Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin went on Facebook to complain about new state fees and got them reversed within three days. WFAA-TV
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin went on Facebook to complain about new state fees and got them reversed within three days. WFAA-TV

Bud Kennedy

Here’s how a sheriff’s Facebook rant saved Texas counties $5.8 million

By Bud Kennedy

bud@star-telegram.com

July 29, 2017 2:31 PM

DECATUR

A Texas sheriff got steamed at state government and took his complaint to a familiar late-night audience: Facebook.

By the next morning, sheriffs statewide were joining Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin’s protest against new state fees that blindsided local officials.

Within three days, Gov. Greg Abbott asked officials to cancel plans to charge for laboratory evidence analysis.

Net savings to Texas counties next year: $5.8 million.

“I guess I got spun up a little bit,” Akin said. That’s retired Texas Rangers narcotics investigator talk for getting agitated.

“I posted it that night and went to bed. By the next morning, we got calls and messages from as far away as Houston.”

On Tuesday at 8:49 p.m., Akin posted on Facebook shaming the Texas Department of Public Safety and threatening to charge $50 per night for each state prisoner in the county jail.

The newly imposed state fees — $550 per sample for testing DNA, $225 for testing methamphetamine and $150 for toxicology — were “unprecedented,” he wrote.

“I am retired from DPS and we were always available to assist our local agencies,” he wrote: “Apparently that is no longer the case.”

Akin, a 27-year trooper and Ranger who is now in his second year as sheriff in the mostly rural county northwest of Fort Worth, said he figured bloodwork, crime-scene evidence tests and other tests might have cost his county $100,000 a year that officials hadn’t budgeted.

Poorer Texas counties might have to let suspects go free if they couldn’t afford lab work, he said.

He remembered working a violent assault in Nocona in neighboring Montague County. There was so much evidence, he drove a vanload to Austin.

“That would have cost that county $10,000 or more — half a year’s pay for a deputy,” he said.

“The guy pleaded guilty. And the defense attorney said, ‘I wouldn’t have allowed my client to plead guilty if not for all the fingerprints and DNA.’ ”

State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who represents Decatur, is chairman of the Texas House committee on criminal justice. He saw Akin’s post and sent the sheriff a one-line text message: “That was brilliant.”

“I haven’t found anybody in the Legislature yet who knew this happened, or how,” King said.

In the July 20 letter to county officials announcing the charges, DPS Director Steven McCraw said lawmakers wrote them into the 2018-2019 budget passed in May. (The line was added unnoticed in a House-Senate conference committee, King said.)

After the lobbying, Abbott’s letter Friday declared the fees “premature” and said lawmakers left DPS the option.

Texas’ major cities examine their own evidence, but most of the state relies on 13 DPS crime labs in Austin or around the state.

“Even the routine charges — $150 here, $150 there — these little towns and rural counties don’t have it,” said King, a former Fort Worth officer.

“If your whole police budget is $28,000, you’re going to make judgment calls. Is it worth this test? Do I actually have a good suspect? Will I have enough money left?”

King and other Texas lawmakers got Abbott’s ear quickly.

(That may or may not be because Abbott will be in Grapevine Monday morning speaking to the Texas Sheriffs Association.)

“This was probably the fastest fix I’ve ever seen on anything,” King said.

Give the credit to the Facebook Sheriff.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy.

Staff writer Ryan Osborne contributed to this report.

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