Being that McMurtie is a known and beloved member of our little corner of the literary world, whose work has appeared in a number of anthologies among some of the top names in fiction like Knights of Malta, It Came From the Trailer Park, SpotReps, Calexit, AstroLizards and others, many in our respective circles are putting out a rallying cry of support. The blog Only Guns and Money are outright calling the charges laid against him bullshit.
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And the more time I’ve spent researching this case, I can’t blame them. The mainstream reporting on this incident is among some of the shoddiest I’ve ever read. And while I may be a soft-handed city slicker from New York, someone wholly outside the regional goings-on here, I can’t shake the feeling that something about this whole thing stinks to high hell.
Here are the facts of things, pieced together as best I could jigsaw puzzle-style, baed on what little there is to be gleaned publicly:
On March 13, 2020, then-38-year old Heath Carl Hansen, was in United Regional Health Care System hospital in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was having hallucinations and refusing care. It is possible that Hansen may have been under the influence, as some reports mentioned that his being transferred for ‘detoxification’ was being considered by hospital staff. Police responded, and during Hansen’s interaction, he grabbed a taser from an officer and began pointing it at police and hospital security. At this point, “a separate officer then fired his taser at the suspect, but the suspect continued struggling and was eventually subdued by several officers”, according to a report by texashomepage.com (emphasis mine).
Hansen was taken to Wichita County Jail, where during his booking, McMurtrie, at the time a lieutenant with the Wichita County Sheriff’s Department, was forced to deal with an increasingly unruly Hansen. The November 2020 article for the Wichita Falls Times-Record-News by Trisha Choate quotes an indictment that says, in some of the most needlessly borderline defamatory language I’ve yet read, that “the 55-year-old Iowa Park man now stands accused of intentionally carrying out a list of physical abuses on an inmate,” which included, “fish hooking” his fingers in the inmate’s nose, pressing the inmate’s face into the concrete floor, hitting him or using excessive force and twisting his arm.”
The article (which only manages to get around to what got Hansen arrested in the first place after breathlessly reporting on McMurtie’s alleged civil rights abuses for 400 words), never mentions Hansen’s prior public intoxication charge that appeared in the very same Wichita County Jail Records database they had to have gotten his mug shot from, that somehow I managed to find. On that note, it also somehow misses basic vital data like the fact that the already violent Hansen was a rather beefy six-foot-three and 225 pounds and therefore might have posed a bit of a challenge to reign in. For this, McMurtrie was accused of violating Hansen’s civil rights by dispensing “cruel and unusual punishment”, which was later replaced by a charge of Official Oppression, or essentially abuse by an official under color of office.
But it was when McMurtrie’s own Sheriff, David Duke, threw him under the bus that hinted at a vendetta to put the screws to McMurtrie, plain and simple. Again, via texashomepage.com:
“Duke said the incident was recorded, and because the abuse was so clear, McMurtrie was quickly placed on suspension and then retired within days . . . ‘Such clear cases of improper actions cannot be tolerated,’ Duke said.”
A “clear case”, is it, David? Fantastic. Release the footage and clear all of this up. If the alleged assault against a prisoner nearly twenty years McMurtrie’s junior who had to be subdued by multiple men earlier that evening really was that obvious, surely you wouldn’t want to appear as being so unsupportive of the officers under you. Otherwise, what you’re calling “clear abuse” sounds like the railroading of a career lawman forced to retire due to a misdemeanor over actions that seem completely in line with the chaotic situation of having to restrain an unpredictable and violent prisoner.
Nevermind that even if taken at face value, none of what McMurtrie did seems to fly in the face of Texas’ Penal Code on use of force. May I present Section 9.53:
MAINTAINING SECURITY IN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY. An officer or employee of a correctional facility is justified in using force against a person in custody when and to the degree the officer or employee reasonably believes the force is necessary to maintain the security of the correctional facility, the safety or security of other persons in custody or employed by the correctional facility, or his own safety or security.
Hansen, by the way, has since had all four charges of aggravated assault on a public official originally filed against him dismissed.
In the words of John Richardson at Only Guns and Money (link above):
“The charge stems from internal politics within the sheriffs department. It is being made worse by a DA who is trying to bleed LawDog dry by dragging the case out over two years with numerous bogus plea deals.”
Abuse? Civil rights violations? “Official oppression”? Hansen never even filed a complaint (something else the MSM managed not to report). This is a fucking joke.
McMurtrie however, is fighting this tooth and nail, as much as he can. He’s since started a GiveSendGo page to help with the mounting legal bills, and Jim Curtis at OldNFO is raffling off a few things to donors of that page that will make great gifts for the shootist in your life. If you feel like checking out some of the titles McMurtrie has appeared in, here you go.