County D.A. must decide to accept new term by Jan. 1

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Under the cloud of a Texas Rangers investigation, Wood County District Attorney Jim Wheeler has until Jan. 1 to decide whether he’ll lay claim to another term in office or relinquish the post.

Wheeler has been absent from his office since October, when Longview Judge Alfonso Charles of the 124th Judicial District appointed Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd as acting prosecutor in the case involving Wheeler. Charles’ action stemmed from a complaint against Wheeler that Byrd turned over to the Texas Rangers on Oct. 9, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Through an open records request, the Wood County Monitor has sought information about the nature of the complaint. The DPS would not release any information concerning allegations against Wheeler. A DPS attorney stated: “Because this is an ongoing investigation, the release of potential evidence would interfere with the investigation and prosecution of the case.”

The DPS did, however, release the following basic information: Wheeler is being investigated for official oppression, which is a criminal matter. Ranger Richard Henderson, who received the letter from Byrd, is investigating the merits of the complaint.

In Texas, official oppression, which in most cases is a Class A misdemeanor, occurs when a public servant acting under color of their office:

(1) Intentionally subjects another to mistreatment or to arrest, detention, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment, or lien that they know is unlawful;

(2) Intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power, or immunity, knowing their conduct is unlawful;

(3) Intentionally subjects another to sexual harassment.

Wheeler did not respond to a recent inquiry by the Monitor seeking comment.

In October, Wheeler issued this statement: “After about 12 years in office, I am taking some time off. I’ll make an announcement as to my intentions on January 1st after I complete this term.”

In the Nov. 6 general election, Wheeler, who ran unopposed, was handily re-elected. If he declines another term, Gov. Greg Abbot will appoint a district attorney to serve until 2020, when an election would be held to fill Wheeler’s remaining two years in office. Another election then would be held in 2022, according to the Texas Election Code.

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