Love County Sheriff Arrested; Removal Proceedings Begin

Longtime Love County Sheriff Marion "Joe" Russell, 62, has been arrested, and the state's multicounty grand jury has requested his immediate suspension and removal from office. Russell is charged with one count of harboring a fugitive from justice and one count of maintaining a house where drugs are kept.

Russell, who is under investigation by both the grand jury and the FBI, is accused of abusing his position to benefit family members who have run afoul of the legal system. In particular, he is accused of turning a blind eye to his son's drug-related activity and even allowing his son and his son's associates to keep and use methamphetamine at his house and in his presence.

The sheriff's son, Willie Russell, 38, pleaded guilty to a federal drug charge of methamphetamine distribution and is awaiting sentencing. According to an FBI agent who testified at the younger Russell's detention hearing, Sheriff Russell knew of his son's activities--including drug buys and drug sales--and allowed them to continue without consequence in the home that they shared. 

Attorney General Scott Pruitt reported in an arrest affidavit that multiple witnesses claim to have used methamphetamine in the sheriff's home while he was present, and that they claim to have done so as far back as 2011. They say the presence, sale, and use of methamphetamine in the sheriff's home continued until last year, when the younger Russell was arrested for selling meth to an undercover law enforcement officer.

The "harboring a fugitive" charge is related to an allegation that the sheriff allowed his son's girlfriend, who had multiple arrest warrants, to stay at his home. The woman told investigators that Willie Russell told her his father's house was "the safest place you can be," but then threatened her with arrest whenever she withheld sex or tried to end the relationship. When she finally did end the relationship and move out of the Russell home, the sheriff arrested her on outstanding warrants.

After his arrest, the sheriff was released on his own recognizance. He is scheduled to appear for a removal hearing on August 2, and his preliminary hearing conference in the criminal case is scheduled a week later, on August 9.

Image credit: Keith Allison