New judge, sheriff settle into jobs

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As the new United States president nears his first 100 days, 402nd District Judge Jeff Fletcher and Wood County Sheriff Tommy Castloo passed their century day mark April 10. The two new law enforcement mainstays hit their respective offices running, being sworn in at the stroke of midnight Jan. 1.

Fletcher has realized the depth of decisions he has to make as district judge. “You understand before you take the job decisions you make obviously have effect an on people in different situations. You don’t realize the extent which your decisions on a daily basis affect others,” Fletcher noted “I am very aware, much more so now than I was Jan. 1, even decisions which seem small to me, can have very dramatic results on people I don’t even know. I’m very cognizant of the fact that every decision I make affects something or somebody so it needs to be the right decision. I know one thing, this job is hard work.”

Does the new judge worry over decisions he has made? “There have been a few situations that took a little more thought and time to ponder,” the judge acknowledged. “It helps to be a part of something that is really going well. I am surrounded by really talented people. The district attorney’s office is doing a great job, their whole staff works hard. I can’t imagine the sheriff’s department doing a better job than they are doing right now. The clerk’s office here is accommodating and professional, they too, are just doing a great job.”

Fletcher said it has been a busy time in Wood County. “I know the jail has stayed busy and we are very busy in our court. Since Jan. 3, we have tried a total of five felony jury trials which is a significant increase over what had been going on. I don’t know exactly what the numbers are, but there have been a significant increase in the number of pleas,” Fletcher said. “And that’s a tribute to the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department. We have knocked a dent in the case files. My jury trial calendar for the rest of the year is busy. We can realistically have 20 or 30 felony cases jury trials a year because we only have one courtroom. It takes time to develop the cases.“

The judge said meetings prior to officially going into office had been productive. “Before we even got started in January, I had several meetings with Jim (Wheeler) and Tommy (Castloo) about getting everybody on the same page as soon as we could. Obviously, we are all supposed to be pulling in the same direction,” Fletcher reminded. “Anytime you get a significant number of people involved, you are going to have a certain amount of friction, but I am really pleased we are all working in unison. Things are going the way they are supposed to. I don’t know the exact statistics, but I do know there has been a significant decrease in the amount of crime like thefts and burglaries, things of that nature because we have the jail full. We are sending people to Franklin County every day.”

Sheriff Castloo echoed Fletcher’s observation. “Three times in the past month we have had to ship out inmates to Franklin County. As soon as we ship people off to state prison or they make a bond and it opens up space in our jail, we go and retrieve a prisoner,” Castloo confirmed. “It costs us to house inmates in another county. We are steadily working to get inter-locals with other counties if we need more space. This is going to be an ongoing issue. We must have the right people in jail because our property thefts have gone down dramatically. I used to see the log and it had burglaries and thefts, nowadays we spend time chasing cows.”

The sheriff would like for citizens to be aware of what the deputies are doing. “I want people to see the amount of time we spend on animal calls and putting animals back up that have strayed. If somebody hits a cow it is not only a loss for the livestock owner, but also a danger to other people’s property and their lives,” Castloo cautioned.

The two officials agreed on what the major problem is facing Wood County citizens. “Drugs! In Wood County, meth is still the primary problem. We have had a problem with dope coming through here. But by virtue of the hard work the sheriff’s office and the DPS (Department of Public Safety) things are better now,” Fletcher asserted. “Criminals aren’t stupid. They are business people and they figure out the path of least resistance is not going to be here anymore. It’s going to take some time, but the criminal network will figure out Wood County is not the place to do business.”

Castloo concurred with the judge. “The major problem is still the drug problem, the amphetamine problem. Not only that, but the opiates, such as hydrocodone. People go ‘doctor shopping’ to get more dope and they don’t know that is a felony,” Castloo said. “In addicts, it used to be alcohol abuse, but now days it’s the opiates and the K-2 synthetic marijuana which can be a real problem. People can die from doing that stuff.”

Castloo said his officers understand the public in various situations. “If you are young and screw up, you are probably going to get a second chance unless it’s something huge. If you have done something before and do it again, you should have learned something the first time. “Castloo said. “That’s where the courts have to come in and the district attorney and judge have to get involved.”

Fletcher said people need to take stock of their lives and learn from mistakes. “You can look at a history of someone and invariably, with very few exceptions, there was a break down in the home, and almost always no father. Dad may have been an alcoholic and mom a drug addict who has been married several times. Many of these young people start out with two strikes against them, “ Fletcher concluded. That’s the way it is, but at some point you have got to figure out this is not the way to do things. A person must realize the need to figure out a better way to do things in life.”

Security is still a main concern at the courthouse, but improvements have been helpful. “My security team, the court officers, take great pride in what they do and they do an outstanding job. Everybody is a lot safer because of them,” Fletcher stated. “You have security on one end and inconvenience on the other. You can’t have both. It’s a little aggravating and a little cumbersome, but it is necessary. I appreciate the county commissioners looking at the security issues and making the decisions to make the courthouse secure to protect employees and the public while they are here. ”

What does the future hold for law enforcement in Wood County. “In order to have some vision for what happens 20 years from now, you have to take appropriate steps to get yourself in a position for those things to grow. At some point, we are going to need a new jail, a new law enforcement facility. The current one is busting at the seams,” Fletcher observed. “It’s a beautiful place here at the courthouse, but for practical purposes, it is a museum. I’m proud to be here, but from a practical standpoint we are going to have to make plans down the road.”

Castloo added, “You have to be proactive, not reactive and reactive is what we have been for too long. The jail population is not going to go down. We could have used a new facility a few years ago and now we are getting to the point we got to have it or it’s going to start costing us a lot of money to keep sending these people to other facilities.”

Both men have definite ideas on what the citizens can do to be helpful. “We need more eyes out there. We still have a ‘don’t get involved’ mindset. We have crime stoppers where you can call in and stay anonymous,” Castloo emphasized. “Just the idea that more people are watching will help us a lot. It will move criminals out on the fringes and maybe even out of the county. As far as addressing addictive behaviors, it is going to be through education and changing the mindset of people. People need a moral compass and they need hope. They need to know there is a power greater than themselves. “

Fletcher said persons need to be more accountable. “The root of the problem is there are not enough dads out there. I was taught like many others, those are your children and you need to take care of them. You must be accountable,” Fletcher implied. “Too many people want somebody else to raise their kids. It’s always somebody else’s fault. We need to start doing the right thing.”

Fletcher added what the near future holds. “I may just have one term, but in the next four years the law is going to be enforced because it is the law. I’m not worried about the politics part of it.”

Castloo wants people to serve each other. “It’s time to redevelop a sense of community where you know and care about your neighbors and care about your surroundings, neighbors taking care of neighbors is what it takes.”

Fletcher said we must make the environment around us better. “It’s a big world out there. What we must do is decide to make the world we live in right here in Wood County a better place for us all,” Fletcher noted. “We need to be better neighbors and need to always do what is right. We plan on doing our part to keep everyone safe and make Wood County one of the safest and best places in Texas to live.”

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