In this episode, Brian Beckcom speaks with district attorney Dusty Boyd about substantive solutions to conflict and crisis within our communities. They address the justifiable mistrust in America’s legal system and examine ways in which we can lead our communities through to positive solutions.
During the show, they discuss the origins of MAPS. A program that has sparked meaningful dialogue about ways in which minority communities interact with law enforcement. Dusty has created a modern and forward-looking model for collaboration between minority communities and law enforcement despite being from a small Texas county.
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Brian and Dusty discuss:
- Dusty’s upbringing as a small-town Texas boy and the out-of-state college experience that helped shape his word-view
- The benefit of having a Texan accent in the courtroom
- The chain of events which drove Dusty to join the United Nations in their peacekeeping efforts in Sudan
- The formation of South Sudan and the challenges of engineering a modern legal system in a country with a deep mistrust in government
- The “culture clashes” in Sudan, the Middle East, and the U.S.
- How the MAPS program is enabling Coryell county’s minority community to work in concert with law enforcement to decide whom to prosecute and how
- Conviction rates and lousy incentives
- The importance of community input and transparency in government
- Advice for leading through uncertainty
- And other topics
Dusty Boyd is the 52nd Judicial District Attorney of Coryell County, Texas. Dusty grew up on the McCrory Ranch just outside of Crane, Texas. Dusty attended and graduated from Texas A&M University, where he was in the Corps of Cadets. He earned his law degree at Michigan State University, where he also studied social work. Dusty Boyd has led the way in what many consider to be some of the country’s most progressive prosecutions. He’s created the MAPS program, which is bridging the gap between law enforcement and Coryell County’s minority community.
Read the show notes!
Brian Beckcom: Welcome to the Lessons from Leaders podcast. I'm your host, Brian Beckcom. My next guest is Coryell County District Attorney Dusty Boyd. Dusty grew up on McElroy Ranch, just outside of Crane, Texas, before attending and graduating from Texas A&M University where he was in the Corps of Cadets.
Dusty then went to law school at Michigan State University, where he also studied social work. He then went into private practice, and after several years, he decided to go to Sudan as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Sudan.
After arriving in Africa in 2007, Dusty served as the legal advisor, directly engaged in assisting and intervening in human rights violations, as well as helping to create a brand new legal system. Dusty then came back home, and in 2008, ran for Assistant County Attorney, and then became the District Attorney of Coryell County in 2013.
Dusty Boyd has led the way in what many considered to be some of the most progressive prosecutions in the country. He's created a program called MAPS, which is a program that gets the minority community in Coryell County involved in law enforcement decisions about who to prosecute and who not to prosecute, and Dusty has created in this small Texas county one of the leading examples in the country about how to bring our communities together with law enforcement, so law enforcement and the communities work together to protect our communities.
Dusty is a great guy, very smart guy. Has a lot of very, very good ideas, and is the kind of law enforcement officer, the kind of district attorney that our country really needs right now. I had a great time talking to Dusty. I think you're really gonna like what he has to say. And now I give you District Attorney Dusty Boyd.
Introducing Dusty Boyd and Coryell County, Texas
Brian Beckcom: Hey everybody, Brian Beckcom here. And I have got District Attorney Dusty Boyd. Dusty, how you doing today, man?
Dusty Boyd: I’m doing great, counselor. How are you?
Brian Beckcom: I'm doing good. I'm doing good. Are you guys -- so, you're the district attorney of Coryell County, right?
Dusty Boyd: Yep. The DA from Coryell County and Gatesville, Texas, or what I like to call Gates Vegas.
Brian Beckcom: So, for people that aren't familiar with Texas geography and where Gatesville and Coryell County is, can you kind of place us on the map for the area that you're in charge of as the district attorney?
Dusty Boyd: Sure. So, Coryell County is effectively right in the middle of Central Texas. We're about 30 miles west of Waco, about 40 miles northwest of Temple, off the I-35 Corridor. A lot of folks are familiar with Gatesville or my biggest community, Copperas Cove, because of Fort Hood. Fort Hood is the largest military installation in the United States, and that takes up about a third of our county. So, a third of our landmass for Coryell County is actually, basically, where Fort Hood practices with artillery and the impact zones.
Brian Beckcom: And that’s an army base, right?
Dusty Boyd: It is the U.S. army base. And so we're about an hour and a half, hour and 15 minutes north, northwest of Austin, and about two hours south of Dallas. So, just centrally located here in Central Texas.
From a Small Town High School to College in the “Big City”
Brian Beckcom: One of the things I want to talk to you about, Dusty, is that we've had a lot of, in addition to the pandemic, we've had a lot of turmoil as it relates to race relations, law enforcement, interaction with minority communities. And a lot of people, I think, have this idea that district attorneys and police officers from small towns, particularly small southern towns or small Texas towns, aren't as progressive or whatever phrase you want to use about new law enforcement techniques.
And so you are the district attorney and actually grew up in a very small town, but one of the things I wanted to talk to you about on the podcast is some of the things that you as the district attorney have either initiated or have continued that are pretty progressive from a law enforcement standpoint. But before we get into that, you've got a fascinating biography. You grew up in Crane, Texas, is that right?
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. Home of golden Cranes.
Brian Beckcom: And how many people were in your high school graduating class?
Dusty Boyd: 62 Americans, plus seven forgein exchange students for a total of 69.
Brian Beckcom: I had maybe 220 classmates in my senior class. And I thought I had a pretty small graduating class. You probably knew everybody in your graduating class, right?
Dusty Boyd: Oh, absolutely, yes. Your graduating class was about the size of my entire high school at that time.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So, small town boy, and then went to Texas A&M and was in the Corps of Cadets. And that's where you and I have known each other for over 25 years. That's where we met. Right?
Dusty Boyd: Yes, sir.
Brian Beckcom: And what was it that made you decide to go to Texas A&M and to join the Corps of Cadets?
Dusty Boyd: Well, to explain that I'd have to unpack a little bit and go a year before. Growing up in Crane and graduating Crane High School, the day after I walked across the stage, I moved to Austin. My parents did not want me to spend another day in Crane and to get in trouble. My older sister, Wendy, was working in Austin and going to Texas at the time. I got a job as a sergeant at arms at the Capitol. And so, I moved from Crane down to Austin, and actually was prepared to go play football at Howard Payne University in Brownwood. And I had an incredible experience in Austin that summer, especially from a kid out in the oil patch, moving to Austin.
Brian Beckcom: It’s really the big city for you, right?
Dusty Boyd: Oh, it was something else.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah. And people that aren't in Texas, maybe they don't appreciate that us Houstonians or Dallasites or San Antonions. I mean, Austin is not even close to being one of the biggest cities in Texas, but for you, it’s like going to New York City, probably.
Dusty Boyd: Absolutely. You know, like I said, graduating with 62 people. My total town population was about 3,000, depending on the oil and gas production. And so that was a really neat eye opening experience for me, and to be there with my older sister who was in graduate school at the time.
I had some friends that had some relationships with the UT Athletic Department and they actually allowed me to go in to execute my pre-three days routine for Howard Payne, so I got to work out with guys like Shane Marin and Cosmo Poitier and Mike Adams with UT. [6:50].
Brian Beckcom: Nice. Nice. Yeah.
Dusty Boyd: And I had a great summer there, working out, getting ready, and I actually went to Brownwood and I played football for a year there. The fall of 1993.
Brian Beckcom: At Howard Payne?
Dusty Boyd: At Howard Payne.
Brian Beckcom: Man, I had no idea. What position did you play?
Dusty Boyd: I played quarterback in high school, and that’s what they recruited me for. And I got there and they moved me to safety. The day I arrived, the coach that recruited me walked in and said, “Hey, Tarleton University in Stephenville just hired me to become their head track coach, so I’m leaving.” And I was like, “Well, wait a minute. You just recruited me to come to Brownwood and then you're leaving.”
But I really enjoyed Brownwood. It was a great experience. It's a fantastic university. But ended up hurting my knee that fall. Hurt something in my meniscus. And I knew I wasn't going to make the NFL, and I had some friends at A&M from Crane that were in the Corps. And I went down there for the A&M Texas game that fall and just fell in love with the spirit, the tradition. Everything you know about Brownwood, obviously, the camaraderie. I mean, it was everything that I was really looking for out of the college experience.
And so I finished my spring semester at Howard Payne and then I fished into the core as opposed to frogging in. I went into A&M as a freshman in the Corps versus going in as a sophomore, although I was a sophomore with hours. So, that's how I ended up at A&M. It was really just some friends with really strong connections. Some of my best friends from Crane were there and I had gone to visit and I just fell in love with it. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.
Brian Beckcom: Very interesting, ’cause I had no idea you played football in college. Kind of a similar story to, in terms of how you and I both joined the Corps, because when I went to A&M, I was what they called -- they didn't call it this back then, but I was a preferred walk on, which meant I didn't have to try out.
I get down there. Had no idea in my mind I was ever going to join the Corps, even though my dad and my granddad were both in the Corps. Played basketball for a year, stopped playing basketball, and then started looking around. And said, you know what? I think I'm going to join the Corps, but did the same thing you did. I joined as a sophomore, but I joined the Corps class as a freshman. So I could go through part of my freshman year.
Dusty Boyd: You can't replace that freshman year.
Brian Beckcom: That's exactly right. That's exactly right.
Dusty Boyd: The challenge you're presented as a freshman in the things that you overcome with these guys, that you have no idea who they are, where they're from. And to overcome and survive those challenges with those folks really builds character and it built a relationship that lasts a lifetime.
Brian Beckcom: No doubt about that, Dusty. No doubt.
Law School at Michigan State University
Brian Beckcom: Well, so, you and I both got that experience. We became very close friends with mainly the guys that we were in the Corps with. And then after that, you ended up going to law school and you also did some graduate studies in social work. I guess I was, you know, I was looking at your biography this morning and I also did not know -- I knew you went to law school. I knew you were a lawyer, but I didn't know you had done some studies in graduate school and social work.
So, tell us a little bit about that. What kind of motivated you not only to go to law school, but also to study social work.
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. So, I grew up on the McElroy Ranch out in West Texas. It's a huge ranch. It was 250 sections,. They're 640 acres in a section. About 160,000 acres. And in 1991, my family had to move off that place, and it was a time of my life where I really had to stop and step back and realize that culture and that lifestyle was dying. And it was a security issue for me.
My mother had been the county judge secretary for my whole life. I had been in and out of the courthouse every day since I could walk. And going to law school, to me, felt like security. Like, I could always land on my feet and always provide for my family. So, that was really kind of where the seed was planted for me was that experience in leaving the ranch.
But in deciding to go to law school at that time, after graduating A&M, I visited several campuses in Texas and throughout the country. And what I really decided on doing, and I think this is a really good kind of loop into your discussion you had with Cyril the other day about lenses. About everyone walks through their life with a certain lens based on their life, how they were raised, their experiences. And I really wanted to challenge myself with where I went to law school because I knew that I wanted to surround myself with people who thought different than me, did things different than me, so that I could study myself and see if I needed to change or take a stand and be happy with how I felt about things in different areas. And so, I went to East Lansing, I fell in love with the campus. I fell in love with Michigan State. It's an incredible place. Incredible people. I probably had the only vehicle with who was running for president that year with a sticker on it, which is fun.
And I'll never forget -- those that went to law school know the Socratic method. I'll never forget the first day I was called to stand up and talk. I think the entire class turned around to look at me and said, “Where is this guy from?” So, yeah. I decided on MSU. And MSU had a crossover program with the graduate school of social work where those attorneys that were going to be practicing either in social work or in government services, like, a lot of cases, child protective services. They would go and cross over and take graduate classes in social work. And then at the same time, social workers or students that were planning to be social workers would come and take a couple of legal classes.
And I just thought it was an incredible opportunity to, again, to expose myself to a different way of thinking, because at the end of the day, I think to be an effective lawyer, you have to understand where everyone's coming from if you're going to navigate a solution. And so, I think I've ended up with about 15 hours of graduate school, got a certificate in social work from MSU in conjunction with my law degree. And so that was really my thought process in going there and doing those joint programs is really to open myself up to a different way of thinking, a different way to solve problems, a different way to understand problems.
And ultimately that will tie in probably to something we'll talk about a little bit later of when I went into African and Sudan, is understanding the sociology of the people that you're working with and helps you better identify the problems which, again, bridges to how do you trace solutions for those problems?
And so that was really the platform for me and why I decided to do that, especially with the joint program there. But I absolutely love East Lansing. It was a great time. And I know you were a fantastic basketball player. I know nothing about basketball. Even after I graduated A&M until about my first year of law school, we won the national championship.
Brian Beckcom: Was that when Mateen Cleaves was the point guard?
Dusty Boyd: Yeah.
Brian Beckcom: I love that guy. That guy could not shoot. He could not hit the side of a barn with a shotgun, but he was such a leader, man.
Dusty Boyd: He was an incredible, passionate person.
Brian Beckcom: Passionate guy.
Dusty Boyd: Absolutely loved his teammates. Of course the Flintstones and all those guys that were from Flint. And so I got to catch a couple of their games and I soon became a very big basketball fan and hockey fan, by the way, because MSU also had hockey. And so what a great experience .
Brian Beckcom: And what a great -- not to get into a side conversation about basketball, but the head coach at Michigan State. He's going to be, for sure, hall of fame. First time. I mean, just a phenomenal, phenomenal coach.
Dusty Boyd: Yeah, Izzo is just a really, really, really special figure there. And not just there, but for the country. His coaching style is something I absolutely love. It's tough. It's competitive. You will never get an easy game out of the Spartans, I promise you that.
Brian Beckcom: That's exactly right. And so, you know, it's interesting to hear you say, Dusty, that your decision to go out of state to a place that was different than you grew up in was kind of, it sounds like it was actually a conscious decision at the time. Like you were looking to expand your horizons or expand kind of from the small town guy and the Aggie Corp guy and kind of learn about different things. And so, you know, I imagine. It's kind of funny you say that, because I had a little bit of the same experience when I went to UT Law School. People looked at me as, “There's the Aggie Crops guy,” right?
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. And your cereal topped [15:15] immediately.
Brian Beckcom: Immediately, yeah. Immediately. “There's the redneck Aggie Corps guy,” type of thing.
Dusty Boyd: So, then you got to surprise them.
Texan Accents and Texan Pride
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And, it's funny, and you and I both know this and for you folks that are listening that may be from the East Coast, when you have somebody from Texas come up and they talk with a thick accent, sometimes they're doing that to sneak up on you, right?
Dusty Boyd: That’s true, yeah. One of my good friends is a lawyer down in Atlanta. He's actually from a little town called Tow, which is right there on Lake McCannon. And he would start his board RX [15:50] with, “I'm the best lawyer from Tow, Texas.” And he would really know how to yuck it up. But then don't let that fool you or trick you. He's a fantastic litigator in the courtroom, and that was just one of the tools he used to capture your attention, and then amaze you with what his litigation intellect. I mean, that is certainly a tool that can be used.
Brian Beckcom: And I, you know, I found that the Texas accent presentation kind of personality travels really well across the country. I mean, I've had cases all over the country, basically in all 50 states. And you can turn it on a little bit if you want to, you know? When you're in New York and people hear that accent, they tend to really, like, there's something about it that they really like.
I'm not sure that works so well in reverse. So, like, when a New York lawyer comes down to Houston, sometimes, unless they're, like, Joe Peshy in My Cousin Vinny, you know, it's hard for them -- it’s kind of hard for them to relate.
Dusty Boyd: Especially when he starts talking about the use. But, right to that point, I'll tell you, I would expand that past nationwide. I mean, my experience when I touched down in East Africa, the mere fact that I was American, number one, was important, but the fact that I was from Texas really got people's attention. And it's a unique niche to have, and it's something I'm very proud of. And it's a worldwide known thing, being from Texas.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, for sure. I mean, people -- I've had the same experience when I was overseas. People almost considered Texas to be its own state -- or, its own country within the United States. And I'm kind of the same way. I'm a seventh generation Texan, so I'm kind of the same way. I'm very proud about being from Texas.
Deciding to Go to Sudan
Brian Beckcom: That's actually a good segue. So you went to law school, you also studied some social work and then you get out and you kind of do what a lot of us do. You go to the private practice route for a little while, and then, at some point in your career, you decide that you're going to be part of a United Nations peacekeeping effort in Sudan.
Tell us, I want to hear about that because it's fascinating. But before we talk about what it was like there, kind of walk us through how you go from being a comfortable, I mean, you had been an associate at a law firm, then you had your own law firm where you were partner, and then all of a sudden you decide to go to Sudan. Like, where the heck does that come from?
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. That's what my family and my law partners asked me.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah. “What the hell you thinking, man?”
Dusty Boyd: Yeah, well, you know, something drew me to it. I mean, I had, much like you, we have lots of friends either in the Corps or even outside the Corps at A&M had served overseas, either in Afghanistan or in Iraq. I didn't take that trek, but being around Fort Hood, and especially in my private practice, I had a lot of clients and had a lot of interaction with Fort Hood. That time for Central Texas was very challenging with as many deployments and the dynamics and how it was affecting not only --
Brian Beckcom: Give us the time frame.
Dusty Boyd: So this is, you know, from 2000. Well, really from 2001 to 2010, I would say, lots of significant challenges from Central Texas with as many repeated deployments that our soldiers had. Obviously we're going to hear and know a lot about the stresses and things that caused them but having been here and seeing the impact it had on their families, on their wives, on their children, on their parents.
Well, I had a desire in my heart to want to serve in some way in my capacity. I'm not as physical or as athletic as Blake was, or as crazy as Blake was to sign up and go lead Marine platoons into Fallujah. But I wanted to find my own way to contribute. And so I had some relationships and some connections with some folks from Bell County, which is right next to us, that work on Fort Hood.
I had an attorney friend that actually was assigned to go and work in a lot of the same way I did in Sudan in Afghanistan. And this was in 2006. So, they reached out to me and asked if I would be interested -- and a lot of it is just civil society, rule of law initiatives that the justice department would initiate to create more stable areas. And the whole philosophy is if you can stabilize communities, stabilize areas, you can stabilize regions and then eventually you can stabilize the country with consistency and predictability in their lawmaking, in their law applications.
So, I had a good friend of mine. She went to Qubole in Afghanistan and they were recruiting people to go do the same thing there. And they called me and asked if I'd be interested, and my wife hit the stop button very quick. I would go into Afghanistan, and said, “No, sir.”
Brian Beckcom: So, you're married at the time.
Dusty Boyd: Oh, I'm married at the time with a --
Brian Beckcom: Any kids?
Dusty Boyd: A six-month-old little girl.
Brian Beckcom: Six. Wow. Wow.
Dusty Boyd: So, that was a whole ’nother curve ball outside of just, you know, generally my family and my law practice and my partners at the time. But I turned that one down and I said, “Look, I've really appreciate it, but right now, my family was really not comfortable with me being in Afghanistan in 2006 and seven.” And I said, “But keep me on the list. You know, if you have any other assignments that you would like to consider me for, I'm game.”
Well, and it didn't take 60 days before I got another call saying, “Well, how about going to the Sudan?” And I'm like, “The only thing I know about the Sudan is Darfur,” and the incredible tragedies and genocide that I would see and read about on the news. But the more I researched it, the more it really touched my heart to want to go help these people. And quite frankly, the news -- Americans weren't getting as targeted because there's not very many Americans in Sudan. We haven't had an embassy in Sudan in forever, since I believe our ambassador was murdered there in ’72, and we've had limited political presence there. Of course, Bill Clinton, you know, we launched cruise missiles into Khartoum in 1997.
Brian Beckcom: Was that when we hit the -- was it a pharmaceutical plant?
Dusty Boyd: Pharmaceutical plant, yeah. I've been there, and actually walked through -- it's in the same condition it was probably the two days after we bombed it. It was something that I really wanted to go see and feel and touch and experience.
As I researched it, it was really a place -- and in it talking with my wife and my family, that they were comfortable with me going there because, quite frankly, Americans just weren't as targeted. And I would be with an international contingency, much like there was in Afghanistan.
That was really the genesis or the start of that was I had a friend doing it in Afghanistan and that led to me being referred. So, I took a little sabbatical in January of 2007. I left for Washington DC. I spent two weeks in Fredericksburg, Virginia at a place called The Crucible, which is nothing more than training and preparing folks to go in-country. Anything from psychological testing, physical testing, geopolitical instruction and education, self-defense. We did everything from that to FamFires. So they would present us with any type of weapon that we might come across, should we have to use it we would be familiar on how to do -- of course, this country boy had a blast doing that.
Brian Beckcom: You probably knew how to operate about 90% of the weapons.
Dusty Boyd: Oh, absolutely. I just kept thinking, “My dad, if he was here, he'd just be in heaven getting to shoot and operate all these different weapons.” And then even the go support and [23:23] teaches us how to drive out in the country and things like that because we were going to be in some rough area.
Brian Beckcom: Probably a lot of teaching, too, on just the culture and how to handle things and, you know, all different cultures. Sometimes Americans, I think, have this notion that, you know, the ugly American notion that we don't really feel as obligated to learn about other cultures when we're over there. So it's very, very good, I think. It shows a lot of respect to the culture when you learn about it. And so, when you go over there, you're respectful of the other cultures, right?
Dusty Boyd: Oh, absolutely. And part of that training up in Fredericksburg, they actually bussed us into DC several times and we had training at the State Department about geopolitical, cultural, tribal, everything you can dream of about Sudan from birth to death. So, we spent some days at the State Department and some other offices that knew the history of Sudan, the culture of Sudan, so that we were equipped as much as possible to at least at a minimum have an appreciation for what the things that folks there were dealing with.
The Pull to Service
Brian Beckcom: So, it really is interesting that, you know, I was talking to Blake, I talked to Colonel Flinn, Toby Flinn, who you know, as well. I've also talked to another Marine Corps officer named Nick Kalt.
You know, it's interesting to me that we have this whole group of friends and you and I are right about the age group where we have a lot of friends that are like this, that graduated from college, went into the private workforce, and then 9/11 happened and boom, they get in the military or they're serving in some capacity.
So very, very similar story for you. I'm sure you’re living a comfortable life, making a comfortable living. You got a newborn kid. You're married. And all of a sudden you just uproot yourself and go to a place in Africa that is --
Dusty Boyd: Mars.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, not a first world country. And so there must be something. I'm really interested in this because I -- and I asked Colonel Flynn, I asked Officer Kalt, I asked Blake. I ask all these officers. There really has to be something drawing you to this. Like, some sort of real passion to uproot your comfortable life and leave your newborn daughter and go to Africa. So, what do you think that was like, fundamentally, that really pulled you to this?
Dusty Boyd: I think -- in one of your earlier podcasts with Blake Sawyer, I think he explained it real well. I think a lot of it is how you were brought up, you know, with your family and the type of programming that you get from your folks on love for country, love for people, love for service.
So, I think that's where it would at least start is with how I was raised. And then a large part is being in the Corps Cadets and just the understanding and appreciation for what service really does mean. I mean, I love your podcast. I know it’s Lessons from Leaders, but a lot of it is, you know, for this particular podcast, I'd rather it be Lessons from the Servant. Because that's what I am. I'm a servant. I'm the servant of my folks here in Coryell County, and that's exactly what I was when I went to Sudan.
So I think a lot of it came from my upbringing and how I was raised. And then just more components were added on and more ideas were added on while I was around those kinds of people at A&M in the Crops that really had a passion to serve and help people and be dedicated to it.
I think all of us have that seed in us in some way. And it's just a matter of where you go to get water put on it. And I certainly did when I was a kid and certainly did when I went to A&M. And so I think that's really kind of where it started for me.
Brian Beckcom: You were ahead of the curve, at least in relation to me, because I'm 47 now. And it really, Dusty, it wasn't until I was about 40 years old or so that I had this revelation that the world is not all about what you can do for yourself. It's not all about me, me, me. It's about what you do for other people. Like, that, to me, is what a real legacy is all about. And you realized that a lot earlier than some of us did, including me.
Going to Sudan
Brian Beckcom: So, you go to DC, you get some training, and then when do you end up going to Sudan?
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. So, go to DC, get some training, and then, boom. I think I got to D C around January the 20th of ’07. I think I flew out for Sudan on February the 3rd. So, I left DC and we flew into Frankfurt, Germany, and then we got on a plane from Earth to Mars, is the way I like to tell people.
Brian Beckcom: So, what's going through your mind as you're making this -- are you nervous? I'm sure you're nervous, excited. I mean, what kind of emotions are going on?
Dusty Boyd: Okay, so it's really a mix of a lot of things. I'm really sad for leaving my wife and my young daughter. Nervous about that. Leaving them here. Really what was going through my mind is all the pictures and the reports that I had been reading and seeing about Sudan and read about what I was about to walk into. Knowing I was fixed to fly into Khartoum first, and Khartoum being a place that we had bombed in the late nineties. Also a place where Osama bin Laden had lived. Before he left.
Brian Beckcom: Which a lot of people don't realize that literally Osama bin Ladin had physically been in Sudan for a period of time.
Dusty Boyd: Yes. He lived in Khartoum, yeah. Actually not too far from where I would stay when I was in Khartoum.
I was really nervous about how I would be received. Also knowing we didn't have an embassy there. We have consulates and we have some diplomatic relationship, but really I was getting into Sudan and the Americans that were in Sudan were there with the UN tag on them.
Brian Beckcom: Give us kind of a summary of the geopolitical situation vis-à-vis Sudan at the time. Like what was the -- we all know that there was a --
Dusty Boyd: The backdrop?
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, the backdrop. There was a big genocide going on, but give us the geopolitical issue as you are entering the country.
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. So let me unpack that. It's a great question. So, Sudan is one of the largest countries in Africa, hugely rich in resources. Mostly oil and gas. And for hundreds of years, Sudan had been tied up in a civil war.
And the way I explain it, if you've ever been to the border of Texas and Mexico, that's where two different cultures collide. Well, Sudan is where the Arabic culture and the African culture collide. And the North in Sudan is primarily Muslim and they practice Islam. And the South is not. The South was predominantly Christian. And I'd say about 60% Christian and about 30% tribal religions and more traditional Africans. And so that's where they clashed.
I mean, Sudan is a perfect example of where those two oceans meet and they have lots of currents that rip you one way or the other. And for years, thousands of people had died from the civil war. And then in the early 2000s, it got much worse in Darfur, which is the western part of the country where President al-Bashir, who was the president of Sudan at the time -- he's been since removed by coup, I think three years ago -- was literally dropping bombs on villages and communities and wiping out people based on their tribes, based on their ethnicity, based on their religion. And he was pushing all those people all over. The IDPs were everywhere in the South and over into different countries to the West.
And so that was really the geopolitical situation that I was flying into. And then on top of that, being in a UN uniform with an American flag on my shoulder, that was something that I was a little concerned about, how I would be received. At least initially, being that, again, we bombed them. We have tons of sanctions on Sudan, being a recognized terrorist sponsored state.
And so I was a little concerned and nervous about those things, but I'll tell you a little percentage of me also was -- ’cause I'm not someone to do something without having some value in it. I was worried about what I can accomplish. What was I really going to be able to do here? And how would I measure that? I mean, how would I decide leaving that experience, knowing that I've done something to change something and make it the better or plant a tree for which shade I'll never get to sit under. That was part of my concern, too.
So, on January the ninth of 2005, the North and the South actually entered what was called the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. They reached a peace agreement. Several months later in March, the UN enacted -- the UN security council enacted -- and I wrote the resolution down somewhere just because it's been so long. They enacted the UN Security Council Resolutions -- Ahh, I had it written down somewhere.
But nonetheless, the UN gets involved with supporting this comprehensive peace agreement. And then the UN starts -- 5090. US Security Council Resolution 5090 of 24 March 2005. So right after the CPA, the UN gets involved with the United Nations mission in Sudan. And that's where they committed thousands of people, over 50 countries in military -- militarily that were there. We were not there because Sudan would no way allow American military yet. But we did have American law enforcement there. So there was over 50 countries with military personnel, 43 different countries with police personnel, and then billions of dollars getting poured into maintaining and keeping this CTA of the UN security council resolution 5090. With the ultimate objective that in January of 2011, incorporated in the CPA, was South Sudan was going to hold a referendum and actually vote to succeed or not from the North, which in January ninth in 2011, they did.
So, we were there on the ground floor. And a lot of people don't know this. It's a great Jeopardy question. What's the newest country on the face of the earth? It's South Sudan.
Brian Beckcom: Is it really? I had no idea. Very interesting.
Dusty Boyd: Yes. Since 2011. So, I felt a little bit like in a time machine, going back to 1776, watching these people come together and organize and initiate the platform for how this country was going to become. How it was going to be birthed. What it was going to look like.
And more importantly, my role was how the justice system would work and how people were trained within it to recognize and understand some of the more accepted world doctrines on human rights and due process. And so that was my primary role there in working with law enforcement and the locals and how they were going to build the South Sudanese police services, their civil society, their courts, their judges, their prosecutors. Those were things that I was there to advise to.
So that's really what I was walking into. The peace agreement had been brokered, the UN steps in and says, “We're going to help support this peace agreement, make sure that we make it work the best we can.” And then finally -- and I was there from ’07 to ’08. I was really proud to see -- and I knew it would happen when I left. I knew the South would succeed, but I was really proud to see that happen. Because they really deserved it. And they'd really kind of earned it in terms of what those people in South Sudan needed.
Because the North also -- one other dynamic, like in Khartoum, their rule of law is Sharia law. I mean, it's the law of the Koran and the South Sudanese overwhelmingly rejected that. And there are some really interesting human rights arguments about how you get punished under Sharia law, like stoning and some other things that just doesn't work in a modern world. And a more fair world.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah. It's interesting. You know, this whole kind of topic is fascinating to me, Dusty, because you can look all over the Middle East, you can look at Pakistan and India and Cashmere. You can look at Iraq, which is basically a country that was comprised of three different tribes within the Muslim faith. Sunni, Shia, and Kurds.
I don't know if you remember the partition of India and Pakistan. When India and Pakistan were created, all the Muslims basically had to leave India and all the Hindus had to leave Pakistan and that clash is kind of still going on. So this clash of cultures seems to be something that kind of repeats itself in history. And so it's good that, you know, and if you look at, for instance, if you look at ISIS, okay, in Iraq talking about Sharia law. ISIS actually had a muscle monthly magazine and a list of all the things they wanted to do. And they basically wanted to take Iraq, turn it into a caliphate, and run it under Sharia law from, like, the seventh century or something like that.
I mean, we're talking about as regressive as you can possibly get, particularly when it comes to human rights. Like, you're talking about women's rights, children's rights, things of that nature. So, not surprising that a Christian population or an African population would not support that.
Dusty Boyd: Right. And that's really where the division really existed was with the religion. And even that can get broken down even further in the South, because even though I would say 60% of themselves would be Christian-oriented faith, the other percent being tribal. In more ways immeasurable, off the scale type of ideas. But nonetheless passed down from generation to generation and tribe to tribe. And even in South Sudan, you had to understand where you were at regionally, and even specifically in what community, what am I dealing with here in terms of all these -- are these Dinkans? Are these Exondys [37:00]?
Because these different tribes, they had different priorities and different ways of life. And to come in and say, “Okay, we're going to try to roll out this idea of a more unified South Sudan judicial system.” It got very, very -- it was very complicated. It’s still very complicated now, even with the new president in South Sudan, And some of the challenges he has in trying to regionalize South Sudan and how it works.
I know I'm getting a little further down the road, but that's really what I was walking into is that cultural clash between traditional Muslim and Islamic faith and more traditional African -- and you can certainly tell the difference. I mean, when I landed in Khartoum, I literally wrote in my journal that I kept that I felt like I stepped off a rocket ship onto the Mars. It was just so completely different.
Brian Beckcom: And you're going into a country, and one of your jobs is to basically engineer a modern legal system, which is not as easy as it may sound, I mean, because, as you and I know, even in the United States, one of the most important, most fundamental things about the legal system -- I just got done interviewing a Harris County criminal judge, Jesse McClure. And it's about trust in the institutions. Like, you have to trust that district attorney Dusty Boyd is in the job for the right reasons and that he's going to treat everybody fairly. And that's hard to do when you enter a country that has no history of that. Right?
Dusty Boyd: Absolutely. They don't trust anybody. And that's a really -- that was probably the biggest challenge in the dynamics that I had when I first got there. Because, to your point, if you don't know me, don't know where I'm from, you weren't raised with me, you had no experiences with me to trust me. And so how do you earn that trust? By showing up to work every day and being consistent and predictable and everything that I would represent or say would have to come through in some way.
A lot of times -- this is a bigger, probably, discussion for another day with the issues with the UN is that there's such staff changeover and moving around. A lot of the people that were there before me would come in and make promises that I, quite frankly, told the chiefs and the community leaders that I was not going to make that promise, because I didn't know that I could keep it or not.
And once I was sincerely honest with them and said, “I'll do my best. I'll see what I can come up with,” or, “we'll do what we can to address this issue, but I will make no promises about it actually getting done in any way, but I will do my best.” And I think that really set the tone because it took me two or three months in-country before I could finally arrive at a village and they were really comfortable to truly open up and share the issues with me because, quite frankly, they had been burned before.
And so really it comes down to what you see is what you get and I'm going to earn your trust and I'm not just asking you to just trust me. I'm asking you to watch what I do while I'm here, and then you decide. And if you're good with that, then get on board and let's move forward.
That was the biggest challenge I had. The first five to six weeks was really heart wrenching for me because as many meetings as I went to, as many conferences as I had, and just many fireside chats I had with people, I realized that too many people have been there before me and made promises they couldn't keep. And how I was going to navigate around that to keep moving the ball forward was going to be a big challenge.
So, yeah, you're right on point there. I mean, the trust issue is really about proof in the pudding. I'm not asking anybody to trust me until you actually see me do it
Brian Beckcom: We learned that a little bit, I think, in the Corps and probably through sports, too. Like, if you're an upperclassmen or if you're in the military and you're an officer, you should never ask your men or women to do something you wouldn't be willing to do yourself. Right?
Dusty Boyd: Absolutely.
Comparing Sudan and the United States
Brian Beckcom: And you know, one of the things, Dusty, that I'm -- I’m really fascinated by this topic of the legal system right now, because I worry a little bit right now that we are losing some trust in our own institutions here in the United States, and I worry about the fact that once you lose that trust in the institutions, it's awfully hard to get it back.
And so you've seen a country literally with no modern legal system and built that legal system up. And so compare that, if you can, compare that experience with kind of some of the experiences we're having in the United States right now where, you know, for instance, and I want to talk to you about this quite a bit, because I think you've got some really great ideas, but I think there are some people in this country that justifiably have some mistrust in the legal system. You know what I mean?
And I think that the distrust is totally and completely legitimate and understandable. And I think that people like you, people like Judge Jesse McClure. People like my friend, Cyril White, are taking positive, actual steps to make the situation better for everybody. So kind of compare, if you don't mind, what it's like to be in a third world country with no legal system, and you're building up that legal system. Compare that with what we're going through in the United States right now. Like, did you take any lessons out of Sudan?
Dusty Boyd: What it comes down to, Brian, is relationships and connections. I forgot which podcasts you discussed this about. It may have been with Cyril. It may have been with -- or with Will. I think it was with Will Hurd, when you talk about symbolic gestures versus substantive action.
And so what I would tell folks in terms of reconciling the two and being in a third world country and operating here in the United States is: the relationships you have with people create trust. Trust does not come from a vacuum. You have to build that. And there are people here in the United States, and there are cultures, there are communities that flat out do not trust law enforcement and rightly so.
And the first step in that is connecting with them and listening to them and not just listening to them to say, “We believe there's racism.” Believe it. Believe what they're telling you because they live it. And so what I think a lot of Americans have to do is step back and say, “Look, I don't see how they say it's racism because this happens to other -- more white people are killed by cops than Black people are.” Well, the demographics are wrong. Study the demographics. The percentages still don't match.
Brian Beckcom: And I would say, it's not even -- like, if you're going to mess around with statistics like that, I would say forget about the fatal encounters. What about just the everyday encounters?
Dusty Boyd: Everyday encounters. So, to me, it was about connecting. And so what Americans, and more specifically, what we're trying to do here in Coryell County is to build those bridges where we can communicate and we can understand where everyone's coming from, both from the law enforcement perspective, prosecutor perspective, and our community perspective, which is not any different than what I experienced in Sudan. And that is different tribes, different people. People didn't trust the government. The government, for the most part, their main government had been bombing them. They had no reason to trust anything related to the government.
So what you have to do is you have to design a governance that is transparent, that is accountable, and that can communicate. And not just communicate to its people, but also listen to its people and respond to their concerns. You don't just listen. And I know we're going to talk about this in a little bit with my program called MAPS that I started here in Gatesville. I'm tired of the talk. I am 45 years old.
Brian Beckcom: Me too. Me too.
Dusty Boyd: I have heard about the impacts and the dynamics about racism and for too long, people, the first response, when you get on any topic here, and I don't care what station you're on. It's “Well, we need to talk about this.” No, we're done talking. Let’s do something.
Brian Beckcom: Let’s do something about it, yeah. This is one of the things that I love about guys like Cyril, my friend Cyril White. So, Cyril is not focused on tearing down as many statues as he can tear down. He's focused on--
Dusty Boyd: Yeah, on, “Let's build some.”
Brian Beckcom: Let's build something. Let's create something tangible that literally thousands of people will be able to use in a positive way. I could not agree with you more.
I mean, you know, let's be realistic. Okay. Nathan Bedford Forrest started the Klu Klux Klan. There shouldn't be a damn statute to him anywhere in the country. Right? So, some of these are pretty clear cut. But, you know, we literally have people tearing down statues to people that helped run the underground railroad. Like, they have no idea what they're doing. And guess what? Tearing those statutes down doesn't get anything tangible accomplished.
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. We’re not moving the ball forward. When you spend too much time on your past, you're not focusing on moving forward in the future. And certainly understanding those dynamics and learning from those things is important. But if you're spending 51% of your time there instead of 51% of the time of how we're going to fix this, then we're stagnant and there's no wind in our sail. And we're just stuck in the bay and we're not sailing anywhere.
Brian Beckcom: That's right. And, you know, one of the things that’s been on my mind as it relates to law enforcement and stuff like that lately is, you know, I live in a wealthy neighborhood in Huston. And I see the police in my neighborhood. I have this feeling that they are there to protect my community. I've talked to other people that don't live in those kind of communities. And I think that some of the people have the impression that the police are not there to protect them. The police are there to come get them.
Work as a District Attorney
Brian Beckcom: I think that's a good transition, a good segue into some of the stuff that you're doing, which I think is just absolutely phenomenal. You are really -- you as the district attorney -- you've been the district attorney for seven years now?
Dusty Boyd: Yeah, I'm finishing my second term. I'll be eight in December.
Brian Beckcom: Okay, awesome. So, you have done stuff -- you have put action steps into some of the stuff we're talking about. So, talk a little bit about -- ’cause I think what you're doing is incredible and you know, I think, frankly, and I don't want this to sound the wrong way, but I think that some of the people in the cities on the coast and in Houston and, you know, all over the place, they have this idea that a small town DA is not going to have these kinds of ideas. So, talk us through, as a small town DA, some of the stuff that you're doing in your community to make sure that all the different people that you serve feel like law enforcement is on their side.
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. So, I have to go back a couple of months. I have a really good friend of mine. His name is Calvin Ford. He's an African American here in Gatesville. Gatesville is a really small town, and the fact is if you're African American in Gatesville, your last name is probably Ford or you’re a cousin. And they’re fantastic people. A good family. Calvin refs in a lot of sporting events and my kids are very involved in athletics here in Gatesville and we ran into each other at a basketball game and he said, “You know, I really want to come talk to you about our relationships with law enforcement, and more importantly how we can create a platform where we can start working and talking with kids and getting them to trust law enforcement and trust what y'all do. And at the same time we learn what y'all do.”
And so that's really kind of the genesis of -- we started talking about that, and then of course, boom. We actually had a meeting plan with my office, with law enforcement, with school administrators, and with some folks in the community in March when COVID hit. And we had to cancel that. Well, then George Floyd happened, and then the dominoes started to fall and the national unrest really kicked into play.
And that conversation with Calvin and I really started to morph and change into something a little different. As opposed to being focused on the younger generation and the younger folks here in the county, it really focused on law enforcement or our judicial system. Coryell County is not a very big county. Like you said, it's 75,000 people. Copperas Cove is my biggest community. About 35,000 people. Gatesville it's arguable anywhere from seven to 10, because we have five prison units here. And they count the inmates. When you drive by, the city limit says 15,000. We're not 15,000, that's TDCJ.
Brian Beckcom: 5,000 plus 10,000 inmates.
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. So, I really try to wrap my mind around how do I approach this where we can get connected? And it goes back to my discussion about getting connected with people so that we can start to trust each other. How do we start doing that? We gotta be together and talk and address and navigate issues.
So, as I thought about my days in Africa and when I was in South Sudan, I was stationed in Juba, which is a really unique place in South Sudan. It's about 80 miles north of the Uganda border, right on the White Nile River. And what we did with our international police force is we co-located with local law enforcement offices. We would send international police officers who actually hang out in the police stations all day to give them advice and suggestions and opinions on how to do their job as a civilian law enforcement officer.
So, I kind of decided to flip that idea. As opposed to law enforcement going to co-locate within the community, have the community co-locate within my office. And so we created this idea called MAPS, which is the Minority Advisory Panel Support.
Brian Beckcom: And when did you start this, by the way?
Dusty Boyd: I started discussion of it in April and May, and we had our first meeting in June. Our first meeting comprised of folks from the African American community in Coryell County, both in Gatesville and in Copperas Cove. And in the first meeting, I didn't allow any law enforcement officers in there. I wanted them to be able to speak freely without worrying about what this cop thinks about it.
And mind you, all three of my top law enforcement officials in the County -- Eddie Wilson, who's the chief of police in Copperas Cove, Scott Williams is Sheriff here in Coryell County, and Nathan Gokey, my chief of police in Gatesville -- are all 100% behind this, and I'll tell you why in a minute. But I didn't allow any of them in that first meeting. I don't think it really rubbed them wrong, but they were like, “Hey, why weren’t we in there?”
My point is, we need to hear from them. This is like being a confession. They don't need the person that they feel like sinned against them there. But we didn't have any of those kinds of discussions in that first meeting. It was really more about the African American experience, period. Not about specific law enforcement issues in the county.
So that was the first big group we had. And then we had a second meeting where it got a little bigger. Makeup was a little bit more dynamic. We had both African American community and we actually invited the law enforcement in and other community members to come in and discuss this. And from that -- from the bigger meetings, we designed the panel, which are made up of five individuals from Coryell County communities, three of which must be minority. They have to be of the minority demographic in Coryell County, whether that's African American, Hispanic. We also have a lot of Koreans here now, down in Copperas Cove.
So three must be minority and the other two can just be at large. And what they do is those five individuals on that panel will come into my office and for anybody that's ever experienced grand jury, it's a little bit like that. We actually present all the -- the stage we're at right now, we're presenting cases that the suspect of the defendant is of minority. And our demographics, that's not a big case though. Nothing like what Kim Ogg deals with in Harris County.
So, I think our first meeting, we had 13 or 14 suspects like that. Those five people come in and they evaluate those cases in three different ways. What was the law enforcement interaction like? Was it fair? Was it professional? Were they treated right? Was there any use of force that was unnecessary. So, at first, it's a law enforcement study, right?
The second evaluation is how my office screens those cases. How did we receive that report, evidence, and facts and what is our thought process and how we evaluate what we're going to do in that case? Are we going to dismiss it? Are we going to present it to grand jury? Are we going to offer a plea? Are we going to possibly go to trial?
But we're looking at all those things in that second prong. And that's really where they help us and they help my four prosecutors that work for me because I really want their input. How does this suspect or this individual of minority, how do they get to making this kind of bad decision?
And then in our thought process and and it's pretty -- I have a pretty strict process here on how we screen cases. And if you're 18 to 24 years old with no criminal history, how can we help you? Unless you committed a very violent crime, it puts you in rare air and we treat that differently. If it's a low level felony, how can we help you? What tools and equipment can we provide you to make you a better citizen? Because if we send you to TDCJ at 18 to 24, your smoked.
Brian Beckcom: You're done. You're done. Yeah. And you know, not to interject here, but I've heard people say, “Well, George Floyd was a criminal.” Right? And so I look back and say, you know, I looked back at his criminal history ’cause I was curious what it was. And it turns out that his first offense was a low level drug offense. He got a bad court appointed lawyer, ended up with a felony, which set him on a very bad path. Can't get a job, can't vote.
And the sad thing about that is, Dusty, he was guilty of doing something that you and I personally know people have done the same exact thing. He was just unlucky.
Dusty Boyd: To that point, even with people with felony criminal histories that come into our office, you don't design a sentence about what people's past is about. I think it's a percentage of the calculation. It's a percentage of the equation you have to look at. But that shouldn’t dictate your outcome. But I tell people all the time: We’re like doctors. Every patient is different. Just because you have a cold or the flu doesn't mean the doctor's going to prescribe the exact same thing they did the person before. Your DNA is different.
Every defendant is different and especially of minority, if we're considering their social economic issues or education issues, where they were raised, who they were raised by, all these things went into their wiring. And so that's where --
Brian Beckcom: And a lot of that stuff is just, if you trace it back far enough, it's just pure luck. I was born, you know, I was unlucky in that my mother died when I was young. Well, we all have those kinds of experiences, but I had a great father who gave me great life lessons and I feel very, very fortunate and lucky about that because I had nothing to do with who my father or my mother was.
And so keeping that in mind, and I love what you said about every defendant is different. We have to treat people as individuals. That's where we need to get to.
Dusty Boyd: Once you start treating people like cookie cutters, those people are going to -- the minorities are naturally, by their circumstances, going to get cut the same way then other people have in their American experience. Let's just get real about that. From where they come from. You have to recognize that.
So, that's really the second problem with that is them getting to look behind the curtain on how we decide to move forward on a case or not. And that's where their input and opinions are really important to my prosecutors ’cause they're really getting to see some opinions and some things that a potential jury may ask.
In Houston and some of the bigger cities, you know, you can hire shadow juries and you can try your case before. This is not unsimilar to that, where they get to see the facts and the evidence. Now, one thing -- they don't know the name of the defendant. We don't tell them who it is. We just tell them the facts and the evidence and the scenario. And then they gave us some feedback. So, after they've seen how the law enforcement performance was, they get to evaluate how we screened it and give us opinions on how to better understand the suspect or defendant.
And then the third prong is the outcome. We tell them what we're likely to recommend to the judge or to a jury or what our plea offer to the defense attorney would be. And what are their opinions about that? Because quite frankly, most of our offers when we're negotiating with defense attorneys is based on our jury box because that's what the community has told me they expect outcomes with criminal cases. So, if I have a drug dealer and my jury says, “I want you in prison for 20 years.” And the equation suggests that you're in that same category, then my offer’s probably going to be anywhere from 16 to 18 years, because that's consistent with my jury's values.
But then again, that goes back to how we triage the cases. What is the age? What was her upbringing like? What are the conditions we're going to send them back into? Is it conducive to overcoming this or not? Or what can we do to change that? All those things are variables that you have to study. If you really want this cake to cook and to come out better, then you better study your recipe and your ingredients. Because that's the problem, is a lot of people want to throw stuff in the microwave and headstart and have an outcome that looks good, or our notch in their belt, or a conviction rate. I sit here, I don't know what my conviction rate is. I don't care what it is.
Brian Beckcom: Excellent. Yeah.
Dusty Boyd: And it shouldn't matter. To any prosecutor.
Brian Beckcom: That really shouldn't be the metric in law enforcement. I've worried, you know, I've got my stepmother, who’s been married to my dad for 30 years, was an undercover narcotics agent, I think for the Cleburne police department, and worked for the DA for a little bit. I've got an older brother who's a DPS officer in Virginia. Also happens to be a Black guy. He's adopted. He's my older brother. But I look at this, you know, especially stuff like you're talking about from the law enforcement perspective and I worry sometimes that the incentives like you're talking about conviction rates, things like that. The incentives are wrong. We're sending off officers, good police officers, into wars that they cannot win. Right?
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. Because how do you measure it?
Brian Beckcom: How do you measure it, yeah.
Dusty Boyd: There's too many variables to define what's success and what's not. I'll tell you how I define success. If I go to my local HUB and I have a previous offender who I've sentenced to prison for 10 years comes up and hugs me. And says, “Mr. Boyd, you saved my life. I know the hardest decision you make is sending people to prison.” That is the hardest decision. And I stress this to my staff. The hardest decision you should make here is sending someone to prison.
Brian Beckcom: And that should be a hard decision just based on the values of our country. Right?
Dusty Boyd: Absolutely.
Brian Beckcom: There's a great saying. I think it was Dostoyevsky who said that you judge the condition of a society by the condition of its prisons.
Dusty Boyd: Prisons. Yup. So, you're right. We send in the law enforcement out into situations that are unwinnable because no matter where -- I mean, I can't -- I have a lot of law enforcement folks in my family, too. My great grandfather was the sheriff in San Angelo. His son, my great uncle, was the Chief of Police of San Angelo. My dad was in law enforcement, my uncle and my brother-in-law, my father-in-law was DPS for 30 years. So, I understand that, being that I was raised around it. But you got to understand a lot of folks in the African American communities weren't raised with that because there wasn't many folks from those minority communities that were policing
Brian Beckcom: Or the only interactions that they've seen have been negative. There's not the positive interactions, and so this MAPS program, and I have a couple more questions about this, ’cause I think this is super cool.
First of all, where'd you come up with this? I mean, is this something that you kind of created on your own? Was this something that you heard from some other district attorney's office?
Dusty Boyd: It doesn’t exist anywhere. I thought about it on my little drive home from my office out to my place between Gatesville and Crawford. I thought, “How do I get -- how do I provide an opportunity for those that are minority communities to get to the table and get to eat?”
Brian Beckcom: Yeah. And this is what we're talking about. This is substantive change. Giving communities that historically have felt left out -- you're giving them some say in the process. You're giving them transparency. You're letting them know what's going on. And guess what? And you can probably confirm this. There are a lot of Black folk that want more police in their community. They want safe communities. It's not like the minority communities or the poor communities don't want law enforcement. They absolutely want law enforcement. They just want law enforcement that's fair and even handed, right?
Dusty Boyd: Absolutely. So, you're exactly right. It goes back to that symbolic versus substantive change. If you want change, be change. And that's really the platform we're trying to provide is to bring them behind the curtain to see our processes, to see how law enforcement interacted with minorities, to see how we screen that to understand why we're coming up with these outcomes. Because that was one of the questions they always asked me is, “Why in the paper would I see one person get 30 years for this and someone with the same charge would get probation?”
Because it's all in the DNA. It's all in who they are and where they're at in life and the decisions they've made, and that's why that recipe was a little different. But, we had some really, really big and good support here in our community about it. When I first thought about it driving home, and I kind of, like I said, I kind of reversed that co-location idea. Instead of me going to law enforcement -- instead of me going out into the community and showing up at their church, or going and having a barbecue in their community. The first thing I would believe they would think is, “Well, here's the elected DA, showing up to eat with us.”
Brian Beckcom: “Come in here to shake my hand and get my vote.”
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. Get my vote. No, I'm not interested in that.
So, the idea was to reverse it. To bring them here, to bring them behind the scenes, to see how the sausage making is done. And so I reached out to just a couple of close friends of mine. One is Gary Heavin? I don't know if you've ever heard of Gary Heavin. Gary Heavin was the founder of Curves. He lives here in Coryell County. And Pastor Peña from Waco. He's on President Trump's prayer council, actually.
I had a meeting with them to talk about this. They were in love with the idea of incorporating and creating this platform. Then I reached out to another good friend of mine, Archie III, who is from Copperas Cove.
Brian Beckcom: Sure. Heisman Trophy winner, yeah.
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. So, Robert lives in Baltimore, ’cause he's placed with the Ravens right now, but I reached out to him. He's also very passionate about this cause.
Brian Beckcom: I think he comes from a military family, too.
Dusty Boyd: He does. He comes from an incredible family. And I knew him ’cause my daughter ran on his -- my daughter and my son ran on his dad’s track team in the summer. The Five Hills track team. My daughter has made the Junior Olympics many years in a row on javelin and a bunch of other events.
Brian Beckcom: I was going to ask about that. Yeah.
Dusty Boyd: And one time, the greatest story I have about Robert is Barry had qualified up in Virginia Beach and they had -- the Red Skins were going through their tour days. And we stopped in Richmond and because we were with the Five Hills track team, Robert met us inside the ropes and we were just on cloud nine. He is an incredible, incredible man. And he comes from an incredible family.
Brian Beckcom: Great parents. Great. Yeah. Great folks.
Dusty Boyd: So, when I reached out to Robert, because I really needed -- I needed that personality to say, “Dusty, I get what you're going to try to do, and I'm 100% behind it.”
And then there's another guy from Copperas Cove. Coach Buckram -- Donald Buckram. He’s one of the athletic coaches down there at Copperas Cove High School. He was Utah’s all-time leading rusher until the tailback for the Green Bay Packers just passed him, I think, a year or two ago. You know, Donald's back here and Donald's family comes from law enforcement. His dad was a deputy forever in Bell County. Military also.
So, I reached out to folks in those communities that I knew, at least initially, to get this thing started. And I'm hoping they go back into their communities, they recruit more for us. And we will rotate panel. And we haven't decided on what the term is gonna be. On grand jury it’s usually six months. We started with four, but they're saying we may want a little longer. They signed nondisclosure agreements with us and we actually contract so that they're not able to go share important private information about cases with people, even though they don't know the names.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, but you still got to protect the rights of the defendant, right? So, that's what you're talking about. Yeah, nobody's been convicted of anything at this time, right?
Dusty Boyd: No, absolutely not. In fact, we present -- not only do we present the cases that we plan on going forward on, we also present them with the ones we're going to dismiss or we have dismissed. And we'll tell them why. Whether it was poor police work or lack of Mirandizing or just not enough facts, not enough evidence. We tell them why. That's part of that transparency.
But the law enforcement side of it loves it, too, here, because again, we're able to share -- a lot of people say, “Well, Dusty, you have a grand jury. The grand jury hears these cases and they can tell you what you think.” No, you can't. Because under the law, I'm not allowed to be in the room when they deliberate. We present the cases and we leave the room and they decide whether to indict or not. I'm never in there during the discussion, during the heart of it as to whether they're going to go forward on our case or not.
This gives us that opportunity to be in there and part of the discussion. And let's talk about these issues, good or bad, and work through them. And that's why it's a little bit different than grand jury, but it kind of has the same platform. But we get to deliberate with them and understand the likes, the dislikes, and how to move forward.
And the whole idea behind this is that what issues they have with law enforcement, they have that immediate -- we can go to the law enforcement and police officers can talk to them about, “Hey, can we do a little better here? Can you do more here, there. Whatever.” But we have that platform. And at the same time, law enforcement is learning from them at the same time, they're learning from us. And they can go back into their communities and be ambassadors for justice and say, “Look, we know how the DA's office operates.”
So if they're hearing something negative, they have that connection with our office. Either they can call us and talk to us about it, or they can just on their own talk with that individual in their communities and say, “Just let the DA's office work through this and they'll find those issues.”
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, I know this program is relatively new, Dusty, but tell us, like, so far, what the reaction has been from both the community and from your folks, the people that work for you, law enforcement. Like, has it been positive? Have there been some roadblocks or any pitfalls or anything like that?
Dusty Boyd: 100% supportive. I've had, you know, a few of those social media people are like, “You don't trust law enforcement. You should trust law enforcement.” I do generally trust law enforcement. But that trust’s been verified, you know? It's not complicated. I've had a few naysayers, but for the most part, I would say 100% my law enforcement, my community, my office. My prosecutors love it because if these folks are identifying issues in their cases, they know how to get in front of that or address that before they get in front of a jury.
Brian Beckcom: And the other thing is, Dusty, like, and this is, I've told this story a couple times, because this was one of those things that really kind of struck me. So, as a basketball player, I spent a lot of time around Black guys. Big Black guys. I have a lot of friends that are minorities or that are Black. And I kind of had this notion that I maybe had a little bit more sensitivity to some of these issues.
But, a good friend of mine said something on Facebook about how he's a big Black dude. He’s 6’2”, 240, used to play football in college. And he was talking about how, like, when he went to Memorial Park, if he wanted to go at night when it wasn't so hot, because he's so intimidating looking -- he described himself as a pitbull -- he has to take extra steps that somebody else might not have to take. And so the point of that story and the thing that really struck me there, Dusty, was sometimes you just don't know what you don't know.
I mean, you can be the most open minded person when it comes to this sort of thing, but unless you've lived through the experience that somebody else has lived through, there's just going to be things that you're just not going to know. Right? And it doesn't mean you're good or bad. It's just something that you just haven't experienced.
And so, it seems like this program is, in addition to offering transparency, offering input. It's also teaching your people, “Hey, here's a couple things that we're going through that you guys might not be aware of,” right? It's an educational process. And if people approach this in good faith, we're all going to learn things about each other. So, for instance, we're going to learn things about police officers and how most police officers are --
Dusty Boyd: Great people.
Brian Beckcom: Phenomenal people. Phenomenal people. Yeah. And their job is so hard. I mean, every time they pull somebody over, their lives are potentially --
Dusty Boyd: They’re putting their lives on the line.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, their lives are on the line. That is a damn hard job. So, this two-way communication, I think, the point is, it works both ways, right? Both helping each other
Dusty Boyd: And that's the way forward, is for it to work both ways. It can't work one way. It has to work in both directions for us to move forward.
Brian Beckcom: For sure. And I bet you, if you were to talk to most police officers that work for you, most police officers -- and, frankly, most police officers in this country. Their motivations are exactly what we want them to be.
Dusty Boyd: Absolutely.
Brian Beckcom: They want to help, serve, and protect. It's the bad apples that make everybody look bad. But the point is getting that message across takes the kind of effort that you've done with the MAPS program. Have you thought about trying to talk to other district attorney's offices about this program? Because I think this is a kind of program that would -- I'd love to see this in some other places.
Dusty Boyd: Absolutely. The idea is, yes, it'd be something we'd love to export. But I really want to get a good six months to a year behind us so we can have some controllable data to show them on how it works here, get the opinions of those that participated on the panel.
Because our ideas -- the panel gets to come in and hear the cases. And then when we go back to the bigger group meetings, they get to discuss the issues they've seen and that they've addressed to us. So, I want to get some measurements behind us so I can say whether this would be worth you looking at considering implementing in your own jurisdiction. Absolutely.
I'm all for whatever could work anywhere. I know in some bigger communities -- Houston might be a little bit bigger challenge because the number of minority cases that come in would be much harder than the ones I have in Coryell County. And staffing that and getting attorneys and, you know, Kim Ogg getting it staffed and getting all their people read into it and then finding a way to panel the panel might be a challenge in some of the bigger communities. But they can always change it and adapt it to what best fits their office.
Brian Beckcom: That's right. And the point is not necessarily every single program is going to be identical. The point is the idea of it. That you're going to have community input, so the community feels like instead of law enforcement being their enemy, that law enforcement is their friend. And then everybody's trying to work together to make the community safe. To get the truly violent criminals off the streets. And then, like you said, to take people that may have medical addiction problems, that may have made some bad mistakes. Or if you’re young.
Dusty Boyd: Or if you're 18 to 24, make a stupid choice. I’m not interested in making you a convicted felon so that you can't vote, you can't hunt ’cause you can't get your hunting license.
Brian Beckcom: Can’t get a job at most places.
Dusty Boyd: Can’t get a job. You really have to have a vision for where you want to see this kid go in their lives. Now, depending on the case. But small felonies? I mean, if you're a drug user, we need to get you help the best we can. We're pretty stressed on resources here on how we can do that here.
But we try to find ways to help them help themselves. And at some point in their lives, if they come back here at age 35 and been arrested and convicted of it, five or six more times, and at some point we have to say, this is our recommendation. I don’t really have a choice but to send you to prison.
I think that's what my community wants of me in terms of helping people, but also holding them accountable. And I'm all about giving people opportunities, especially our younger folks. But you could be 45 and you get into a substance addiction problem because of a million different reasons. Job loss, family loss, tragic event that happened in your life. And we want to recognize and know those things so that we can design a quote unquote punishment or sentence that actually helps them versus punishing them.
And really, I mean, that's what -- there's a really hard discussion at some point that I hope this nation has about our criminal justice system, period. Is the reason why we have so much animosity with law enforcement and the judicial system is because it's an adversarial process. There's winners and there's losers.
And I tell everybody this: if we're in a jury trial, prosecuting someone and asking that jury to send them to prison, we've all lost. There's no winners. Whether they get found guilty or not guilty, it doesn't matter. We've all lost.
Brian Beckcom: For sure. I tell my clients that same thing in the civil cases. I say, “You're far better off settling your case than going to trial because then you're just basically rolling the dice.” I mean the better -- and it's the same thing in the criminal context. It's better to get some sort of agreed situation where you're not throwing it to 12 random people.
So, Dusty. I'm glad you wore your cowboy hat today, because I really --
Dusty Boyd: Well, like I said, for the cowboy, I'll tell you, even though I grew up on a ranch, I was never much of a cowboy. I drove motorcycles and I run the helicopter to round up cattle. I was never a good cowboy and I'm wearing a felt hat in the middle of the summer, so a lot of cowboys would question that, but it is my favorite hat.
Brian Beckcom: Well, and the funny thing to me about this is that there are people that would assume that a small town Texas boy who went to A&M and was in the Corps and is now a district attorney is going to be a hang 'em high type of district attorney. And the fact that in a relatively conservative Southern Texas area, you've got such a forward-looking solution, such a progressive -- I hesitate to use progressive, cause it has certain connotations that I don't want people to get, but a very forward-looking solution-based, here's some problems now let's figure out how to solve them. I just think it's awesome, because there's a lot of people, like I said, that would see you and assume that you would think the exact opposite of what you think. So.
Dusty Boyd: ?? [1:16:30]
Winston and Patriot Paws
Brian Beckcom: Exactly, exactly. So, we've been going for about an hour and a half, and I know you got a lot of stuff to go do, but I just have a couple of questions I feel like I need to ask you before I let you go. So, tell us about Winston.
Dusty Boyd: Okay. So, Winston is my labradoodle here in the office. He actually belongs to the district attorney's office and Coryell County. So, there's a program called Patriot Paws, and that is a program out of Rockwall where they train dogs to assist veterans.
Brian Beckcom: PTSD dogs.
Dusty Boyd: PTSD dogs, effectively. And they actually use the prison units here in Gatesville to help train. They bring those dogs to the prison units and inmates help them with the training. But Winston was one of those dogs that didn't quite reach the level to help a veteran, but this dog has a lot of compassion and love and a lot of good training. And so Patriot Paws donated Winston to my office as a crime victims dog.
So, anytime we have victims in the office, especially our children. And more specifically than that, the ones that -- most of the time when we have children, those of sexual assault or abuse, when they come into our office and Winston meets them at the door, it immediately disarms them. And they're not thinking about having to go to an attorney or a prosecutor. Instead, they're here to see Winston.
And so, he adds a level of comfort, not only to our victims, but to my staff. My staff is incredible with him and he's incredible with them and just really reduces the level of stress. And he's a true companion dog, a true therapy dog. It's real unique, especially for a county my size to have one. We couldn't afford him otherwise, if Patriot Paws hadn't donated him, because I think he was worth about $35,000.00.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, there about $30,000. Yeah. I had a client that was a former Marine that got kidnapped and taken to the jungles of Africa. He was a boat captain and had severe PTSD afterwards. And he ended up getting a PTSD dog that I think had been trained in California, but the dog was about 30, $35,000 and the dog, primarily for military folks. But the guy that runs a program donated the dog to my client. And so I got to interact with this dog a lot and I'll tell you what, man. We don't deserve dogs. I mean, they're just -- it's just incredible.
Dusty Boyd: Yeah, he's an incredible asset to us and to our victims. A couple other counties do it. I think Tarrant County has one. I believe Dallas may have one. A couple other of the bigger counties may have one more. We’re one of the smallest ones in the state to have one. And what an incredible asset, just a different platform to bring to the healing process for victims.
Brian Beckcom: For sure. And that's another thing that police officers and district attorneys have to balance. We have to, of course, the rights of the accused under our system are extremely, extremely important, but then the victims. We have to remember who the victims are and we got to take care of them, too.
Dusty Boyd: That's something that, from day one when I took office, was a huge priority for me, was in ensuring that we were equipped to not only serve our victims, to have a communication with them or an open line of communication with them, where they felt like what we were doing for them was justice. ’Cause ultimately, yes, I serve the entire citizen base of Coryell County, but unless you're a victim and you come in my office, those are the people we're truly passionate about to ensure that we put them in a position to move on with their life despite what happened to them.
The Pandemic and the World Today
Brian Beckcom: That's right. That’s right. Well, Dusty, I've kept you a little bit over the time that we reserved, but I got one more kind of set of questions I want to ask you before I let you go. So, I started this podcast because I wanted basically to put some positivity out in the world. I wanted to talk to leaders, or, like we've been talking about actually doing substantive things to make things better.
And right now, as we're shooting this podcast, we're in the middle of a pandemic. Nobody knows where this is going. There's tons of uncertainty. You don't know if you get it, if you're going to die or you're going to be fine. We don't know when it's going to be over with. We have a presidential election coming up. We have a lot of civil unrest because of George Ford and some other things. It is a very, very difficult time in our country right now. So, tell us kind of what you see over the next six, eight, 12 months, where we're headed. Give us some of your thoughts about maybe some of the things that we can keep in our minds as we're kind of navigating through what are just completely and totally unprecedented times in this country.
Dusty Boyd: Yeah. Well, I'll frame it like this, Brian. My son plays select travel baseball. And he gets really down on himself when he strikes out or if he makes an error, right? And it's always about the next play. That is what I’m coaching, that is what we constantly tell our kids, is it's all about the next play.
Regardless of what we're experiencing in our country, the beautiful thing about this place is it's always about your next play. It's the next second, the next minute, the next hour, the next day, the next week, the next month, the next year. And so, staying positive and being encouraging and great things come from big challenges. If there is a place on earth that exists with great people and great minds to tackle these challenges and come out better for it, we're in the right place.
So, I would encourage people to stay positive. Whatever challenge they're facing in their personal life or their work life, stay positive. Know that it will be better if you want it to be better. If you want change, be the change. If you want it better, be better. We have some incredible challenges going forward in the next six months to a year in my line of work and trying to adapt to the environment and making sure that our core system and our processes still move the best they can and as effective as they can, despite some of the restrictions we have on us.
But that's where you go to work and you find ways to work around it and you find ways to do it. You just have to think outside the box and it may be a solution that no one's ever thought of. And it may be something just like I thought of MAPS just driving out my little country road out to my house. It'll just come to you if you think about it.
So, that would be my advice to them is it's all about the next play, regardless of what's happened in your life. You can control how we move forward and you can be positive about it. Despite all the negativity we hear with the politics, with the corona, and the uncertainty, you can still believe we'll overcome. You can still believe we'll come up with solutions. You can believe that. You can control them. And if you do, we will. That's what I firmly believe, and I think surround yourself with people that think the same way.
That's really -- because if you're that lone ranger out there believing that, it's tough to go to sleep at night and wake up knowing that. Surround yourself with those kinds of people that believe in it and know it and want to come up with solutions with you. That's what I love about my office and my staff. I have an incredible staff. I've got 12 people that work for me, I got four ADAs. Incredible people. Incredible people. Let alone attorneys. Just great people. And I'm always challenging them to do things different. I mean, just because it's my office, if there's ways and things that you see that will make things better, then do it. Just test it and see how it works.
The same thing goes for our society. Think about the next play. Think about how you can be better for it. And if you can be better for it, you're making people around you better for it, and then the dominoes will just fall. Regardless of the outcome of the election or regardless of the outcome of COVID, humanity survives.
I mean, yes, what we're going through is horrible, but if you and I had gotten in a time machine and we flew back 150 years into Coryell County where I'm sitting, we’d probably have a bunch of Comanches running around us and we would think that would be the end of the world. But yet humanity overcame and life moves forward. And so just don't get so caught up in living in today that we think that that's how it's going to be. ’Cause it won't be. It won't be
Brian Beckcom: All I know is that whatever society was like six months ago, it's not going to be like that in six months.
Dusty Boyd: No, it won't. And accept that.
Brian Beckcom: But that's okay. It's okay.
Dusty Boyd: Accept it. It's okay. There may be some things that we're comfortable in doing. I know you and I run into each other at some Aggie games. There might be some times we may not get to do that as much this fall. But I have every confidence at some point we will in some way. In whatever capacity and however that's designed, it will be okay.
It's not the end of the world, I assure you. I've lived in a place where it was the end of the world, in Sudan, where people had no reason to hope. No reason to hope. We have every reason to hope here.
Brian Beckcom: Well, that is a great, great way to end it. Dusty, I just got to tell you, before we end the podcast, you are literally the exact type of guest that I had in mind when I started this. And what I mean by that is when I think of leadership, one of the definitions of leadership to me is doing what you think is the right thing, regardless of what anybody says about it. Being willing to go out there. And that's exactly what you've done, essentially, your whole life. There was no reason why a small town boy from Crane, Texas would end up in Sudan. There is no reason why a small town boy from Crane, Texas would start one of the most progressive programs in the country as it relates to law enforcement and minority communities and stuff like that.
You are a true leader. I look up to you. I encourage you to keep doing the type of work you're doing. If it's okay with you, I'm going to start talking to people about some of the stuff you're doing, ’cause I think what you're doing would be good basically everywhere.
So, Dusty, you're a great guy. You're a great America. You're a great friend. And I really, really appreciate you being on the podcast, my brother.
Dusty Boyd: Well, listen, Brian, I'm honored that you asked. I really appreciate the time and I've always loved and respected everything you do there in Houston, too. Much love and respect to your family. I also hope everyone's well.
Brian Beckcom: You, too. Tell your family I hope everybody's doing well, and we'll talk soon, my friend.
Dusty Boyd: Yes, sir.
Brian Beckcom: All right.
You've been listening to Lessons from Leaders with Brian Beckcom. If you've enjoyed this week's interview, be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast and keep up with the latest episodes. You can also connect with Brian through his firm at vbattorneys.com.