Winkler County Sheriff Found Guilty of Official Oppression, Retaliating Against Nurses
MIDLAND – A Midland County jury today found Winkler County Sheriff Robert Roberts guilty of misuse of official information, retaliation and official oppression. The guilty verdict stems from the sheriff’s attempt to retaliate against two nurses in Kermit, Texas, who filed anonymous complaints against Dr. Rolando Arafiles Jr., a physician who worked with both victims at the Winkler County Memorial Hospital.
In an agreement reached at the close of the trial’s punishment phase, Roberts, 56, was sentenced to four years felony probation on two counts each of misuse of official information and retaliation. He will serve 100 days in jail on each of four felony counts, to be served concurrently, and pay a $6,000 fine on four felony and two misdemeanor counts. Roberts will be removed from office by operation of law and will surrender his peace officer’s license.
In January, Sheriff Roberts was indicted on two counts each of misuse of official information, retaliation and official oppression. Dr. Arafiles and County Attorney Scott Tidwell were also indicted on similar charges. Last March, former hospital administrator Stan Wiley pleaded guilty to related charges after he acknowledged improperly terminating the nurses’ employment after they filed formal complaints against Arafiles with the Texas Medical Board. Under the terms of his guilty plea, Wiley was sentenced to 30 days in the county jail.
According to prosecutors with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the sheriff improperly used his position as the county’s chief law enforcement official in order to help his friend, Dr. Arafiles, retaliate against the nurses for complaining to the Texas Medical Board about his professional conduct. Under Texas law, complaints filed against physicians with the Texas Medical Board are confidential. However, after Dr. Arafiles was notified about the complaints filed against him, Sheriff Roberts requested copies of the confidential complaints, which included the complainants’ names.
During the trial, Assistant Attorney General David Glickler explained to jurors that Sheriff Roberts improperly shared the confidential complaints with Dr. Arafiles and the hospital administrator. Subsequently, the sheriff executed a search warrant in order to obtain information stored on the nurses’ computers and confirm that the nurses were the source of the confidential complaints.
In June 2009, the nurses were improperly terminated in retaliation for complaining to the Texas Medical Board about Dr. Arafiles’ conduct. Ten days later, County Attorney Tidwell’s office sought the nurses’ indictment and the Winkler County Sheriff’s Department arrested the nurses for alleged criminal conduct they did not commit. A jury later acquitted one of the nurses, while charges against the other nurse were dropped by the prosecution.
Dr. Arafiles and County Attorney Tidwell are still awaiting trial on retaliation and misuse of official information charges.