If Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst intended to secure the quick release of his niece from a Dallas-area jail with a late-night phone call to police, it didn’t work, officials said Thursday.
Authorities said Ellen Bevers, an elementary school teacher whom Dewhurst described in the call as the daughter-in-law of his step-sister, was booked into the Allen city jail on shoplifting charges Aug. 3 and was not released until the next day, when she posted bond at the Collin County Jail.
The details emerged as Dewhurst’s intervention drew flak in Austin from political opponents, who labeled the call an abuse of power, in what may become the latest campaign stumble for the longtime lieutenant governor.
Police spokesman Jon Felty said that while formal charges had not yet been filed against Bevers, they will be in the next week or two. The shoplifting charge is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $2,000 fine and 180 days in jail. Shoplifting less than $50 is a Class C misdemeanor, which in some jurisdictions involves a ticket and no arrest.
Attempts to reach Bevers on Thursday were unsuccessful.
In a 10:15 p.m. phone call on Aug. 3 to an Allen police supervisor, Sgt. Jonathan Maness, Dewhurst identified himself as lieutenant governor and asked what he could do to get Bevers “out of jail, post bond, whatever.”
“I intend to jump into this and see what can be done to prevent this very nice lady, through a miscarriage of justice, from spending the night in jail,” Dewhurst said in the call, a tape of which was made public by police on Wednesday. “I may not be able to do anything, but it’s whatever the law says.”
According to Dewhurst, Bevers was arrested at a Kroger grocery store after she left a self-checkout lane with $57 worth of items she inadvertently did not pay for and another $42 she did.
Several times during the call, Dewhurst mentioned that he was lieutenant governor — and at one point said told Maness he would have Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and DPS Lt. Brad Weatherford, a supervisor, call to vouch for him.
A DPS spokesman said Thursday neither McCraw nor Weatherford called.
Pressed by Dewhurst about getting Bevers out of jail, the sergeant said the most police could do would be to transfer her to the county jail, where she could post bond.
In a statement, Dewhurst spokesman Travis Considine said the tape makes clear that Dewhurst’s requests stayed within the law. He said the No. 2 state elected official “acted as a concerned family member in an attempt to acquire information on how to post bail for his niece while reiterating multiple times in the full conversation that law enforcement follow their normal protocols and procedures.”
Even so, Dewhurst’s political opponents criticized him Thursday for making the call.
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, one of three Republicans challenging Dewhurst’s reelection bid, Tweeted that Maness “made all law enforcement proud” by not bowing “to political pressure” from Dewhurst. Another challenger, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, said he “would have asked an attorney to make the call. … It was a momentary lack of judgment.”
State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, perhaps Dewhurst’s loudest challenger and critic, blasted the episode on his Facebook page and a campaign website that portrayed the story line of Dewhurst’s call with dog videos..
“The fact that David Dewhurst believes he and his family are above the law is the height of arrogance and recklessness,“ Patrick said in a statement.
Dewhurst has had a rocky year, politically. Late last year, he revealed that a former campaign manager had embezzled several million dollars from his campaign funds without detection. And during the spring legislative session, he was criticized for not fully embracing conservative positions and for his handling of a June filibuster on an abortion bill that resulted in abortion rights advocates disrupting the Senate’s vote before a key deadline.