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Jefferson County's new district attorney targets public corruption and gangs

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BEAUMONT -

It's been two weeks since Texas Governor Rick Perry appointed Cory Crenshaw as Jefferson County's new district attorney.

At the age of 34, he now holds one of the most powerful positions in the county.

And while, he will only serve until a new DA is elected in November, Crenshaw is determined to make a long-lasting impact on Jefferson County's justice system.

In our exclusive interview with him Friday, Crenshaw did not plead the fifth.  He answered all our questions without hesitation.

Despite his young age, he's extremely confident in his abilities to lead a staff of 70 in making our community safer.

After all, he already had experience prosecuting drug dealers and human smugglers, and here in Jefferson County, he's ready to fight public corruption and gangs.

Surrounded by law books and with the scales of justice on his desk, Crenshaw's passion for his new job as DA is quite evident.

It's a positions he actively sought from the Governor, and he's quite frank about why.

He said, "I was disheartened.  I felt that there were things in this community that really needed new leaders, a new generation of leadership."

And while Crenshaw didn't specify the Beaumont Independent School District as one of those things, it's no secret many citizens have been demanding investigations into allegations of corruption at BISD.

Crenshaw says the U.S. Attorneys' Office where he worked until his appointment is taking the lead on that.  But he's not shying away from fighting public corruption. 

Crenshaw is setting up a team to go after financial crimes.

He said, "In particular financial crimes that involve those in positions of public trust who allowed their greed to get in the way of their job, and have done great harm to this community."

Crenshaw would not comment further on BISD because he has two pending cases involving employees, including the district's communications director Jessie Haynes, and former maintenance worker Daryl Johnson.

Crenshaw was an assistant DA in Brazos County and served as a federal prosecutor in McAllen and Beaumont.

It's experience he believes helps him in the other battle he plans to wage against gangs, he's setting up a major crimes unit.

Crenshaw said, "Communities across Jefferson County, particularly in the community in Port Arthur, and many areas here in Beaumont, gangs are a threat.:"

The new DA is also making sure his staff also follows the rules.

He said, "Whether you're the citizen accused, or you are the victim of a crime, that the process here in the district attorney's office will treat you fairly."

In recent years, police throughout Jefferson County have complained of a lack of follow through in the DA's office when it comes to prosecuting cases in which officers make arrests.

But Crenshaw has already reached out to police chief's to try to heal the divide.

He said, "Practicing good customer service with law enforcement without a doubt makes for a better working relationship.:

We asked Crenshaw what's next for him once a new DA is elected, he says he's hoping the new administration will ask him to stay on board, if not he says he might open up a private practice.

Crenshaw had kind words about his predecessor Tom Maness, saying he wants to enhance and build on what Maness accomplished, and he described the staff he inherited from Maness, as "a wonderful family that's great at what they do."

Since Crenshaw's appointment, assistant DA's Tom Rugg and Ed Shettle have announced they're leaving the office, and assistant DA Lindsey Scott was appointed 252nd district judge.

Other than that, the only other personnel changes have been the promotions of Pat Knauth to first assistant, and Ashley Molfino to head up criminal prosecutions.

Crenshaw says he hopes to lead by example and try some cases in the courtroom himself.

And while he's only 34, he's not the youngest DA to have ever served in Texas.  Carol Vance was appointed Harris County district attorney in 1966, he was 32.  And before Texas even became a state, Peter Gray was appointed Houston district attorney back in 1841. 

He was just 21.

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