Local candidate blames “sabotage” in controversy over racist tweets

The Republican candidate for Brewster County Sheriff became the subject of a Change.org petition asking for his removal from the race after racist tweets resurfaced.

ALPINE — Devon Portillo, the Republican candidate for Brewster County Sheriff, became the subject of a Change.org petition asking for his removal from the local sheriff’s race after tweets from 2013 on Portillo’s Twitter account resurfaced this week. The tweets in question used the n-word, along with derogatory racial stereotypes.

Portillo confirmed the account was his but suggested the circulating tweets had been doctored or that his account had been hacked. But The Big Bend Sentinel found evidence that at least one of the offensive tweets had been posted on the social media platform that year, raising doubts about Portillo’s assertions that they are a recent political hit.

The petition, which was started by an anonymous person on Monday, cited ongoing civil unrest over police killings of Black people and Portillo’s alleged “long history of racism and discrimination” in calling for him to be removed from the ballot.

“It is not justifiable to have this man remain on the ballot for such an important elected official position,” the petition read. “Alpine does not condone racism or discrimination.” At press time, it had garnered over 3,300 signatures.

In a statement posted on his Facebook campaign page Sunday night, Portillo said he had not written the controversial tweets posted to his Twitter account and that “how this message was created is beyond my knowledge.”

In a follow-up statement on Monday, Portillo again denied making the statements and described the tweets as “political sabotage.” Portillo later deleted both posts.

In an interview, Portillo acknowledged that the offending Twitter account belonged to him and said he had deleted it in response to the controversy.

“I don’t know if [my account] got hacked,” he said. “But by no means, no shape or form am I prejudiced against anybody.”

The Big Bend Sentinel uncovered a contemporaneous tweet from 2013, in which another person retweeted one of the account’s uses of the n-word, suggesting the slur was posted to Portillo’s account as early as 2013.

When presented with that evidence, Portillo declined to comment. “We’re not commenting on anything else,” he said Tuesday.

Portillo did acknowledge another social media post was his: a Facebook post from 2015, in which he said he was “disappointed” with the Supreme Court’s ruling that gay marriage was constitutional. In the post, he added that American soldiers were involved in international conflicts “so that we can live freely” and “not so man can lay with man.”

In a social media post on Monday, the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office stressed that Portillo, a former employee, “has no current affiliation with Sheriff Dodson or Brewster County.”

Portillo worked at the sheriff’s office for less than a year, from October 2018 until August 2019, according to the social media post from the sheriff’s office. In his interview, Portillo said he had been “forced to resign” but was “never given a clear answer” from the sheriff’s office as to why.

In a follow-up interview on Monday, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson declined to comment on Portillo’s departure, describing it as a non-public personnel matter. But he said that the sheriff’s office wanted to make it clear that Portillo was not an employee.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office said an online petition is not grounds to remove Portillo’s name from the ballot. Only special circumstances allow for removal, including if Portillo moved outside the county.

Candidates may remove themselves from the ballot up to 74 days before the general election. In a phone call on Tuesday, Portillo said he was still in the race.