Army Desertion Record Returns to Haunt Controversial Sheriff

Article excerpt

FORT WORTH - Tarrant County Sheriff David Williams, no stranger to controversy, has found himself in hot water again as a Dallas newspaper released U.S. Army records that indicated the lawman had been AWOL and considered a deserter in the mid-1970s.

At a hearing, Sheriff Williams admitted he had been AWOL from his Army military police unit briefly in 1976, and called it "an aberration in judgment," something he said he'd always regret.

The feisty Republican, expected to run for re-election to a third term next March in the county that includes Fort Worth, questioned whether he had been "singled out" by the Dallas Morning News, the newspaper that printed elements of Sheriff Williams' military record Thursday morning.

For more than 30 hours the sheriff had refused to answer queries about his service record - several years as a military policeman, the only major law-enforcement experience he brought to the Tarrant County position in 1992.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Sheriff Williams refused to say where he had been when he left his post at Fort Sill, Okla., 23 years ago, but snapped, "I was not where I was required to be or where I was supposed to be."

The original article questioned whether the sheriff had received an honorable discharge - a fact that could not be determined by the Army documents surrendered to the newspaper. Sheriff Williams waived his discharge and it was an honorable one.

He said he had been drinking heavily at the time, was having difficulty with a recent divorce and had been refused repeated requests to be allowed leave time.

After three months, he said, he "walked in and told the sergeant, `I quit.'

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He said there was "no excuse" for his actions in going AWOL and did not remember where he was most of the approximately five weeks he had been absent without leave.

He was extremely angered by the Dallas newspaper's disclosures.

"Was I being singled out?" he questioned, "or will the others' (his opponents') backgrounds be examined as deeply?"

He said he intended to examine the Freedom of Information request that resulted in the release of his records.

He accused one of two reporters who wrote Thursday's story as "working" for unnamed opponents who have filed against him in the upcoming election. He said the reporter misrepresented himself when he telephoned Sheriff Williams' ex-wife in Illinois. …