I Inject, Your Honor

No one fought harder to rid the Panhandle of its methamphetamine epidemic than district attorney Rick Roach. In retrospect, an addict may not have been the best guy for the job.

HE WOULD STRIDE INTO THE COURTHOUSE in a perfectly pressed gray suit, every hair on his head brushed into place, and he would bound up the stairs to his fourth-floor office, usually skipping a step or two at a time. Sometimes, as soon as he’d throw open the office door, he’d start waving his arms at his assistants. “Let’s go! Let’s go!” he’d say in a booming voice. “Let’s get to work!” His name was Rick Roach, and in the Texas Panhandle, where he was the district attorney of a five-county region east of Amarillo, he was fondly regarded, in the words of one citizen, as “the enforcer”—a zealous, hard-as-nails prosecutor who had devoted himself to putting drug traffickers and longtime drug abusers behind bars.

Week after week, he would tell juries that the time had come to take a stand against the scourge that was ruining the lives of so many Panhandle residents. The jurors would stare into Roach’s eyes, and they almost always did just what he wanted, returning guilty verdicts with sentences ranging from 40 to 99 years. At the conclusion of each successful prosecution, Roach would make himself available for interviews with reporters (“The good citizens are fed up with drugs!” he declared after one victory), shake hands with the jurors and other well-wishers, and return to the district attorney’s office, where he would walk back to his own private office and shut the door behind him.

While sitting behind his grand desk, he would sometimes open a drawer. He would take out a syringe. He would roll up his shirtsleeve or pull down his pants. Then, the powerful, drug-busting district attorney of the Thirty-first District of Texas would inject himself with a large dose of methamphetamine, one of the most highly addictive and destructive of all drugs, and lean back in his leather chair, relishing a heart-pounding euphoria that would last for ten hours or more.

IF YOU READ A NEWSPAPER long enough, there comes a point when you begin to believe that no public scandal can catch you by surprise. But when the story broke in January that 55-year-old Rick Roach had been arrested in a courtroom by a team of FBI agents, charged not only with possession of cocaine and methamphetamine but also with the intention “to distribute or dispense” those very drugs, the good people of the rural Panhandle found themselves shaking their heads in disbelief. “What’s so shocking is that Mr. Roach truly was on a mission to get rid of our drug problem,” said Lonny Robbins, a minister who is also the mayor of Pampa (population: 17,000), the largest town in Roach’s district. “He told us he wouldn’t be slapping drug offenders on the wrist, and he didn’t. He truly seemed to be getting things done for us.”

Indeed, area newspapers had long praised Roach’s efforts to rid the Panhandle of drug crime—“Anyone thinking about getting involved in the drug trade should avoid Gray, Hemphill, Lipscomb, Roberts, and Wheeler counties,” the Amarillo Globe-News gushed—and he was so popular among the mostly conservative, churchgoing Republican voters in his vast district that he had run unopposed the previous year for reelection. Since his arrest, Roach has made little attempt to explain his public meltdown—he declined all requests for interviews from Texas publications, including TEXAS MONTHLY —but had residents of the five counties examined Roach’s past, they might have realized that his downfall had been a long time coming. “He was an outlaw, plain and simple,” said John Mann, the former district attorney whom Roach replaced. “Maybe what’s so amazing about all this is that he was able to keep that side of him hidden for so long.”

Raised in Pampa—his stepfather was a respected high school football coach and principal, and his mother worked at a bank—Roach attended Texas Tech University, where he studied accounting and then received his law degree. As a young man, he liked to drink and he loved to mouth off. In 1975, when he was arrested in Lubbock for driving while intoxicated, the police officer noted in his report that Roach had asked him “what the goddammed hell I was picking on him for, why didn’t I go over in East Lubbock and pick on those sorry bastard niggers and the people that ought to be in the jailhouse?”

He hardly seemed destined to become a famous prosecutor of criminals. After practicing law in various Panhandle towns, in the late eighties he ended up in Breckenridge, where he was indicted for oil-field theft after a neighbor accused him of tapping his gas line. (The charges were dismissed when Roach agreed to pay restitution.) He then moved with his wife and three sons to the town of Miami (population: 600), in Roberts County. According to an FBI affidavit, it wasn’t long after moving to Miami that he “allegedly checked into a drug rehabilitation center for a cocaine addiction.” What’s more, his personal life seemed to be deteriorating. His wife, Cynthia, filed for divorce twice, at one point citing Roach’s “ungovernable temper.”

But both times she dropped her complaints, and Roach did appear to be turning his life around. He ran for county attorney of Roberts County, a part-time job that required him to prosecute anyone arrested for a misdemeanor, and was elected “because he was the only attorney in the county,” said Tom Grantham, an accountant who befriended Roach. “He had a real bad temper, and he could cuss a blue streak, but he also had the ability to be very charming, and no one could accuse him of being lazy when it came to doing his job.”

Nor could anyone accuse him of lacking ambition. In 1996 Roach ran as a Republican for district attorney of the Thirty-first District. The DA was responsible for prosecuting all the felony cases in the district’s five counties. It too was a part-time job, because only about 34,000 people lived in those counties. Though Roach lost that year to the incumbent,

Tags: POLITICS

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...

Most Read

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • 1 week