Merritt takes oath as sheriff
Before he was sworn-in Thursday, Sheriff Keith Merritt had announced a partial list of what some in the department were calling his “dream team.”
Merritt was officially sworn-in at midnight by Orange County Judge Carl Thibodeaux with over 50 people in attendance. A more public service will take place at 10 a.m. Merritt confirmed this week that Janois Strause will move to captain the support division, replacing Don Harmon. This is the first time a woman has been promoted to captain in the Orange County Sheriff’s Dept. Harmon moves to the jail division to replace Ralph Osborne.
In the patrol division, Clint Hodgkinson replaces David Peck, and the investigation division’s Tommy Smith retains his office. Also, Dennis Marlow will be promoted to lieutenant to work under Strause.
The new sheriff said he will spend his first days in office, “ … welcoming and getting to know everyone,” adding that he is already acquainted with quite a few deputies from his former job (Precinct 1 constable).
Merritt is the county’s 34th sheriff. As previously announced in The Record, Rodney Harrison moves from the Port Arthur police to serve as Merritt’s chief deputy, replacing David Reeves. White ends 13 years as sheriff, second only to Chester Holts, whose 21 years in the office ended in 1969. White is the only sheriff to serve more than two terms since Holts. In 1996, White defeated Huel Fontenot, who made an attempt to return to the office in the 2008 primaries but did not make the runoff.
Merritt served 14 years as constable. He campaigned on bringing new directions and management styles to the department, agreeing with some of White’s policies but insisting change was needed.
He is married to Marlene Hennigan Merritt, and the couple have two children and two grandchildren.
A former Army paratrooper, Merritt was promoted to the non-commissioned officer rank of E-5 Sergeant. He received an honorable discharge in 1972. Before going into law enforcement, he worked at Chevron Chemical in Orange as an operator, later promoted to supervisor. He is a member of the Orange Lions Club and has been a licensed Texas peace officer for 28 years. From 1989-2004, he was the trainer and handler for the drug-sniffing dogs Ali and Thor, helping to confiscate an estimated $8 million in illegal narcotics; and providing drug awareness education to county school students.
White campaigned on his accomplishments including annually working within the commissioners’ budget, despite increased security costs caused by Homeland Security mandates and difficulties caused by Hurricane Rita.
He also ran on his establishment of the Orange County Crime Lab, which shares forensic evidence with all area law enforcement agencies; and the opening of the John Tarver Law Enforcement Training facility, which provides the means to train officers in new crime fighting procedures, and to practice field exercises and maintain firearms proficiency.