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Special to the News-Courier—
Dean Homstad, 64, pled guilty to Abuse of Official Capacity under Section 39.02 (2) of the Texas Penal Code in the 50th Judicial District Court on Tuesday Jan. 14, 2020.
Upon receiving a complaint about questionable expenditures made by Homstad from 2016-2019, 50th District Attorney Jennifer A. Habert asked the Texas Rangers to investigate. The Rangers concluded that there were $554.59 worth of items that Homstad either admitted were personal in nature or that could not reasonably be explained in any other manner.
The Rangers also identified four rifles that were purchased with county forfeiture funds in 2006 that were no longer in the possession of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. It was determined that the weapons had been distributed to law enforcement officers in 2006. During the investigation, the Texas Rangers were able to locate three of the weapons in the possession of individuals who had previously served as Knox County law enforcement personnel. Those weapons were returned to the possession of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. A fourth weapon had been reported stolen to the Haskell Police Department by a member of law enforcement and remains missing.
The Knox County Commissioner’s Court and Knox County Attorney Lina R. Trevino met with the 50th District Attorney to review the progress of the investigation on several occasions. All of the investigative materials provided to the district attorney by the Texas Rangers were copied and provided to the Knox County Attorney so that she could advise the commissioner’s court on how to proceed.
After much deliberation, the Knox County Commissioners Court decided that it was in the best interest of the citizens of Knox County to accept the resignation of Homstad from the office of Sheriff, reimbursement of the $554.59 in misused funds, and reimbursement of the cost of the still missing rifle and scope, and to require that Homstad permanently surrender his peace officer license. In exchange for his agreement to comply with those demands, the Knox County Commissioner’s Court agreed to not seek criminal prosecution or file a civil lawsuit.
The Agreement dated Oct. 4, 2019, expressly stated, “The parties have been informed that the 50th District Attorney cannot be bound by request for non-prosecution made by a complaining witness or by any civil agreement entered into by the parties. Presentation of this matter to a grand jury remains the sole discretion of the 50th District Attorney.”
The law provides that a prosecutor can accept or reject the terms suggested by an agreement made by the parties. The State can pick up criminal charges even when the victim urges them not to prosecute and the prosecutor has an obligation to make such determinations as justice sees fit.
The district attorney decided to present the evidence to the 12 members of the Knox County Grand Jury and to fully inform them of the terms of the Agreement and to invite Knox County Judge Stan Wojcik to share details that went into the decision not to press for criminal prosecution or conviction.
Prior to the meeting of the grand jury, Homstad, through his attorney Lance Wyatt, agreed to plead guilty in the event that the grand jury chose to indict. This agreement was contingent on the district attorney agreeing not to pursue a final conviction but to instead allow Homstad to serve a term of community supervision and pay any associated court costs. The district attorney decided to disclose this understanding with the grand jury as well.
Some have asked, “What was the point of presenting the matter to the grand jury if all sides had already agreed on how to handle the matter?” It was the opinion of the district attorney that the members of the grand jury should be permitted access to the evidence and the opportunity to ask any questions they had about the matter. In addition, they were given the choice to decide whether the matter should be allowed to rest or if Homstad should have to appear in court, admit guilt to a criminal offense, be finger printed and photographed and have the arrest appear in his criminal history.
After the presentation to the grand jury, including the information from Knox County Judge Stan Wojcik, the grand jurors voted to indict Homstad on the offense of Abuse of Official Capacity on Oct. 8, 2019. On Jan. 14, 2020, he appeared with his attorney in front of Judge Juanita Pavlick and pled guilty to the offense as charged. The plea deal included the terms agreed upon by county officials, including restitution, the permanent surrender of his peace officer’s license and the addition of court costs and a six-month term of community supervision.
This closes a sad chapter for all Knox County Citizens. The District Attorney Jennifer A. Habert would like to commend all of the public officials who worked diligently in seeking a just and swift result. Had all those concerned not wanted to engage in this difficult task, she would have referred the matter to Austin to be handled by the Attorney General’s office. Once such a referral is made, the manner and speed of resolution would have been out of the hands of local officials. It is highly likely that we would still be waiting for a resolution.
For citizens interested in more details, the Oct. 4, 2019 Agreement signed by the parties includes a summary of the investigation and a complete list of the reasons that went into the decision. That complete document is a public record filed at the Knox County Clerk’s office and it has been previously published in the local newspaper.