Kaufman County slayings prompt heightened security statewide

Posted Monday, Apr. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN - The brazen slayings of two Texas prosecutors have prompted heightened security in courthouses throughout the state while underscoring what experts say are the inherent dangers facing people in public office.

"This, I think, is a clear concern to individuals who are in public life, particularly those who deal with some very mean and vicious individuals," Gov. Rick Perry said Monday after the weekend killings of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia.

They were found shot to death late Saturday inside their Kaufman County home near Forney, about 20 miles east of Dallas. On Jan. 31, Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down in a parking lot near the courthouse.

As teams of investigators sought to find a motive behind the attacks, officials in Texas public buildings further beefed up security.

"We have taken steps to bolster our security, but we cannot discuss what those measures are," said Melody McDonald, public information officer for the Tarrant County district attorney's office.

"Prior to the slayings of the Kaufman County district attorney and his wife, our staff was cautioned to be aware of their surroundings and to be vigilant. Those sentiments are obviously being reiterated in light of the most recent events."

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he and others worked over Easter weekend to make sure their prosecutors are protected.

"We'll continue to work to do what's necessary to keep our ADAs, our DAs and all of our county officials and the citizens who interact with them safe," he said. District Attorney Greg Lowery of Decatur, the chief prosecutor for Wise and Jack counties, said he expects "some stepped-up security in the courthouse" as well as additional patrols.

Rep. Phil King of Weatherford, who was a Fort Worth policeman for 15 years, said the attacks served as another dark reminder of the risks of public service, whether the official is a law officer or a lawmaker.

"In this day and age, whether it's Gabby Gifford or a local county attorney, everybody has to be more attentive to security issues," said the Parker County Republican. "You can't find a state representative down here that hasn't gotten a death threat ... You just need to take every threat seriously."

King recalled an incident about seven or eight years ago in which someone sent white powder to his offices and threatened to kill King and his family if he took the wrong position on a piece of legislation.

Perry noted that the Department of Public Safety's recently released public safety threat overview listed Mexican drug cartels as the most significant organized crime threat to the state. Statewide prison gangs pose the second most significant threat.

"You look across the board, what's happened in various and sundry places," said Perry, who was asked about the Kaufman County attacks at a news conference on Medicaid. "I suggest that everyone should be careful about what goes on, whether they're public officials or otherwise,"

Erik Nielsen, training director for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said the organization has received calls from prosecutors statewide offering to lend assistance to the Kaufman County DA's office.

Nielsen, a former prosecutor in the Travis County district attorney's office, acknowledged that fighting criminals is "a dangerous field," but he said prosecutors can't let themselves be overwhelmed by the potential risk.

Over the last century, 14 prosecutors have been killed, according to statistics kept by the National District Attorneys Association. At least eight were targeted in the line of duty.

"It's something that I think every prosecutor thinks about but doesn't really focus on," he said. "You'd be paralyzed if you thought that everybody you put away is trying to hurt you."

Staff Writer Anna Tinsley contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin Bureau chief, 512-739-4471

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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