Texas law enforcement visited remote Loving County last week to arrest the county judge for a serious Texas crime – cattle theft.
Judge Skeet Jones, 71, has been the top elected politician since 2007 in the most sparsely populated county in the continental US. He faces three felony charges of livestock theft and one count of engaging in criminal activity. He is being accused of corralling stray cattle and selling them.
Jones is related to a well-known ranching family that moved into Loving County in the 1950s. He was booked into the nearby Winkler County jail and released on a bond of $20,000. The county judge and former sheriff’s deputy didn’t return calls from the media seeking comment.
Texas lawmen also arrested Loving County deputy Leroy Medlin, Jr., 35 on a count of engaging in criminal activity. That’s a second-degree felony that can get him up to 20 years in federal prison. Medlin also would not speak to the media, but his wife claimed that they are being targeted by Texas law enforcement.
Texas Special Rangers Investigated The Suspected Cattle Theft
Officials are working with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, which is the lead agency on the federal case. But it hasn’t offered many details about the alleged livestock crime.
The association has a team of special rangers who are certified peace officers who look into accusations of cattle theft and many other agriculture crimes.
A spokesman for the organization, Jeremy Fuchs, said the investigation has been ongoing for a year and there could be additional state and federal charges.
Many in Texas say it’s hard to imagine that a county judge who receives a $133,000 salary would get busted for cattle rustling. A Texas election lawyer named Susan Hays says she has been in disagreements with the Jones family in the past and the alleged crime is shocking.
Hays said, “It’s a pain in the ass to round up cattle and sell them. And then risk serious legal trouble for it? It doesn’t make sense.”
Loving County, Texas – Population 57
Word of the cattle theft arrest spread through the remote West Texas county last week. Loving County has a population estimated at 57 and is spread over 670 square miles of desert. The county also has no public school, bank, grocery store, or church. The few children in Loving County take a bus in the only town, Mentone, and go 35 miles to go to school.
For years, several powerful families in Loving County have fought for control over the county government. The Joneses mostly won the feud several years ago. Skeet Jones has been a county judge for 15 years and his sister is the county clerk. His cousin’s husband serves as the county attorney, and his nephew is the sheriff.
However, some recent elected officials have disagreed with the Jones family and their friends. This has made for loud commissioner’s court meetings, and many are looking forward to the November county elections.
But blood relations aren’t keeping the Jones family on entirely one side anymore. Sheriff Brandon Jones, Skeet Jones’ nephew, says his uncle has had free reign over the county since he’s been a judge.
Brandon Jones added that his uncle has a sense of power and that he can do whatever he likes and can do no wrong.
When Skeet Jones became a judge in 2007, most of the county roads were still dirt and gravel. Residents often had to haul potable water from a community well.
But Jones has been in power in a time of booming economic growth in Loving County, as the fracking industry grew astronomically in the Permian Basin. This fed millions of dollars into the county treasury.
Many of the ranches still in operation in the parched landscape installed frac pads so they can drill wells horizontally to get to the valuable gas and oil.
The tax base for Loving County is much bigger than you might think – about $8 billion. The county’s budget grew from $2 million 14 years ago to more than $25 million today.
The salaries for most of the top county officials, such as county attorney, judge, treasurer, and auditor are at least $100,000.
Not Skeet Jones’ First Brush With Legal Trouble
Skeet Jones has been in hot water before, but not like cattle theft. In 2016, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct reported that Jones didn’t follow the law by charging $600 to $750 to reduce speeding tickets down to parking violations.
The judge said he wasn’t involved in ticket haggling and told the commission he only approved plea deals he received. He was given a public warning and ordered to take additional classes on local laws.
Medlin also was a detective for the San Antonio Police Department, where he was issued suspensions three times. This is the police equivalent of being fired.
He also was put on an indefinite suspension in 2015 for going more than 100 MPH while pursuing a driver with a toddler in the rear seat. But Medlin was reinstated after he appealed.
Next, Medlin chased another speeding driver after telling the police dispatcher that the driver almost hit him. But dash camera footage showed that the driver didn’t come near him. Medlin also was given another suspension after his bosses found he gave tickets for violations he didn’t see.
Others were arrested for cattle theft along with Jones and Medlin. Ranch hands Cody Williams, 31, and Jonathan Alvarado, 23, were charged with livestock theft and face 10 years in prison.