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By Tony Farkas
The county’s schools, arguably the central part of any East Texas community, were front and center in the news during the last year.
For instance, campuses across the Shepherd Independent School District were given a reason to celebrate, since the accountability rankings given out by the state showed the district came in at a B grade.
Superintendent Jason Hewitt said in August that according to the Texas ratings, the district before was an overall C, and there were three F campuses — primary, middle and intermediate. The high school was a B, and a C the prior year; the intermediate school was a seven-year F, and the middle school was at a four-year F.
Because the intermediate school had failed multiple years in a row, the district opted to install a board of managers, and in March 2020, Hewitt was installed as superintendent. Hewitt said he is a turnaround administrator, having improved other districts with failing scores, which is evident by the new score.
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In March, San Jacinto Deputy Constable Neil Adams, 62, was killed during an altercation while working a second job as a security officer.
According to information from the Houston Police Department, 35-year-old Czyz Harrison, who was arguing with a store clerk, was fighting with Adams. During the fight, the suspect took Adams’ weapon and shot him.
Adams was working security at PlazAmericas Mall on Bellaire Boulevard.
Two Houston police officers were dispatched to assist and found the suspect who reportedly was wielding a knife. The officers attempted to get the suspect to surrender, but the suspect refused to comply and then charged at the officers.
The two officers discharged their duty weapons, striking the suspect, and then used a taser, causing the suspect to fall to the ground, reports state. Harrison was taken into custody, and then transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead, reports state.
Adams was laid to rest with full honors later that week at Montague Cemetery, with “Taps” and a 21-gun salute.
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Both the Shepherd and Coldspring school districts, facing issues with staff retention and hiring, and to facilitate learning and growth for students and instructors, have opted to move to a four-day school week.
The Shepherd board approved the measure to allow the staff to learn and grow within its profession in an environment that continues to change regularly.
The move was made since 60 percent of the teaching staff has three or less years of experience in a classroom, all of which has been during a global pandemic. This has led to a 35-40 percent turnover rate, which means almost half of the staff is new to Shepherd ISD each year.
The Coldspring-Oakhurst CISD moved to a 4-day school week.
Superintendent Dr. Bryan Taulton said the switch would be in an effort to recruit and retain teachers in a highly competitive job market due to the statewide teacher shortage.
He also said that the results of surveys that were sent to parents and guardians, employees, and high school students were in the majority favorable to the change.
The calendar would be part of a three-year pilot program during which data would be reviewed to monitor the results in order to gauge its effectiveness and impact on student learning, he said.
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Law enforcement officials closed two cold cases involving San Jacinto County, one three years old and one 17 years old.
In July, Shelley Susan Thompson-Lemoine, 41, was arrested in Angleton by Texas Rangers and detectives from the Cleveland Police Department in connection with a double murder case committed in Cleveland in 2005.
She was charged with capital murder in connection with the deaths of Antonio and Luz Rodriguez. Bond is set at $1 million dollars.
Reports state that on April 14, 2005, Antonio and Luz Rodriguez were found dead in their home on West Waco Street in Cleveland by their daughter. Cleveland PD and the Texas Rangers investigated the crime scene and continued the investigation until it ultimately went cold.
However, as the result of a conviction, DNA was collected when Thompson-Lemoine was incarcerated in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice facility, which ultimately was flagged as possibly being connected with the closed case.
New information and a re-examination of evidence led San Jacinto County Sheriff’s deputies to make an arrest in a three-year-old homicide case in October.
Charles Dale Clary, 65, of Shepherd, was arrested Oct. 31 on a charge of murder in connection with the May 2019 murder of Rhonda Richardson, 59, who worked as a correctional officer at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Richardson’s body was found in Sam Houston National Forest in May 2019. The investigator at the time, Detective Gary Sharpen, did not find enough evidence to point to a suspect, and then was sent on deployment.
Detective Omar Sheik said Sharpen returned recently, and the two began to re-examine the evidence.
Sheik said that in 2019, Richardson was looking for her dogs. which frequently go loose. He also said that Richardson and Clary were acquaintances, and that Richardson had approached Clary for help in the search.
Later that day, body was found on a trail in a wooded area off FM 2666; however, investigators initially thought the body was moved there.
Sheik said the re-examination went smoothly, and was wrapped up in about 8 days
Sheik said that one of the people in the neighborhood that was not found initially turned out to be an eyewitness and helped tie the suspect to the crime. Additionally, examination of cell phone traffic showed the suspect was very likely involved.
Clary currently is being held in San Jacinto County Jail on a $750,000 bond.
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In November, the Shepherd City Council took the next required steps for the creation of its Police Department on Nov. 14.
The council adopted an ordinance that establishes a police chief and the scope of duties, and appointed Precinct 2 Deputy Constable Clint Headley as chief.
City Secretary Debra Hagler said the ordinance allows Headley to hire another officer to bring department up to two full-time officers. The old City Hall building was used as an office for the constable, and now will become the Police Department building.
Hagler said the department will be up and operational once the city receives the necessary credentials from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.