Winkler County Sheriff Found Guilty of Retaliation Against Whistle-Blower Nurses
Faces jail time, $6,000 fine for going after nurses who complained about his physician friend.
Published: June 15, 2011
The West Texas sheriff who used his power to retaliate against 2 nurses after they complained to the state medical board about his physician friend was found guilty of all charges yesterday.
After 2 hours of deliberation, a Midland County jury convicted Winkler County Sheriff Robert Roberts of 4 felony counts related to misuse of public information and retaliation and 2 misdemeanor counts of official repression. After serving nearly 20 years as sheriff in the small West Texas community, Mr. Roberts must leave the office, pay a fine of $6,000 and serve 100 days in county jail plus 4 years probation on each of the felony charges. He voluntarily surrendered his peace officer's license and waived the right to appeal, according to local reports.
During Mr. Roberts's trial, the jury heard testimony from former Winkler County Memorial Hospital Administrator Stan Wiley, who took a plea deal in the case in March, and former hospital nurses Vickilyn Galle and Anne Mitchell, who were fired, arrested and prosecuted by county officials after filing an anonymous complaint against Rolando Arafiles, MD. Their complaint alleged that Dr. Arafiles engaged in a variety of questionable practices, including performing surgery against hospital policy.
The nurses resorted to filing the anonymous complaint because their repeated concerns about Dr. Arafiles's behavior fell on deaf ears at the hospital, they explained in a recent interview with This American Life. Word of the complaint trickled down to Dr. Arafiles, who allegedly had his friends, Mr. Roberts and County Attorney Scott Tidwell, investigate the source of the complaint. When they discovered it came from Ms. Galle and Ms. Mitchell, the nurses soon found themselves out of a job and facing criminal charges for "misuse of medical information."
The charges against Ms. Galle were dropped, and Ms. Mitchell was acquitted by a jury in February 2010, at which point the investigation shifted to Mr. Roberts, Mr. Wiley, Mr. Tidwell and Dr. Arafiles. The physician and county attorney are still awaiting trial on charges of retaliation and misuse of official information. Mr. Roberts's sentence begins later this month.
Photo of Robert Roberts courtesy: Winkler County Sheriff's Office
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