AUSTIN -- It's the phone call that has much of Texas talking.
"My name is David Dewhurst, I'm the lieutenant governor of the State of Texas," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-TX) introduced himself in a phone call to the Allen Police Department earlier this month. After a 12 minute audio recording of the call was released to news media Wednesday, Dewhurst has endured a firestorm of criticism.
Described by Dewhurst as his "step-niece-in-law," Ellen Bevers was arrested by Allen police and charged with theft. According to the arrest affidavit, officers were dispatched to a Kroger grocery store shortly before 4:00 p.m., August 3. A store employee accused Bevers of placing $53.42 of groceries in a reusable bag while in the "self check-out lane," covering the bag with other items, and leaving the store without paying for the items in the bag.
Dewhurst called Allen police around 10:30 p.m. seeking her release. Insisting that the arrest was a mistake, he described the 46-year old school teacher as the "sweetest woman in the world." Shortly after introducing himself to Allen P.D. Sgt. Jonathan Maness, the officer in charge of the shift, Dewhurst said the state's law enforcement chief would vouch for him.
"I'm going to have Steve McCraw, who's the director, the head of the DPS of the State of Texas, call you by name in about ten minutes and confirm that I'm calling you," said Dewhurst. "If I can't get him, I'm going to have Lt. Brad Weatherford call you."
"You don't know me, but I am every year the number one pick of all of the law enforcement agencies within Texas. Their number one pick," Dewhurst said a few minutes later. "And I'm a supporter of you. You don't know it, but I'm a supporter of you and I'm a supporter of everybody in law enforcement and I want you to do whatever is the proper thing."
Maness responded that Bevers was charged with a Class B misdemeanor, and according to standard procedure would be transported to the Collin County Sheriff's Office for arraignment. Dewhurst then asked for the cell phone numbers of local officials, and later for the cell phone number of Maness's supervisor.
"What do I need to do in order to not circumvent anything, follow the law?" asked Dewhurst. "Because this is, this is ridiculous."
On Thursday, the Department of Public Safety said DPS Director Steve McCraw was never contacted by Dewhurst regarding the arrest and never made a phone call concerning the case. The local judge who arraigned Bevers said he never received a phone call either.
According to the Collin County Sheriff's Office, Bevers was booked into jail around 10:45 p.m., August 3, and was released at 9:00 a.m., August 4 on a $500 personal recognizance bond. According to Texas law, theft of between $50 and $500 is a Class B misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail.
Meanwhile, Dewhurst's political opponents are piling on.
"Once again, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has shown that he thinks he is beyond the rules and laws that govern regular Texans," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement.
Up for reelection in 2014, the lieutant governor is also taking heat from his Republican primary opponents. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples posted messages on the social media website Twitter Wednesday praising maness and comparing Dewhurst to actor Will Ferrell's character Ron Burgundy from the film Anchorman:
@Todd_Staples16h: Dew's call to Allen PD sounds like Anchorman Ron Burgundy: "I don't know how to put this, but I'm kind of a big deal. People know me."
Within hours of the audio's release, Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) updated his anti-Dewhurst campaign website DewFeed.com with a parody of the phone call featuring animated images of dogs, dubbed "The Dog Days of Dewhurst." Patrick also posted a sharply-worded critique of Dewhurst's actions on Twitter.
Dewhurst's campaign office has kept the controversy at arm's length, pointing out that the local police saw nothing untoward in the lieutenant governor's call.
"David acted as a concerned family member in an attempt to acquire information on how to post bail for his niece while reiterating multiple times in the full conversation that law-enforcement follow their normal protocols and procedures," a Dewhurst spokesperson Travis Considine said in a statement.
"He asked the same type questions that anybody does when they have an incarcerated family member," said Sgt. Allen Felty, Public Information Officer for the Allen Police Department. "He didn't threaten anybody, he didn't demand anything. He didn't ask for anything that was above and beyond what any normal citizen Would, so no, I don't think he did anything that crossed any line."