STAFF WRITER CONNIE SWINNEY
LLANO — Investigators are sorting through how a Llano police officer’s Facebook posting of a popular song’s lyrics led to a voluntary evacuation of at least one department at the Llano County Courthouse on the eve of Thanksgiving.
On Nov. 22, public safety officials in Llano County shared an interagency communication generated by the Texas Department of Public Safety that detailed a social media post by Llano Police Officer Grant Harden.
The officer, who is on paid leave due to an unrelated investigation, posted lyrics and a video of the song “Down in Flames” by Red Dirt music artist Stoney LaRue.
The lyrics read, in part, “One thing’s for certain, everybody’s gonna know my name. If I’m going down, I’m going down in flames.”
The officer’s comment preceding the post stated, “No better way to describe the current mood …”
Within minutes of the post, a screenshot began circulating among Llano county and city officials, and the DPS-generated interagency communication followed.
At the time of the notification, the Llano County Courthouse had already closed early for the holiday break; however, personnel remained, including staff at the county attorney’s office, a bailiff, and the county judge.
“There was an announcement made that the courthouse was evacuated,” Llano County Judge Mary Cunningham said. “There was no countywide evacuation.
“This was just one of those one-off situations that was not perceived as a threat to the public,” she added. “What was perceived was seen as maybe a potential threat to a few individuals that there may have been a vendetta involved.”
Llano County Attorney Becky Lange, who was not at the courthouse at the time, received word of the social media comment and the DPS alert, which prompted her to communicate her “concern” with her remaining staff.
“The sheriff called and notified me. I wasn’t there to investigate further, so I chose to go ahead and close my office,” Lange said. “As a community, we’re learning we have to pay attention to stuff. I’m uber-sensitive.
“I was in the military for 26 years,” she added. “We don’t make excuses. We just pay attention.”
Llano County Sheriff Bill Blackburn said he notified city and county officials and his own staff to make them aware of the official communication by the state agency but maintained that no law enforcement official called for an “evacuation” nor did his office generate the DPS alert.
Llano Police Chief Kevin Ratliff, who would have jurisdiction over the courthouse within the city limits, questioned the way in which the situation unfolded and expressed concerns that he had no direct communication with members of the state agency connected to the alert.
“If there is a threat or a perceived threat, then I think, all the agencies in this area, we should all respond there and check the status of the people who are in the building,” Ratliff said. “My problem is who made that threat assessment and why they made it? And if it was that serious of a threat, why wasn’t it followed up?
On Nov. 24, Ratliff placed Harden on leave due to an unrelated complaint but emphasized that the officer’s personal social media activity did not figure into the decision.
“He’s (Harden) a musician, a drummer, so he’s always posting music-related stuff,” Ratliff said. “If someone took that (post) and made a threat assessment, then why wasn’t it followed up on?”
Harden’s attorney said his client has never been deemed a threat and questioned the actions of law enforcement connected to the events on Thanksgiving eve.
“He posted a video of a song and some lyrics from it. If you read the post, there is clearly no threat against anyone,” said attorney Tiger Hanner of the Austin-based Tiger Hanner Law Office. “No one from any law enforcement agency, including the DPS or the sheriff’s department, ever contacted Officer Harden to investigate the matter.
“To my knowledge, no one ever contacted the Llano Police Department to investigate,” Hanner said.
DPS Spokesman Tom Vinger would not comment on the information detailed in the official communication regarding the social media post and stated, “We don’t discuss law enforcement-sensitive information.”
33rd/424th Judicial District Attorney Sonny McAfee confirmed that his office is looking into an unrelated incident regarding Harden, which is the reason for the officer’s paid leave status.
“There is currently an investigation, and it’s ongoing,” McAfee said.
The district attorney said the cause of his office’s investigation into Harden relates to “the course and scope of (the officer’s) duties.”
As the DA’s investigation continues, the officer has remained mired in yet another unrelated controversy: a months-old agreement involving his access to the Llano County Jail.
All parties confirmed that the sheriff, the police chief, and Harden agreed the officer is prohibited from entering the Llano County Law Enforcement Center’s administrative offices and dispatch section of the facility.
The sheriff cited “general conduct,” while Harden’s attorney explained the agreement involved “personality conflicts between some of the sheriff’s staff and Officer Harden.”
As law enforcement officials sort through the series of events swirling around the embattled officer, a number of them have made assessments on what needs to be done to minimize public concern.
“There should be a protocol in place. If there’s a perceived threat, then there needs to be a SOP (standard operating procedure),” Ratliff said. “Any agencies who are available should be there to assist.”
Cunningham added, “In the event a true emergency arises that involves the public or all of the employees of the county, then my office would be the one to make that call along with the emergency management coordinator.
“Hopefully, it’s under control, and things will work their way through the court system,” she said regarding the investigation involving the officer.
Harden’s attorney alleged that conflicts among law enforcement have escalated beyond issues his client is facing and could put the public at risk.
“I’m very concerned that local politics has taken precedent over the safety of the community and the proper functioning of law enforcement,” Hanner said.