Sheriff, deputies and residents dispute candidate Winn’s tornado claims

Photo by Dave A. Vance.
2016 Ellis County Sheriff Republican candidates

ELLIS COUNTY — Response has been swift following a false claim made by Wess Winn, candidate for Ellis County Sheriff, that the Sheriff and sheriff's office did not respond to the EF-3 tornado that ripped through Ellis County on December 26, 2015.

Winn's campaign mailer that began hitting mailboxes across the county on Friday accused the Ellis County Sheriff's Office and Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown of not responding to the tornado that destroyed and damaged over 170 homes and caused over $20 million in damage in Ellis County.

Winn is currently a police officer with the Waxahachie Police Department and is a School Board Trustee for the Waxahachie Independent School District.

The campaign mailer sent by Winn's campaign for sheriff of Ellis County stated, "RESPOND immediately when requested to help other first responders. Fire, EMS and other law enforcement agencies can count on me. When a disaster strikes, like the recent tornado, there is no excuse to not respond. I promise to be in the Emergency Operations Center and make our deputies and resources available where needed. Participation isn't optional when public safety is at stake."

Sheriff Brown issued a statement directed at Winn disputing the claims and defending his staff following Winn's campaign mailer.

"This crossed the line! As my opponent I expected nothing less than an attack on me but don't ever talk about my county family. The deputies and detention officers at Ellis County are the best employees this county has ever had protecting the citizens of this county, Sheriff Brown said.

"Talk to me man to man sling mud at me all you want I promise you I can handle it. You owe every employee of the Ellis County Sheriffs Office an apology for your insult on their integrity and work ethics."

"To my County Family I'm sorry this campaign has attacked y'all. Hold your heads high because y'all are the best and I love and thank all of you for being my family," Sheriff Brown directed to his staff.

Joshua Atilano, President of Ellis County Sheriff's Officers' Association also disputed Winn's campaign mailer claims.

"The implications made by the mailer sent by the Winn campaign was very disheartening. Many agencies, including the Sheriff's Office, immediately responded and remained in the disaster area for several days following the tornado's destruction," Atilano said.

"I know the efforts that went into handling the needs of our community because I was there, searching the rubble, calming the victims as they evaluated the loss of their homes, and passing out food, throughout the long shifts, to Deputies and Officers from surrounding agencies whose purpose was to prevent looting."

"I truly hope this 'talking point' does not diminish the valiant efforts of our local law enforcement and the courageous citizens, who worked beside us and were just as vital to our effectiveness, during this critical time," Atilano concluded.

Ellis County Deputy Sheriff Eric Thompson issued a statement to Ellis County Citizen on Friday after Winn's campaign mailers began hitting mailboxes.

"Many Ellis County citizens received a letter today in the mail with some info that is absolutely NOT TRUE," Thompson said.

"I'm only being vocal because I, along with other deputies, left our family the day after Christmas to assist citizens in need and to see this sent out is mind boggling and unprofessional. Not sure where the info came from but I know first hand Sheriff Brown and many deputies were on scene moments after the tornado blew through.

"I also want to thank the surrounding agencies and their Officers for assisting. Everyone worked their butts off and we all came together as one. This lie is a slap in the face to ALL employees at the Sheriff's Office," Thompson finished.

Lieutenant James Saulter of the Ellis County Sheriff's Office responded to Ellis County Citizen's request for comment.

"I would just say it's a slap in the face to all of our deputies that responded immediately that night after the tornadoes hit. I personally was there for fourteen hours and worked side by side with Sheriff Brown," Saulter said.

Ellis County Citizen addressed these same allegations in an editorial opinion on January 30 when Kevin Scott Crouch, a former candidate for Trustee of the Waxahachie Independent School District, first made the claims that the Ellis County Sheriff's Office did not respond to the tornadoes.

Ellis County residents were quick to respond in defense of Sheriff Brown and dispute the claims made in Winn's campaign mailer. Marsha Tucker, who went through the devastating tornado, stated Sheriff Brown personally checked on her family.

"He came by my house to check on things right after the tornado. I live on Westmoreland Rd. where damage was significant," Tucker wrote.

Kellie Fenton, whose boyfriend is an Ellis County Deputy Sheriff posted a comment to the editorial disputing Crouch's claims.

"Kevin, Not real sure where you got your facts, maybe from Wess Winn or maybe just making things up, but my boyfriend is a deputy sheriff for Ellis County and I know that he pulled a 14+ hour shift at the tornado site. How dare you use a tragedy like that to run down Johnny Brown and the Sheriffs Office," Kellie Fenton wrote.

Fenton also issued a statement on her personal Facebook page Friday following the receipt of Winn's campaign mailer in her mailbox.

"We received flyer in the mail today and I am utterly disgusted at the lies told. I don't understand why this person can't run an honest campaign after all, he is all about transparency and honesty. I know for a fact that Sheriff Brown and his deputies were on the scene of the tornado that hit Ellis County in December IMMEDIATELY! AND they stayed on the scene for days, some without even taking a break after 14+ hours! There were multiple agencies on the scene after this tragic event and I'm sure any of them would agree with my FB post... including Waxahachie PD that this statement from Wess is an outright lie. Using this tragedy for political gain is disgusting, the residents of Ellis County need to know the truth. Citizens I personally applaud Sheriff Johnny Brown, all of his deputies and all the assisting agencies for their work and diligence during the Tornado and every other day they leave their families and keep Ellis County safe," Fenton stated.

Terri Meyeer praised the sheriff's deputies who responded.

"Sheriff's officers did a fantastic job helping us in LaVista. They kept a close eye on us & our property. Couldn't have asked for better officers out there," Meyeer wrote.

One of Sheriff Brown's church family members recounted the dedication Brown had for helping his fellow Ellis County citizens affected by the devastation.

"Sheriff Johnny Brown just so happens to go to my church and the morning after the storms blew through he barely made it to church. He had been up all night WITH his deputies, still in his rain boots. He wasn't even able to stay for service as he needed to get back out to help with the storm efforts. He came for prayer and left. He met with the elders and church staff personally and described what damage had been seen and what areas were affected and asked for prayer for the families affected as well as safety for himself and his officers in the aftermath of these storms," Timothy Miller wrote.

Nancy Harris-Brinker, a dispatcher at the Ellis County Sheriff's Office weighed in as well.

"I work for Sheriff Johnny Brown as a dispatcher at the Sheriff's Office, worked the weekend of the tornadoes, and can ASSURE everyone that Sheriff Brown and every available deputy we had were working the areas hit by the storms," she wrote.

Ellis County Precinct 2 Constable Terry Nay gave his first-hand account of the response.

"That statement is completely untrue, I worked along side Sheriff Brown that very evening just off Black Champ Rd. There were many first responders from Waxahachie/Midlothian P.D and F.D along with many Rural Firemen from all over. Constable Jones and his deputies, as well Commissioner Kyle Butler on scene, who can all attest the Sheriff and many of his deputies present and assisting in this disaster," Nay wrote.