowell Missildine about a year ago. This happened after Chief Missildine began investigating Wade’s suspected theft of hydrocodone pills (a controlled substance) from the department’s evidence locker.
In his own report to the Rangers, Missildine relates how Wade had “asked me at one time if he could have Dr. [Petros] Chapanos fill some prescriptions in my name” for hydrocodone “because he stated that he accidentally threw his prescription in the trash…. I told Wade that I did not think he would do that because it was illegal.” Missildine later documented that Wade had indeed used the Chief’s prescription to obtain both hyrdocodone and Cialis. (Copies of those documents were provided toRepublic as well).
Missildine recalled that he and Officer Richardson “had several conversations and she told me that [citizens] were complaining about drug activity and allegations of officers selling drugs to school kids and wanting her to do something about it. I told her I knew of most of the situations she was telling me about because of citizens contacting me also.” Last October, after Wade had forced out Missildine and replaced him as Chief, Richardson — who was still on the force — told him that “she was afraid for her life and that she felt they [Wade and his allies on the police force] were going to set her up on a traffic stop and have her killed because of information she was aware of in reference to the hydrocodone case.”
Shortly thereafter, Officer Richardson was also purged from the police force. She was not the only resident of the 250-person town — located a short distance south of Forth Worth — who is afraid of potentially lethal reprisals from the police.
“I’m scared people are going to start shooting me,” Covington-area resident Tracey Baccus toldRepublic. Baccus, who runs a sewer service company, volunteers in local sports leagues as a coach and umpire. Roughly a year ago he became concerned when he noticed that a number of kids displayed the symptoms of drug use.
“Kids began to tell me that stuff was being sold to them by the police,” Baccus recounted to Republic. “They said the police had assured them, `It’s not drugs, it’s prescription meds — and they’re legal.’” The supposedly innocuous “meds” included what Baccus described as “military-grade” Xanax. He contacted Missildine with his concerns.
“We talked to DEA; we talked to everybody,” he recalls. “I told Kayla [Richardson], and they took care of her. They even arrested her boyfriend in a City Council meeting.”
Richardson’s fiance, Clifton Shelby, was arrested during the same City Council meeting in which she appealed her termination.To justify this transparent act of retaliation, Chief Wade filed a complaint charging Shelby with “assault with a deadly weapon” for an incident on a local highway several weeks earlier that didn’t involve a collision: As Shelby, who was driving his truck, passed Wade’s Corvette on the wet and slippery road, he momentarily swerved into the other lane. Although Wade confronted Shelby at the side of the road, he didn’t write a citation or file a complaint until much later — when it offered him an opportunity to humiliate both Richardson and Shelby by dragging him from a public meeting in handcuffs.
The threats and retaliatory harassment have only escalated since then. Former Fire Chief George Burnett*, who circulated a petition calling to disband the police department, was also threatened by Chief Wade.
“The police chief and three other of his police came down and were raising Cain about me getting this petition signed,” Burnett told Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA. “They said I was raising a lot of trouble in town.”
Council member Martha Smith, 69, was threatened with arrest when she visited the municipal office to request copies of the official minutes for the years 2005-2007.
After Smith made her request, the town clerk, Courtney Childress — Wade’s girlfriend — “said that she wanted to talk to me,” Smith informed Republic. The two went to a back room where Childress indignantly told Smith that “CPS had been called and were trying to get custody of her son.” Smith, who had not called CPS on anybody, was puzzled by Childress’s behavior, which was aggressive and confrontational. “It seemed like she was trying to provoke me,” Smith related — an impression that was fortified when Wade and a Covington PD Detective named Andy Montgomery suddenly flanked Childress.
By this time, according to Smith, “I’d already put my hands behind my back.” However, hauling away a 69-year-old female City Council member would require some evidence of a crime, and Smith hadn’t provided any. She was allowed to leave — only to experience another shock when she went home.
“My 16-year-old foster son told me that a girl at school that day said that I was supposed to be arrested,” Smith reports. “It seems pretty clear that they were trying to set me up, and that if I had even touched her [Childress], they planned to take me to jail.”
This wasn’t the only threat Smith has endured.
“I was told that if I talked to the Texas Rangers [about Wade and his associates on the force] they would find some way to frame me or my family for drug trafficking,” Smith told Republic. “They said things such as, `We know who your grandkids are buying and selling from.’ I asked them, `You want to have them tested?’ I know they’re not doing anything like that.”
Threats having failed to silence Smith, somebody apparently decided to try a different approach: Sometime during the evening of March 1, the rear windshield of her SUV was vandalized. Both Smith and Scott Parker — another former police officer — told Republic that this took place on a night when Smith’s home was kept under constant scrutiny by officers driving “blacked-out” Covington SUVs.
Three Covington residents — including two former police officers — suspect that Wade and an ally on the police force are improperly shipping controlled substances, out of state. A “Transport Notice” issued last September (a copy of which was provided to Republic) announced that Detective Montgomery — who, along with Chief Wade, threatened Council member Martha Smith — planned to carry drug paraphernalia “to K-9 trainer Marcus Rynak” in Sterling, Colorado. Sources close to the Covington PD claim that a large amount of confiscated marijuana that should have been shipped to a Texas Department of Public Safety facility in Waco have been illegally diverted to Colorado.
Covington is one of several Texas communities that are dealing with drug-related municipal corruption:
*As Republic previously reported, Constable Fred Walker of Texas’s Shelby County allegedly ordered the illegal bugging of municipal officials in the village of Tenaha, which has been at the center of a multi-million-dollar drug asset forfeiture scam. Those charges were made in an affidavit filed by Roderette McClure, who was arrested last fall for breaking into the offices at Walker’s direction. McClure, who on February 14 pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, told FBI investigators that Constable Walker “had him install surveillance cameras disguised as smoke detectors and hidden voice-activated digital recording equipment in the offices of Tenana Mayor George Boyers and deputy city marshal Barry Washington,” reports the AP. “Walker said he wanted to `cover’ himself over the traffic stops, most of which were conducted by Washington….”
According to McClure’s affidavit, he and Walker ran a drug trafficking ring when Walker was City Marshal. They eventually embezzled roughly 500 pounds in contraband – including marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and hydrocone – from the Tenaha City Marshal’s office evidence room. In November 2010, the pair received an extortion threat from someone identifying himself as “Jack Frost” who said he was aware that Walker and McClure were stealing confiscated drugs and selling them. This led them to “stage a burglary as a cover for the missing drugs” – and then to install the listening devices in city office buildings in order to find out who was aware the City Marshall was moonlighting as a drug lord.
*In late February, Willie Gandara, Jr., a Commissioner in El Paso County, was arrested as part of a multi-jurisdictional investigation into drug trafficking.The five-count federal indictment accuses Gandara – referred to in the document by the pseudonym “Godfather” — of possessing 110 pounds of marijuana and operating a so-called “stash house” for drug traffickers.
Last September, Willie Gandara, Jr., a County Commissioner in Texas’ El Paso County, assailed what he called “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who opposed the war on drugs. Such people, Gandara told the El Paso Times, are acting on an “ulterior motive.” Legalizing drugs, insisted Commissioner Gandara, is a coward’s approach to a social problem, as well as “an insult to our men and women in law enforcement, and the laziest form of parenting our children and youth about the effects of drugs.”
Gandara directed those remarks at aspiring legislative candidate Beto O’Rourke, who has advocated legalization of marijuana as a way of reducing the profits accumulated by Mexican drug cartels. The cartels have benefited enormously from drug prohibition, which amounts to a huge price support program for some of the most vicious criminal personalities in human history.
If the charges against Gandara are true, it’s likely that his attacks on drug war critics were inspired by a desire to preserve his illicit profits.
Shortly before Chief Laurence was arrested, Republic magazine made repeated efforts to contact him to respond to allegations that he — like Constable Walker and Commissioner Gandara — was playing both sides of the “War on Drugs.” He declined to answer our requests for information.
“I was proud to be a police officer, but I can understand why people in Covington are afraid of the police force and want to see it disbanded now,” Kayla Richardson lamented to Republic. “The police should be protecting people’s rights, not intimidating and threatening them.”
Go here for more coverage of events in Covington.