WIMBERLEY, Texas (KXAN) – Ray Helm’s future as a constable in Hays County is in the hands of voters starting this week, as well as state investigators looking into multiple allegations against him. Those allegations include faking training records, acting in a video production and calling it “training,” and not disclosing previous criminal convictions.
Helm was elected in 2016 to lead the Third Precinct Constable’s Office in Hays County, based in the city of Wimberley. He’s now seeking re-election, facing Jessica Deatherage in the Republican primary. Early voting begins in Hays County Feb. 18.
Helm is under investigation by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and the Hays County Auditor’s Office. They’re looking into complaints ranging from falsifying training records to utilizing taxpayer resources for private use.
The complaints come from two men: Ari Axelrod, a former Hays County resident and businessman; and former deputy constable Gary Griffin, who was Helm’s second-in-command.
Believing the Precinct 3 Constable’s Office wrongly ticketed Axelrod’s wife in 2017, and after a jury acquittal, on his own Axelrod began investigating the Constable’s training records and use of taxpayer resources.
In January, TCOLE finalized one of the investigations into Helm. That investigation ended with a disciplinary finding that Helm fabricated records about training.
In November, Griffin filed a complaint with TCOLE accusing his former boss of faking training records for 11 deputy constables in a June 2019 body camera training.
Helm included his own name in the training and received the two credit hours his other 11 deputies received, despite being listed as the instructor in the course.
The training roster Helm submitted to TCOLE does not show any signatures, which Griffin pointed out in his complaint.
Griffin accused Helm of tampering with a government record— a felony in Texas— and detailed for TCOLE what he says the deputy constables told him before submitting his complaint. Griffin claimed each said they never took the body camera training.
TCOLE spent the next two months investigating Griffin’s claims, which included interviewing Helm and his deputies.
On Jan. 15, the commission made its findings public with a formal reprimand against Helm. The investigation found “that one deputy constable never took the body worn camera course but was still reported by you as if he had taken the training,” TCOLE’s Executive Director Kim Vickers wrote in the Helm disciplinary letter.
Vickers also said neither Helm, nor any of the other 11 deputy constables, actually spent the required two hours training on the cameras, which is required by the commission before receiving credit for the training hours. Helm only spent 20 minutes giving his deputies an “overview of the camera and instruction on how to operate the camera,” Vickers wrote in the letter.
Vickers’ letter also detailed several other compliance violations Helm committed related to the body camera training.
“I had a list of deputies that needed that class and made a clerical error on one,” said Helm in an email responding to KXAN’s questions in December. “I was trying to keep deputies on the street and not held up for 2 hours and teach them this required course the best I can in a house class,” Helm added.
TCOLE told Helm the disciplinary letter “is now part of your Commission file” and warned that his peace officer license would be “subject to suspension” if two more reprimands are issued against him in his career.
Open TCOLE Investigations
Constable Ray Helm’s troubles with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement are not over. The commission has confirmed at least two additional ongoing investigations into Helm.
HELM’S CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS
One complaint accuses Helm of “material misrepresentations” that allowed him to illegally obtain his peace officer license in 2003 by failing to disclose a 1995 criminal conviction in Brazoria County.
Helm was initially charged with a third-degree felony count of criminal mischief for damaging a vehicle. The charge was later reduced to a Class A Misdemeanor. Helm pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year of deferred adjudication probation.
Just three months later — while Helm was on probation — a Hays County officer arrested him and he was charged with driving while impaired with a blood alcohol level “of 0.10 or more,” according to charging documents from the Hays County clerk’s office.
The prosecutor on the DWI case was Wes Mau, the current Hays County District Attorney. Mau was an assistant district attorney at the time.
Helm pleaded no contest to the charge, according to court records. The complaint alleges Helm didn’t tell TCOLE the full story regarding his conviction when he applied for the peace officer license he received in 2003.
State law at the time would have disqualified Helm from becoming certified because of the conviction, the Axelrod complaint alleges.
TCOLE confirmed to KXAN the certification allegation was accepted and the commission’s enforcement investigators are actively investigating the complaint.
“I was enrolled in a license academy before the rules changed to the 10 year wait time in 2001,” wrote Helm in an email to KXAN. “Back then it was a 5 year wait for any Class A or B misdemeanor. It was cleared by TCOLE and the executive director at that time.”
KXAN asked Helm for an interview to discuss the claims against him. He’d declined KXAN’s multiple requests since November for an interview, instead only responding by email. KXAN investigative reporter Jody Barr attempted to ask Helm questions on camera at a political forum in Wimberley on Feb. 5.
Helm told Barr, “My license is fine.”
TRAINING OR ACTING?
The commission told KXAN it’s also actively investigating claims that Helm took credit for 20 hours of drone training in 2018, when he and three deputies were actually participating as “actors/extras for an infomercial/advertisement” for a private drone company video production.
Two videos for Drone Pilot, Inc. show Helm and his deputy constables in a dramatized rescue of a missing person and the pursuit of an armed man. Helm and his constables are in uniform and in their county-issued law enforcement trucks.
KXAN filed an open records request with TCOLE for training records from the Precinct Three Constable’s Office. They show four constable employees with drone training credits: Constable Ray Helm, Cody Cheatham, Gary Griffin and Donny Torres.
Griffin filed a formal complaint with TCOLE on Feb. 10, verifying that he was with Helm and the other deputies listed in the training roster “on or about 4/10/2018 in uniform, in our assigned county patrol vehicles.”
Griffin told TCOLE he never knew Helm filed the drone training certification or that Griffin’s name was included on the roster. Griffin said he never signed a training roster and never received drone training during his 34 years as a licensed Texas peace officer.
Griffin asked that credit for the “fraudulent training entry” be removed from his TCOLE certification record.
Griffin told KXAN he was on the clock as deputy constable and being paid by the County during the video production.
“The commercial producer wanted video of our patrol vehicle(s) deployed in a manner as if we were on scene looking for an injured/missing person with drone deployment assistance for the commercial,” Griffin wrote in his TCOLE complaint.
“Additionally, the commercial video producer wanted a night time scene that showcased the aerial drone equipment’s FLIR capabilities in which an actor portrayed a fugitive along with Cody Cheatham & Donny Torres portraying Officer(s) searching for a fugitive from justice during night time operations. I refused to participate in that video production,” Griffin stated in his TCOLE complaint.
KXAN asked Drone Pilot, Inc. president John Buell and vice-president Gene Robinson, seen in the videos, about the drone shoot and whether they provided TCOLE-certified training to Helm and his deputy constables. This story will be updated when they respond.
KXAN found the company posted on its Twitter page four pictures from the Hays County drone video production. The tweet is dated April 11, 2018, one day after Helm’s office documented drone training in TCOLE records.
Hays County Auditor Investigation
Misuse of county resources is one of Axelrod’s complaints being investigated by the Hays County Auditor’s Office, KXAN confirmed.
The auditor is also investigating claims Helm did not comply with state law when appointing his deputy constables after his election in 2016. The law requires Helm to apply to the Hays County Commissioners Court for approval before putting a deputy constable to work. Axelrod’s complaint asked the auditor to investigate whether Helm was required by law to seek approval for deputy constables he inherited or when they moved from reserve to full-time status.
“All deputies have been approved by commissioners court and the minutes reflect that,” said Helm in an email to KXAN. “Every deputy has gone before the court by name or announced in court for approval.”
KXAN requested those minutes. The county’s general counsel responded, “we could not locate the Commissioners Court minutes” showing approval of Donald Tomlin or Kaley Gassman, two of Helm’s deputy constables.
“Our review is still ongoing. My office has received additional information that has expanded the review and requires additional fieldwork,” Hays County Auditor Marisol Alonzo told KXAN in a Feb. 14 email.
On January 9, Griffin walked into the Hays County jail to turn himself in. Helm had Griffin charged with two felonies and three misdemeanors for misusing official information, tampering with a government record, abuse of official capacity and theft by a public servant.
The charges came at the same time TCOLE was finishing its investigation of Griffin’s claims that Helm falsified body camera training records.
Griffin is accused of stealing public records from the Precinct Three office during his employment, including an internal email, an employee record and dispatch call information.
Hays County released that email after an August 2019 public records request. It’s one Helm sent his deputies in August 2018 saying, “Try to load them up with about 10 tickets per week,” referring to ticketing drivers in Wimberley.
“A blind man could see that email’s a quota,” Griffin told KXAN.
“When you read that e-mail, what went through your mind?” KXAN asked Griffin in an August 2019 interview.
“What in the world is the boss doing, generating written correspondence about a quota?” Griffin answered.
“We can’t do that. If he [Helm] said it once — he’s said it a hundred times to me and the other deputies: ‘You need to go look at whose name is on the door,'” Griffin said, describing Helm’s response.
A blind man could see that email’s a quota.”Gary Griffin, former Hays County Precinct 3 Deputy Constable
“And I said, Ray, funny thing about having your name on the door … you get full credit when everything’s going right, but you also have to accept full responsibility when things aren’t going right,” Griffin said.
Griffin said he told his deputies to “disregard” Helm’s directive because Griffin believed it broke the state’s ban on quota systems.
Helm acknowledged the email was a mistake. “The next day my staff came to me about the email about 10 citations, we gathered and understood that was a poor choice of words and fixed that issue. A poor choice of words on my part,” Helm wrote to KXAN.
In a Jan. 15 email to KXAN, Helm offered more detail of his investigation into the Griffin case, “This was a 3 month long investigation on who took and stole documents from this office. I interviewed every one of my employees about the incident. One former employee is believed to be a suspect in this investigation from the evidence that we gathered,” Helm stated.
The affidavits do not detail any of the investigative steps taken by Helm or his office to support the charges.
“At no time the suspect was targeted for political motives or anyone that is pushing allegations against me or this office. Laws were possibly broken, and the suspect is innocent until proven guilty, a Grand Jury or District Attorney [sic] will be looking over the case and it is up to them and the courts to decide where it goes,” Helm added.
“If it was another employee or citizen they would also have been charged but we had no leads or suspects other than the one arrested. We still have a current investigation for the ones that received the stolen documents without permission and will be continuing with it. So I can’t comment much due to the on going investigation,” Helm wrote in the Jan. 15 email.
Griffin resigned from Helm’s office in June 2019. Five days later, Helm submitted a form known as an “F-5,” to TCOLE indicating Griffin was “honorably discharged … in good standing” and that his resignation was “not because of pending or final disciplinary actions or a documented performance problem,” the form shows.
Griffin declined an interview request with KXAN concerning the criminal charges. “Until my criminal cases are mitigated, I cannot comment on the criminal cases on the advice of my attorney,” Griffin said.
Griffin remains free on bond.
Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau declined to prosecute Griffin and asked that another district attorney handle the case. A Hays County District judge assigned the case to Caldwell County District Attorney Fred Weber.
The Griffin prosecution remains open as of this report.
“There are few issues I need to get clarification on,” Weber wrote in a Feb. 10 email to KXAN. “I have no intention of letting this case linger,” Weber said in closing.
Neither TCOLE nor the Hays County Auditor’s Office provided a time frame for when their investigations could be finished.