Former Ranger, Chief Deputy, Leaves Meaningful Legacy
There are several reasons for a change of venue – pretrial publicity, bias, political atmosphere, etc. But how many times is a trial moved because of the integrity and trustworthiness of one man?
It happened in Hudspeth County years ago, when Clayton McKinney was a Texas Ranger. During voir dire, this question was posed to prospective jurors: “If Clayton McKinney told you something happened, would you believe him?”
Every prospective juror said yes. Based on that, the defense attorney asked for, and was granted, the move.
“That really speaks volumes,” said Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter.
Clayton McKinney, retired Midland County Sheriff’s Department chief deputy, was Gary Painter’s closest friend. Painter, along with hundreds across Texas, mourned the passing of McKinney on Aug. 20.
Just before his death, Hudspeth County officials dedicated The West Texas Detention Center – Ranger Clayton McKinney Unit, a privately operated facility owned by Hudspeth County.
“We were at the facility having the grand opening and dedicating it to him, when we got the call that he had passed away,” said Hudspeth County Judge Becky Dean-Walker. “When he died, we all suffered a huge loss.”
Lifetime of Service
Clayton McKinney launched his service career at age 19 at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, working his way up as game warden and eventually head pilot.
In 1969, he went to work for the Texas Rangers in Culberson, Hudspeth and El Paso counties, quickly establishing himself as “a man of honor” and “a tenacious investigator,” said Painter.
He retired from the Rangers in 1985, and was then hired by Painter to work for the Midland County Sheriff’s Department. McKinney retired as a chief deputy on his 62nd birthday in 2002.
Two months after McKinney took his next job – evaluating airport security across the nation for the federal government – he was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Throughout his decades of service, McKinney earned numerous prestigious awards and left a legacy across the Lone Star State that includes the following:
- He was instrumental in the successful restoration of pronghorn antelope in the Big Bend through his accurate aerial survey.
- McKinney single-handedly cultivated relationships with Mexican law enforcement officials that led to a significant impact on the reduction of drug traffic in the Big Bend. He was able to recover large amounts of stolen property that had crossed over into Mexico, including automobiles, livestock, and even airplanes, which had been stolen by drug smugglers.
- His reputation as a Texas Ranger prompted well-known authors such as Prescott Webb, Larry McMurtry and James A. Michener to ask McKinney to guide them through areas of the Big Bend. McKinney eventually was inducted into the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame.
- As a lieutenant in the Midland County Sheriff’s Department Criminal Investigation Division, McKinney immediately helped clear in excess of 200 burglaries, which not only led to the recovery of property, but the reduction of narcotic activity in Midland County.
- While captain, McKinney continued the use of drug reverse stings, which led to the first-time arrest of approximately 40 major offenders in a five-year period.
- McKinney’s innovation led to the eventual surrender of Richard McLaren during the Republic of Texas standoff in Fort Davis in 1997.
- v In reaction to the standoff at Fort Davis, McKinney launched S.T.A.R., Sheriffs of Texas Agreed Response. As a result, sheriffs’ offices across the state now have surplus military equipment to help them respond to disaster or terror incidents. S.T.A.R. also has resulted in coordinated training among sheriff’s office personnel.
McKinney’s eventual diagnosis of brain cancer led to two operations and treatment. Still, he continued to work, addressing transportation security issues in trouble spots across the country.
“He would figure out what the problem was,” Painter said. “Once they made the changes (he suggested), the problems quit.”
Along with his security work, McKinney was instrumental in the building of a prison unit in Hudspeth County to house federal inmates, which now bears his name.
By Julie Anderson