Sue Fleming, The Freer Press
The Freer Press Newsmaker of the Year 2007 title goes to Duval County Sheriff Barrera Jr.
Sheriff Barrera was selected for the honor due to this newspaper having received the most comments during the year from readers regarding him and his decisions to suddenly fire Central South Texas Criminal Investigation Unit investigator Nicolas P. Juarez and secretary Amanda Walters in Nov. as well as instigating the firing of commander Ramiro R. Ramirez after he heard Ramirez was running for sheriff in the March Democratic Primary election.
The first story was published on Nov. 27 reporting the firings of Juarez and Walters who spoke on record during a grievance hearing at the courthouse. Both testified they felt political motivation by the sheriff was the only reason for their being terminated.
The second story was published on Dec. 12 which reported the firing of Ramirez as commander of the task force.
In an interview, Sheriff Barrera said the decision was mutually reached between himself and the sheriffs of Live Oak and McMullen County during a meeting on Dec. 7 to demote Ramirez as commander of the task force.
Barrera said loyalty was not there any more from Ramirez.
"He can't perform for us any more," he said in part.
Live Oak sheriff Larry Busby confirmed Barrera's statements.
"Basically, what I did was withdraw him from the task force. Barrera didn't want him (Ramirez) working in his county any more, so I was obligated to withdraw him," he said.
Ramirez was then offered a position as patrol officer in Live Oak County by sheriff Busby.
Ramirez stated all he had to say was that he felt sheriff Barrera was letting the people down.
"When he announced of his running, he told the people the main issue is fighting the war on drugs and that he was going to keep the task force, but now this," he said.
During the year, official reports showed the task force which had a great reputation with the governor's office, made many arrests, seized more than 6,000 pounds of marijuana and 41 kilos of cocaine as well as conduct Homeland Security operations on behalf of the sheriff's office.
As of this publication, only two agents now remain on the task force.