Michelle Holder wants name, reputation cleared; sheriff stands by decision

STEVE NASH steve.nash@brownwoodbulletin.com
Sheriff Bobby Grubbs speaks with courthouse deputy Doug Caffey Monday morning at the courthouse entrance after county commissioners tabled hearing a grievance in closed session by former deputy Michelle Holder.

Michelle Holder said she wants to clear her name and reputation following what she believes was the unjustified and politically motivated firing from her job last month as a sheriff's deputy.

And, she hopes her discharge will be upgraded from "general" to "honorable" — otherwise, it will be difficult for her to get another job, Holder said.

Holder and her husband, Mike — a candidate for Precinct 2 justice of the peace in the May 27 runoff election, and also a sheriff's office employee who was fired last month — appeared briefly in commissioners court Monday morning. Commissioners were scheduled to hear Michelle Holder's grievance, in closed session, against the sheriff's office "concerning termination of her employment."

Acting on the advice of Brown County Attorney Shane Britton, commissioners tabled the matter because, Britton said, the wording of the agenda did not give them the authority to hear Holder's grievance in closed session.

Commissioners will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday to take up the issue once again with a retooled agenda. The agenda states that commissioners will meet in closed session "to consider the grievance against the sheriff concerning termination of her employment."

As the Holders left the commissioners courtroom Monday, Mike Holder spoke with sheriff's Capt. Tony Aaron, who was standing in the back of the small courtroom. 

It was unclear what the two said to each other, and Aaron declined later to comment. Near the entrance to the courthouse, Mike Holder spoke with Sheriff Bobby Grubbs, and could be heard saying: "good Christian man like you, putting all that crap in the paper."

After the Holders left the courthouse, Grubbs said he stands behind his decision to fire the two. 

Britton said commissioners won't have the authority to take any action related to Holder's termination. "It just gives (Mike and Michelle Holder) the opportunity to air their complaint about a public official," Britton said.

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Michelle Holder visited the Bulletin later Monday and reiterated what her husband has been quoted in the media as saying: that the firings were politically motivated because Mike Holder is running against incumbent Bob Wall in the justice of the peace race.

The Holders have maintained that Grubbs and other law enforcement officials had known about the eight-liners at the Monte Carlo cafe since that August morning in 2012, but had done nothing about it — until recently.

Working as a patrol deputy on the morning of Aug. 6, 2012, Holder said, she was called in to help run search warrants.

Holder assumed the warrants were related to narcotics, but she learned that officers with the sheriff's office and Brownwood and Early police departments were about to run warrants on area game rooms that had eight-liners, machines that resemble slot machines. 

Holder said she told Grubbs and others who were present at the Law Enforcement Center that morning that her brother-in-law, Greg Holder, was running an establishment called the Monte Carlo at North Lake, which included eight-liners.

"Let me give you a heads up," Holder said she told Grubbs and the others. "Greg has eight-liners  liners and I don't know how he pays out for sure. My understanding is, if you win, you can trade out for food."

If officers had a search warrant for the Monte Carlo, Holder said, she didn't want to be involved in serving it because of a conflict of interest since it involved her brother-in-law.

Holder said in addition to telling Grubbs, she told others including Aaron, Brown County Attorney Shane Britton and the assistant county attorney, then known as Elisha Nix. Nix, now Elisha Bird, has gone on to work in the district attorney's office as a felony prosecutor.

The only response she received, Holder said, was a question: "Have we received any complaints on them?"

Holder said she was not seeking approval for her brother-in-law's eight-liners. She said she and her husband had told Greg Holder to make sure he was running the machines legally.

Greg Holder said in an earlier interview that a Department of Public Safety officer visited the cafe and said the eight-liners needed to be shut down.

"I think I will be blackballed," Michelle Holder said at the Bulletin. "They will make sure I will not be able to get any career-type job — anywhere."

The "they" Holder referred to was Grubbs and Chief Deputy Bobby Duvall.

"It just got out of hand," Holder said. "It's a perfected storm and he's hot-headed and an (expletive)." She was referring to Grubbs.

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Bird, reached Monday at her office, declined to comment on whether she had heard Holder report her brother-in-law's eight-liners on the morning of Aug. 6, 2012.

Britton did not respond to a text message asking if he had heard Holder talk about the eight-liners. 

Aaron also declined to comment, saying, "based on the threat of potential litigation, I don't think I can make any comments at this time."

Grubbs said, "we've been threatened by litigation" by Mike Holder. 

"A lot of what's being put out at this time, I do not intend to dignify with a response," Grubbs said. "I stand behind what we've done."

Grubbs said he did not hear Michelle Holder make any comments in 2012 about her brother-in-law's eight-liners. "I never heard this comment made, period," Grubbs said.

He said the first he knew of Greg Holder's eight-liners was at a candidates forum last month, when someone in the audience asked a question about the Monte Carlo.

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"We're still trying to get Mike elected," Michelle Holder said at the Bulletin.

She said sheriff's officials are "going to yank every little chain they can to keep the truth from coming out. We haven't even seen a crime report that says "promotion of gambling."