Feature: Wednesday, January 23, 2003
You Don’t Know JACK Part 1

Is Constable Jack Allena combative,self-important,racist politician,or just misunderstood?

By Jeff Prince

he voice trembles. Shoulders sag. Silver-blue eyes rim red and moisten slightly, although not enough to create actual tears. Constable Jack Allen is recalling the shock of having his former secretary Dionicia “Dee” Gaucin accuse him of being a racist. Allen says he just can’t understand it — he never uses racial slurs or stereotypes. “I’m innocent,” he says.

Also, he genuinely likes and respects Gaucin, he says, and can’t stand the thought of her thinking poorly of him — although a few sentences later he’s calling her a greedy liar. But then, Jack Allen is full of contradictions.

Gaucin worked under Allen’s supervision for a year in the Precinct 4 sub-courthouse in Lake Worth. Allen twice used the word “wetback” in her presence and told others he regarded some Hispanics as lazy and unreliable, she said. Tarrant County paid $27,500 to settle Gaucin’s lawsuit. In other circumstances, that might seem surprising, since the case boiled down to a he-said, she-said situation, the complaint was filed after deadline, and the county is not known for settling cases.

“This gun seems to have a little smoke blowing from it,” said County Commissioner Dionne Bagsby.

By now, Allen and most of the veteran hands at the Tarrant County courthouse are well acquainted with he-said, she-said incidents involving the Pct. 4 constable. His 12 years in the job have been marked by similar disputes that have tarnished his credibility and put him at odds with co-workers, residents, Fort Worth police, and fellow elected officials.

His near-teary demeanor when discussing Gaucin’s lawsuit is laughable to some residents and former employees, who say racial slurs and stereotyping, abuses of power, and general loose-cannon behavior are all hallmarks of Allen’s style. “He’s a stooge,” said local businessman Darren Rhea, who accuses Allen of retaliating against him for not contributing to his annual youth charity golf tournament. “He doesn’t deserve to be in public office.”

Allen’s record on race is not all bad — two of his four full-time deputies are Hispanic, and he did apologize to Gaucin when he learned his comments had offended her. “Jack did a Trent Lott; he opened his mouth when he shouldn’t have on the Dee complaint,” said Chief Deputy Constable Ronnie Thompson, who has worked alongside Allen for 12 years. “I don’t think he’s a racist. I’ve never seen anything that indicates he’s a racist.”

But Allen’s misdeeds go beyond merely bringing embarrassment and lawsuit judgments to the commissioners’ door. Turns out, the “youth charity” golf tournament is used mostly to smooth the constable’s political path. In the last two years, he raised almost $35,000 — out of which youth groups and other charities received less than $5,000, or less than 15 percent of the gross. Where’d the rest go? Donations to other politicians, Allen’s membership dues in various associations, staff Christmas parties, a $1,000 campaign loan to himself, “Jack Allen” nail files and “Jack Allen” pens, tournament costs, and advertising “to keep my name out in front of the public.”

Allen is about 5 feet 7 inches, stocky, and barrel-chested, with a demeanor that ranges from pleasant and friendly to brusque and aggressive. He spent hours explaining his side of those controversies to Fort Worth Weekly.

His conversations are long-winded and he tolerates no interruptions. During a recent lunch, waitresses on several occasions approached the table to ask if anything was needed, only to be ignored until he finished his thoughts.

“I won’t lie to you,” he said straightforwardly — as over and over he left out details, massaged the facts, and spun outright fibs. Jack Allen stories are reaching near-legendary status in Tarrant County among cops and elected officials. Some stories turn out to be exaggerated; in others he appears to be falsely persecuted. But plenty are accurate, and his list of detractors is growing as quickly as his political future appears to be crumbling. This time, Jack’s falls may have broken his crown — even with voters.

Constable Jack Allen’s boss for years has allowed him to bumble into one embarrassing and questionable situation after another, generating lawsuits, a pending civil service complaint, and bizarre rows with Fort Worth police. He has been accused of sexual harassment and racial discrimination and favoring people who give money to his political campaigns while punishing some who don’t. Last year, his peace officer’s license lapsed, causing 29 tickets he had written to be dismissed and the fines returned. County attorneys — at taxpayers’ expense — have had to defend him on several occasions. The Gaucin lawsuit alone required four months of attorney labor. “It was beginning to account for about 20 hours a week,” said Ward White, an attorney for the county. Even at a conservative $150 an hour for attorney time, that’s $48,000 in addition to the settlement.

So, who is his inattentive supervisor? It’s people like you and me, who hire and fire with our votes. The eight constables in Tarrant County, like other elected officials, answer only to voters, many of whom don’t know what a constable does and don’t care.

The office of constable is one of Texas’ oldest law enforcement positions. Constables are empowered to write tickets and make arrests but their stature has shriveled over the years as police and sheriff’s departments took on more importance. Tarrant County constables typically serve custody and divorce papers and do evictions and property seizures. County commissioners control constables’ budgets and encourage them to leave law enforcement to police and sheriff’s officers, but Allen tends to walk his own way.

His precinct covers a relatively rural area, and he often provides support to small, cash-strapped police departments, like those for whom he worked for a dozen years before taking office in 1990. He understands their problems and is willing to help out when asked, even if that bucks commissioners’ orders or increases his odds of screwing up. For some, that’s a problem; for others, it’s a positive. “Look at the voters, and they overwhelmingly reelect Jack,” said Pct. 1 Constable Jerry Crowder. “It’s up to them. If he’s doing what they want, you can’t argue with that.”

Screw-ups, however, have become more frequent.

“With the way the county government is set up by the state legislature, we don’t have a lot of management oversight on elected officials,” said County Commissioner Glen Whitley. “Yes, it presents problems because when an elected official does not act accordingly, we’re the ones that have to write the checks. It’s like with [former Tarrant County Sheriff] David Williams; the people eventually corrected that problem.”

Commissioners acted on advice of county attorneys in December and settled Gaucin’s lawsuit. “When we settle, generally it is because the legal team doesn’t feel like it has the stronger case,” Bagsby said. “I personally am not so interested in punishing; I’m more interested in exposing improper behavior and attitudes by elected officials and taking corrective measures to change those things.”

Gaucin began working at Pct. 4 in December 2000 and was soon concerned about what seemed to be an overabundance of traffic stops of minority drivers. Once she interpreted for a Hispanic man, who argued with Allen over an impounded vehicle. “After the man left, Mr. Allen made a remark about these dumb wetbacks,” she said.

Allen used “wetback” again when he refused an offer to provide off-duty security at a club, Gaucin said. “Mr. Allen said no, because all that’s there are wetbacks,” she said.

After a year on the job, she gave her two-week notice and told Allen for the first time that she was offended by his remarks. Allen made a strong pitch to keep her and offered an apology that devolved into a rambling discourse on his racial views while Gaucin quietly sobbed. “He started telling me that ‘wetback’ was not a bad word,” she said. “It’s bad people that come across the river and take advantage of everything in general, but he could tolerate people who came in and worked and made a living and abided the rules.”

She wasn’t convinced. “I’ve lived with this all my life and ‘wetback’ to me is a degrading word,” she said.

The meeting ended with Allen claiming he was not prejudiced, but that if he were, it would be against African-Americans instead of Hispanics. Afterward, Chief Deputy Constable Ronnie Thompson told her that Allen was from a different era and didn’t realize he was being insensitive, she said. Gaucin, however, was determined to leave.

Allen adamantly denies racial bias. “I don’t believe I’ve ever used the word ‘wetback,’ ” he said. He said he uses the terms “Hispanic” or “Mexican” and the term “African-American” for blacks. “Whatever you want to be called, that’s what I’ll call you,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’m color blind.” His gaze hardened when he was told that some people disagree. “I can bring you witnesses that would go the other way,” he said. “We can sit here and play that game all you want to. I’ll tell you to your face I don’t think I’m a racist. I don’t look at people as to what color they are and then decide what kind of person they are going to be. I’m going to tell you right now I don’t use the n-word, I don’t use the w-word; it’s not part of my normal vocabulary.”

Allen’s cries of innocence didn’t sway county commissioners. “There are just too many people who say otherwise,” said Bagsby, one of the few elected officials willing to speak on record about what she calls Allen’s “strange behavior” through the years.

Elected officials generally balk at publicly criticizing fellow officials. “It’s not good politics,” Constable Crowder said.

Grant anonymity, however, and public officials characterize Allen as an embarrassing loose cannon with a penchant for trouble.

Some acquaintances and former employees are not at all reluctant to speak out. Allen, 59, grew up in River Oaks and has lived there most of his life. Longtime River Oaks resident Joyce Scott, 65, recalled a recent conversation with Allen about the growing number of Hispanics moving to the area. “He stood right out here in my yard and cussed Mexicans,” she said. “He said they are just taking over River Oaks. He said, ‘Look at that house there that’s pink; don’t tell me that’s not a damn Mexican that lives there.’ I said, ‘Yes they are Spanish, and they are very good neighbors.’ It doesn’t bother me that their house is pink, but he noticed that.”

In a deposition Allen denied using racial slurs during his 12 years as constable, although he said, “Anything is possible.” He criticized several former deputies for their unreliability, poor work habits, and racist tendencies, but praised others, including Chris Williamson, for their work ethic and honesty.

Williamson worked with Allen for seven years before leaving in 2001 to work for the sheriff’s office. He told Fort Worth Weekly that Allen sometimes used racial slurs despite warnings about the potential for political fallout. Allen once enraged a black prisoner who heard him say “nigger” on the police radio, Williamson said. “He [Allen] called me on the radio when I was going out to arrest this guy on a warrant,” Williamson said. “I just barely got him cuffed and in the car when it came out on the radio. Jack said, ‘Did you get that n-word yet?’ It was a good thing I had him cuffed.”

Jack Nelson Allen worked 11 years at General Dynamics and another 15 years as an ironworker before entering law enforcement in the 1970s. “It’s an honorable career,” he said. His first police job was as a reserve officer at Blue Mound Police Department in 1975. His first salaried position was at Westworth Village Police Department in 1978. For the next 10 years he would work stints at small police departments, including Sansom Park and Blue Mound, before winning a midterm election as Pct. 4 constable in 1990 after the incumbent died. He currently earns $65,000 a year for his duties in a precinct that takes in most of northwest Tarrant County.

In 1992, Allen, a Republican, narrowly defeated Democratic rival Walter Stank Jr., a Fort Worth police officer, by 42 votes. Stank filed a lawsuit after an elections administrator determined 243 votes were cast by unregistered or otherwise ineligible voters. A judge in 1994 ruled that Stank failed to prove that the illegal votes affected the outcome of the constable’s race.

In a recent conversation, Stank said he filed suit to determine the election’s true outcome but didn’t accuse Allen of wrongdoing. However, he had nothing positive to say about Allen. “You can start with the bad adjectives and just continue on,” he said. “He has done some people in some very bad ways. He just keeps getting by and getting by. There are so dadgum many Jack Allen stories. I’m honestly surprised someone hasn’t killed him.”

Stank said Allen owes his long tenure to establishing himself publicly as a donor to charitable causes. “He’s a politicker; he gives a $1,000 scholarship and runs these big ads,” Stank said. “That’s what people remember. They don’t remember the clumsy things he does.”

While the extent of Allen’s charity is in question, the list of “clumsy” things is a long one — with many items documented by Fort Worth police records.

The first recorded fracas with Fort Worth police occurred Feb. 18, 1994, at the now-defunct Palomino Saloon in the Stockyards, where Allen worked off-duty as a security officer. Police raided the club to sweep for underage drinkers, and Allen and a deputy constable objected to the intrusion and cursed police officers, according to Fort Worth Star-Telegram archives. The police report has since been purged, but a former police officer who read it said the report described Allen’s off-color references to police and to then-Chief Thomas Windham. Allen called the report “creative writing” and filed a complaint alleging falsification of a government document. Nothing came of the complaint.

Battles between Allen and Fort Worth police continued. “The criticism is that I won’t kiss a Fort Worth police officer’s ass or anybody else’s ass, including [Tarrant County Commissioner] J.D. Johnson’s,” Allen said. “I’m elected to sit here and do a job, and I’m going to do it, and if I’m in the right, I’m in the right. If I’m in the wrong, I will apologize until the day turns black, and I will try to do better next time.” Allen, however, rarely admits he is wrong. The only fault he owned up to during interviews for this article was making poor hiring decisions.

Another run-in with police occurred in 1998 as officers were attempting to serve a warrant on a suspect for violating a protective order. The man’s mother, an affluent River Oaks resident, preferred Allen to make the arrest and arranged a meeting. Allen was driving the suspect to jail when Fort Worth police officers tried to pull him over. “Here’s four Fort Worth units trying to curb me and steal the prisoner out of my car,” Allen said. “They even attempted to file felony charges on me because when I discovered what they were trying to do, I slammed the driver’s door on one of ’em’s hand.”

Allen drove off the road and around a police car that had blocked him, and he continued to the jail. He accused Fort Worth police of attempted felony kidnapping but agreed to let Windham handle the matter. The police department’s Internal Affairs Division investigated the complaint, but no charges were filed against the officers or Allen.

He butted heads with police again in January 2001 in what is dubbed “the tire shooting.” After receiving a call from a relative saying that a man in a pickup was illegally dumping tires in a Fort Worth park, Allen drove to the scene and attempted an arrest, but the suspect tried to flee. What happened next is unclear.

Allen said the man tried to strike him with his pickup. The constable told Fort Worth police on Jan. 25, 2001, that he aimed his pistol “right at [the suspect’s] nose” but decided, “He just wasn’t worth shooting” and shot twice at a tire instead. He said the suspect “was going away from me” and “I wasn’t in fear.” During the same questioning, he said the suspect was backing his truck in an attempt to strike him, and “as I jumped towards my vehicle or leaped sideways ... is when I shot at the tire and not him.”

Two weeks ago, Allen told the Weekly another version. He said he had pointed his pistol at the suspect and begun to pull the trigger but changed his mind at the last instant and lowered his gun. He said the weapon discharged and the bullet struck the truck’s hubcap merely by happenstance. “At the very instant I’m squeezing the trigger I said, ‘He’s not worth it,’ and dropped the gun down and continued to pull the trigger,” Allen said. “I put a bullet round through the center of the right front hubcap as the truck was right there on top of me.” This time, Allen said he had fired one shot. He said the Star-Telegram erroneously reported in 2001 that he had shot at the man’s tires, and he claimed the paper’s county beat reporter, Neil Strassman, dislikes him and has threatened to ruin his career. “Neil punishes me for not taking that man’s life by saying I shot at him for dumping tires,” he said.

Fort Worth police officers arrived, and a police sergeant, according to Allen, refused to investigate. “That sergeant said, ‘Fuck you, Jack Allen, you mess up your own shit,’” Allen recalled. So Allen assigned the case to a deputy. Fort Worth police, however, called a few days later and insisted on handling the investigation. A detective asked Allen to surrender his weapon. “He said, ‘I need you to surrender your weapon. It was used in a crime in our city, and we’re probably filing felony charges against you,’” Allen said. He hired an attorney at county expense. “The whole investigation dried up; nothing was ever done,” he said, claiming that Fort Worth police were retaliating against him for their prior run-ins.

The pickup driver, Kevin Blasingame, then 22, was arrested for aggravated assault of a public servant. He bargained with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to deadly conduct.

In July 2001, a Fort Worth police officer pulled over Deputy Constable Williamson for speeding on Jacksboro Highway. Williamson and the officer, Mike Lilly, argued and called their supervisors. Allen arrived first and parked close behind Lilly’s patrol car, blocking his car and “almost touching the bumper,” according to a report prepared by a police sergeant. Allen banged on Lilly’s window and said, “Get out of the car, you’re under arrest,” the report states.(Click here to continue...)

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