Sheriff Harlon Copeland: R.I.P.

The June 12 Express-News death notice of former Bexar County Sheriff Harlon Copeland brought back a torrent of bad memories which I have never attempted to shut the door on.

Copeland and his deputies represented only one of several law enforcement agencies which were to bust me for drugs during the middle and late 1980s, a tragi-comic period of pitiful and incomprehensible personal demoralization in my life.

Getting busted by Copeland and his bevy of beer belly Keystone Cops with deputy badges was an indicator of my mental frame of mind at the time.

The late Sheriff Copeland was a public buffoon in the eyes of many, a redneck publicity hound who sent a platoon of mounted deputies to chase the whores out of Mahncke Park, and the very same law enforcement turkey who tried to hang a cocaine rap on former Governor Ann Richards.

This was the sheriff who backed into office simply because there was no worthy opponent available at the time, and this was the sheriff who infuriated the community with the infamous quote which followed the arrest of a deputy charged with exposing himself to a young girl.

Copeland’s dumbest quote

Said Harlon: “What he does on his own time is up to him.”

I was busted for felony drug possession six times by county, city, and state law enforcement agencies, but my capture by Copeland’s troopers represented what I considered at the time to be the ultimate disgrace. Better have the Keystone Cops and Deputy Dog bring you down than Harlon’s Hordes.

It was during my early recovery years from methamphetamine and alcohol that I learned a valuable lesson. If I ever forgot my last drunk, I probably hadn’t had it yet. And the same goes for drug busts. I’ve never forgotten a single one of them, but the Copeland raid on the black early-afternoon of June 9, 1988, remains as the lowlight of my dismal downward spiral into the pits of drug addiction and jail cells.

Copeland’s undercover people had already found the dope in my truck which was parked in front of the Action Magazine offices on Wurzbach Road at the time. The front door was wrenched off its hinges as deputies surrounded me and my catahoula leopard cow dog Hoss, an innocent bystander who was later turned over to friends who cared for him until I was released from jail.

Sheriff’s grand entrance

The late sheriff made his grand entrance only after I had been handcuffed and read my Miranda rights, a process which took what seemed like an eternity as deputies ransacked my offices.

Following the sheriff’s death at age 79 in a Pleasanton nursing home, former Republican activist Steve Heinrich was heard to say: “Whenever there was a crime scene, Copeland was there in front of the cameras.”

I can testify to the fact.

When the sheriff entered my offices, he said, “Well, Sam, you have written a bunch of bad stuff about my administration. And now we gotcha!”

Then, while I sat handcuffed for more than an hour, one of Copeland’s deputies called the daily newspapers, TV and radio stations, and probably every chickenshit little weekly rag they could find in the phone book before the sheriff was ready for the show.

Satisfied that a maximum media turnout was waiting in the parking lot, Copeland combed his hair in front of my office mirror, then stepped forth to personally lead me out the door. I was a former Express-News columnist and radio personality who the sheriff was ready to display like Geronimo’s scalp.

And the press was on hand. With TV cameras and microphones and Big Chief writing tablets the media queue is a blur in my memory. I do recall one electronics media jackoff thrusting his mike in my face. I want to say he was a WOAI reporter, but he might have been from KENS 5 or even KSAT Channel 12.

‘You’re on live TV’

“You’re on live,” he said. “What do you have to say?”

By that time, I was completely out of control, shot through with fear-based anger and the realization that my life in the free world was probably over.

I shot back into the TV man’s microphone: “I have one thing to say. I have always wanted to say fuck Harlon Copeland on live television.”

As I rode to jail with the high sheriff in his personal car, Copeland asked, “How do you feel now, Sam?”

I recall telling him in all honesty: “I feel like digging a hole, crawling in it, and dragging you in behind me.”

Then, in a very uncharacteristic tone, Copeland said softly: “You will probably get probation, or maybe your lawyer friend Alan Brown will get the case dismissed. You always seem to land on your feet, no matter who has you in custody.”

The records will reflect that I never made it to prison. Drug cases were dismissed for lack of evidence, and many kind people came to my rescue even after I had violated one 10-year probation on aggravated possession of methamphetamine charges. Lawyers who included Alan Brown. A.L. Herndon, and Jack Paul Leon all tried to assist me along the way, and it was Brown who finally led me to the recovery program that eventually saved my life. Shortly after that, it was then District Judge Susan Reed who granted me a second and unheard of probation and the freedom I still enjoy today.

The hatred was gone

I quit drugs and alcohol for the final time on October 16, 1989, and as part of my recovery program, I approached Harlon Copeland as Hank Thompson performed at the Eisenhauer Flea Market.

A blank expression crossed the sheriff’s face when I told him: “Sheriff, I just want you to know that I have stopped hating your guts.”

After I left the market that day, Copeland remarked to flea market owner Jimmy Weiss: “Sam Kindrick is really weird. I can’t figure out if he’s for me or against me.”

I meant what I said that day, and I still feel the same.

I was a manufacturer of my own misery, and I guess we all had a little fun with it along the way.

So rest in peace, Sheriff Copeland. I’ve never mentioned it before, but I heard the hint of sympathy in your voice as you hauled me off to to jail.