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Loving County, Texas’ top elected official charged with cattle theft

Lawyers came to remote Loving County, Texas on Friday to arrest the county judge, a former sheriff’s deputy and two ranch hands for one of Texas’ oldest crimes – theft of livestock.

Judge Skeet Jones, 71, the most senior elected official since 2007 in the least populous county in the continental United States, faces three counts of cattle rustling and one count of self engaging in criminal activity, accused of rounding up and selling stray livestock, authorities mentioned.

Jones, the scion of a powerful ranching family that settled in Loving County in the 1950s, was jailed in the Winkler County Jail on Friday and released on $20,000 bond, according to the archives. He did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Authorities also arrested former Loving County deputy Leroy Medlin Jr., 35, on one count of criminal activity — a second-degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. Medlin did not return the phone calls, but his wife sent an email questioning the motives for the arrests. “We are being targeted,” she wrote, “head on.”

Officials from the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the agency responsible for the case, provided few details about the alleged crime. Commissioned by the Texas Department of Public Safety, the association has “special guards” – certified peace officers – who investigate cattle rustling and other farm crimes.

Jeremy Fuchs, a spokesperson for the association, said the year-long investigation was ongoing and further charges were possible.

The idea that the judge – who is paid $133,294 a year – would be arrested for rustling cattle was just too much for Susan Hays, a Texas election lawyer who has fallen out with the Joneses in the past.

“You can’t make this shit up,” she said. “It is difficult to round up the cattle and bring them to market. And then risk real trouble for her? It’s just stupid to me.

News of the arrests spread faster than a prairie fire with a tailwind in this west Texas county, which had a population of 57 according to the latest US Census Bureau estimate. Spread across 671 square miles of mesquite-strewn desert, Loving County has no schools, churches, grocery stores, or banks. The few children who live there board the bus in the town alone, Mentone (pop. 22), and travel about 35 miles each morning and afternoon to school.

For decades, a handful of prominent Loving County families fought bitterly for control of local government, with the Joneses ultimately emerging largely as the victor. Skeet Jones has been a judge for over 15 years. His sister is the county clerk. Her cousin’s husband is the county attorney. His nephew is the policeman.

But some newly elected county officials clashed with the Joneses and their allies, resulting in colorful commissioners’ court meetings and a much-anticipated November election.

And blood no longer holds the Jones family together.

“He’s had free rein the whole time he’s been a judge,” said Skeet Jones’ nephew, Constable Brandon Jones, who was elected in 2016. “It gave him a sense of power and control. ‘impunity that he can do what he wants when he wants. Even the feeling of complacency. That he can do no wrong.

When Skeet Jones was sworn in as a judge in 2007, most of the caliche roads were potholed like washboards and residents still had to queue to get drinking water from a community reservoir.

Skeet Jones at the courthouse in Mentone, Texas on July 9, 2014.Michael Stravato / The New York Times via Redux File

But he presided over a period of unprecedented growth, as fracking exploded in the Permian Basin, feeding cash into the county’s coffers. The parched landscape is dotted with huge gasworks, waterworks and saltwater disposal systems. Many of the surviving working ranches have “fracking pads” for horizontally drilled wells that cut through caliche and bedrock to release the lifeblood of Loving County’s economy: oil and gas.

The tax base oscillates between 7 and 9 billion dollars. And the county’s budget has grown from about $2 million in 2008 to over $28 million.

The salaries of many of the city’s top officials — the judge, auditor, treasurer, clerk, justice of the peace, county attorney, constable, and sheriff — are $100,000 or more.

Jones’s father, Elgin “Punk” Jones, and mother, Mary Belle Jones, founded the P&M Jones Ranch in 1953, settling in a frame home with no running water. “When I first came to Mentone in 1953, it was a shock,” Mary Belle Jones told the Texas Monthly in 1997. “I said to my husband, ‘Punk, how long are we going live in this cursed place?’ ”

But she’s come to love the vast, unobstructed skyline of Loving County. She served as the county’s chief assessor for years. Punk Jones, the sheriff for 28 years, is credited with discovering the freshwater well field that supplies Mentone.

Skeet Jones has been in trouble before, but nothing like it. In 2016, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct determined that Jones broke the law by charging a hefty fee — about $600 to $750 — to reduce tickets, including speeding and possession. of marijuana, to parking tickets.

The judge denied any involvement in the ticket negotiations and told the commission that he had just approved the plea deals presented to him. He received a public warning and was ordered to undergo 10 hours of additional instruction.

Medlin previously worked as a detective for the San Antonio Police Department, where records show he was suspended three times indefinitely – the department’s equivalent of being fired.

In 2015, he was suspended indefinitely for a 100mph plus chase of a driver who had a toddler in the back seat, records show. Medlin was reinstated after an appeal.

Then in 2018, Medlin engaged in another high-speed chase after telling dispatchers the driver “almost ran me over,” records show. But body camera and dashboard footage contradicted Medlin’s account, according to Internal Affairs reports. He appealed again, telling supervisors he felt threatened, even though it was not apparent from the videos.

He later received another indefinite suspension after supervisors determined he issued tickets for violations he did not witness, records show.

Medlin joined the Loving County Sheriff’s Office in January 2019 and “parted ways” with the agency less than two years later, records show. (Sheriff Chris Busse declined to say why.)

Medlin also worked on Jones’ ranch before being hired by Loving County as a janitor and gardener.

Two ranch hands were also arrested on Friday. Cody Williams, 31, has been charged with three counts of cattle rustling and participating in organized criminal activity, records show. He did not return a reporter’s phone call.

Jonathon Alvarado, 23, faces one count of cattle rustling, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. He hung up on a reporter seeking comment.

In addition to the judge, Medlin, Williams and Alvarado posted bond and were released from jail.

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