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Rolling Stone

Texas Lawman Linked to Oath Keepers Convicted After Violating Inmate Rights

By Tim Dickinson,

2023-09-18
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A Texas sheriff with links to the Oath Keepers has been convicted of “official oppression” for the mistreatment of detainees in his jail in 2021, one of whom allegedly staged a suicide attempt.

Jeffery C. Lyde is the suspended sheriff of Clay County, a rural area of North Texas near the Oklahoma border. In November 2021, Rolling Stone broke the news that Lyde’s name appeared on a leaked roster of the Oath Keepers — the conspiratorial, anti-government militia that once actively recruited members of law enforcement. That very day, Lyde was arrested and booked at his own jail for allegedly abusing his official powers — specifically for the extended jailing of two arrestees “without a finding of probable cause.”

The jury trial, which concluded Friday, revealed that a local couple, Landon Goad and Sarah Johnson, had been arrested for a domestic disturbance and booked into Clay County’s jail in July 2021.

Under Texas law, the couple should have been seen within 24 hours by a magistrate judge, to review the evidence of probable cause for their arrest. Federal courts have ruled that the U.S. Constitution guarantees this due process within a maximum of 48 hours.

Goad and Johnson did not receive a judicial review for 46 hours. At that time, a local justice of the peace ruled that there was, in fact, no probable cause to detain them. The pair should have been set free immediately. But Lyde did not release the couple. He continued to jail them — contrary to the law and the Constitution.

Johnson, jurors heard, soon grew upset over her continued detention. She was put on suicide watch, attempted to hang herself with a shower curtain, was briefly hospitalized, and then returned to jail. (A separate federal lawsuit filed by Goad and Johnson against Lyde asserts that Johnson “feigned” the attempt at “self-harm” in hopes of being able to make a call to her family from the E.R., calling it an “unsuccessful ploy.” The suit seeks punitive damages for what it decries as Lyde’s “malice, evil intent or reckless or callous indifference” to the pair’s “constitutionally protected rights.”)

After the pair had been held for nearly 70 hours, Lyde shopped the case to a different judge, who was presented paperwork falsely indicating that the arrestees had been in jail for less than two days. That judge approved a finding of probable cause. The duo finally paid bonds of $1,500 and were released.

As the scandal was evolving in real time, Lyde refused to take instruction from the local DA, who’d gotten wind of the unlawful detainments and told the sheriff he needed to release the couple. In a conversation with a Texas Ranger, a recording of which was played for the jury, Lyde complained that the first justice of the peace was “going to bat for a couple of fucking meth heads.”

Later, Lyde also failed to turn over the original, notarized finding of no probable cause when subpoenaed by prosecutors. He instead concealed the document in his personal office at the sheriff’s department.

Following a five-day trial, which concluded with just an hour of jury deliberations, Lyde was convicted of “official oppression” and “tampering with a government record” — both Class A misdemeanors. Each charge can be punished by up to a year in prison. Sentencing is expected in October.

“The jury sent an important message with their verdict,” prosecutor Staley Heatly said after the verdict. “No man is above the law, and no man below it.” Sheriff Lyde, Heatly added, had “decided that the rules did not apply to how he treated inmates in his facility. The jury rightly decided that the Constitution applies equally to all of us.”

If the conviction is upheld through appeal, Lyde will permanently lose his peace officer license. Lyde was temporarily suspended from his post as sheriff in February, stemming from unrelated allegations of sexual harassment of sheriff department employees.

Earlier, a leaked roster of the Oath Keepers militia, obtained by Rolling Stone in the fall of 2021, revealed that Lyde had enrolled with an annual membership. The sheriff did not respond to questions about his affiliation with the militia, whose members abided by a conspiratorial 10-part oath that begins with a vow to defend the Constitution but quickly escalates to a promise never to turn American cities into “giant concentration camps.”

However, Lyde told constituents in Dec. 2021 that he remembered signing up for the group: “Did I give, I dunno, my dollar or five bucks, 12 years ago [to join the group] and get a sticker that was on a truck that I don’t own anymore? Yeah, absolutely true,” he said. “If that makes me a member of the Oath Keepers, then so be it.”

Lyde clarified that he had nothing to do with, and no sympathy for, the incursion at the Capitol on Jan. 6, for which several Oath Keepers leaders are now serving long prison sentences . Lyde then added, in comments that today ooze with irony: “I will tell you that I am an Oath Keeper in the sense that I will never subject you or anybody else in Clay County to things that are unconstitutional.”

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