Paxton staffer resigns after being pushed to film at border without security

A press secretary with the Texas Attorney General’s Office has resigned, claiming her security concerns were ignored when she was ordered to make a trip to the Mexico border to produce informational videos for the agency.

Kayleigh Lovvorn Date, who had been employed by the communications office for about five years, said in a formal complaint obtained by Hearst Newspapers that she had been asked in May to film video interviews of property owners in Brackettville, east of Del Rio, without a security detail or protective gear.

In her complaint, Date noted that First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster, who thought up the border video series, and Attorney General Ken Paxton had worn bulletproof vests during a portion of their visit to the border, but would not provide her and her team with similar protection.

The office has been known to create flashy videos promoting its work on immigration and other issues, often featuring dramatic music and video of interviews Paxton has done with Fox News. The Republican attorney general is seeking a third term in 2022.

Date, who did not respond to a request for comment, and others with concerns were told by superiors to “just bring our guns” if they felt unsafe, she wrote in the complaint. She said she doesn’t have a handgun license or training.

Though Paxton and other Republicans have referred to the border as lawless — Gov. Greg Abbott is calling the same area “overrun by gangs and smugglers” — Date said her supervisors even denied a request to delay the video shoot for a week so she could work on a security plan.

Date put in her notice of resignation on May 26, citing in the complaint “prioritization of my mental health and overall wellbeing.” Her last day was June 11.

As of April 1, she was paid a $65,000 annual salary, according to the Texas Tribune salary database.

“Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed many lawsuits on border security and takes border security and the safety of all Texans very seriously,” Paxton’s communications director, Alejandro Garcia, said in a statement. “Law enforcement prepares security plans for all border trips. We do not release those plans to employees or the public as that could be a security risk for all individuals involved in those trips.”

The attorney general’s office handles legal matters related to immigration as it affects the state, and is part of a task force on border and homeland security formed by Abbott in June.

Paxton has filed multiple suits against the Biden administration already this year for policies he contends are harming Texans, such as an attempted pause of deportations that Paxton’s suit stopped and more recently, COVID-19 protocols for immigrants taken into custody that he says could lead to spread of the virus to state residents.

Date wrote in her complaint that property owners from Brackettville had told communications staff that on a daily basis they witnessed cartel activity, car chases and hijackings, break-ins and property theft, and shots fired at themselves and their employees, “including a recent instance of a property owner reporting sixty rounds fired at a location we were expected to visit and film.”

After being given the assignment May 17, Date said she immediately raised concerns with peers. Three days later, she spoke with Garcia about those concerns and liability issues involved with traveling to the location with “thousands of dollars” in media equipment, according to the complaint. She said other communications employees agreed that security was a concern.

But Webster, through Garcia, immediately denied her request, saying he “did not believe security was necessary because he did not experience a need for security during his Rio Grande Valley border visit.”

Allegations of bullying

On that trip, Date wrote, Webster was accompanied by Paxton’s security detail of state troopers and other law enforcement personnel and, on one occasion, was provided with a bulletproof vest.

She refused to go without any security in place.

The morning of May 21, the day on which the border video trip was previously scheduled, Garcia called an emergency meeting of the team. Garcia told the employees that they had disappointed the executive division by “refusing to go to the border” and “saying no to an assignment,” Date wrote in her complaint.

According to Date, it was part of a pattern of bullying and threatening behavior from Webster that she also asked management to investigate.

Webster had been planning to call all communications officers to the office at 9 p.m. the day prior to reprimand them with “severe consequences” for tardiness or nonattendance, but Garcia said he convinced him to allow him to lead a disciplinary meeting instead, according to the complaint.

“We were told that because Mr. Webster expressed willingness to travel to the properties and film interviews himself, our refusal to travel to these potentially dangerous locations without security on a tight timeline was ‘embarrassing,’” Date wrote.

The team also learned at the meeting that Webster had envisioned not just the videos in question but a series of them involving them making additional trips to the border.

“The communications team was then told that if these expectations and demands were too great, we should look for other jobs,” Date wrote. “As I personally consider the expectation that employees travel to potentially life-threatening locations without any form of security unreasonable, I am choosing to follow that recommendation.”

Significant turnover

The office did not make Webster available for an interview with Hearst Newspapers on Thursday.

Enrique Varela, formal complaint officer with the AG’s office, in a letter, told Date that after a June 10 phone call with her, the office was reviewing its safety protocols and procedures, according to a copy obtained by Hearst Newspapers.

Her complaint, he said in the June 23 letter, did not allow Varela to pursue a separate inquiry into Webster. He added that he learned that she did not report to nor work directly with Webster, nor did she attempt to speak with him about her concerns, so he closed the complaint.

Paxton’s executive team has seen significant turnover in the last year, including eight top aides who either resigned or were fired after they reported Paxton to law enforcement for allegedly accepting bribes and abusing the power of his office by helping a friend and campaign donor.

Paxton hired Webster to replace one of those whistleblowers, former First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer.

The FBI is investigating the whistleblowers’ claims; meanwhile, Paxton is already under indictment, and has been since 2015 as his court case stagnates, on felony securities fraud charges. He has denied all wrongdoing.

Staff writer Jay Root contributed to this report.

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