Growing up in Tomball, Texas, Perry Wooten was blessed with exceptional talent as an athlete. His family moved around a lot due to his father’s job, and this time, they were moving overseas. At this point in his life, Wooten was tired of moving around. Wooten had a good relationship with his coach and his coach asked his mother if he could live with him and play football. His parents agreed to the arrangement and from 7th grade until his sophomore/junior year in college, he lived with his coach and his coach’s family. Wooten graduated from Tomball High School and had multiple offers from different universities. He received a full ride and decided to go to Texas Lutheran University because his coach attended there.
Sadly, during his sophomore year in college, the coach and his wife separated, which made him incredibly sad. “That just tore me a part. To me, they were my family,” he said. The quarterback of the team also lived with the coach along with his three kids. The coach treated them nothing less than family. One day during the holidays, the coach and his family were invited to a Christmas party in the Champion’s Forest area, which was a predominantly affluent White area during that time. The person who invited them said they could come, but to not bring Wooten. Upset by the comment, the coach declined the invitation and told Wooten, “Don’t ever let anyone put you down because of your color of because of who you are. You always stand up and look them eye to eye and let them know you’re a man.” The coach stood up for all his kids. “I was their son and part of their family,” Wooten reflected.
After Wooten finished college, he came back home and begin working with a program for youth. He also helped open the first therapeutic program for mentally disturbed adolescents and served in administration. His journey then let him to the Harris County Sherriff’s Department where he had the opportunity to do public relations. He was able to ride around with the Sherriff, tag along with him on meetings, etc. He also worked as a deputy. Everything was going well until he started going higher up to different floors. “During the day, I started seeing people come in to see their loved ones. The deputies were harassing Black folks, beating, and stomping Black inmates, there were “nigger jokes over the loudspeaker,” and so much more.
Wooten saw so much injustice and could not keep quiet. He had enough. So, he started filing grievances and he even became president for the first Black police union in the southwest part of this country. There was so much work to be done. Wooten then started getting Black deputies to join the organization and begin tackling issues. Some issues were how Blacks couldn’t work in patrol, but they could work in the jails, and there were no Black chiefs or captains. They also couldn’t get promoted. Motivated for change, Wooten went to speak with former United States Representative Craig Washington to ask for help in writing a bill for civic service. With Washington’s help, the bill was passed, and this was just the first step Wooten took to strive for change.
Wooten filed the first lawsuit against the Harris County Sherriff Department for racial discrimination and in 1998, he won the lawsuit. During that time, they use to follow him, tap his phone, try to set him up, or do anything to get him to retaliate again the department. “I knew once we beat them, they were going to get me for it. It upset the apple tree,” he said.
After the lawsuit, Blacks and Hispanics started getting promotions, and whoever received high scores on the exams, they were going to get promoted. It was no longer based on whoever the sheriff and sheriff administrator decided.
In 2000, Wooten did the unthinkable and decided to run for Constable in precinct seven against A. B. Chambers, a legend in the police department. Many people didn’t think he would be able to beat him, but he did. He became the second Black constable in that department. Although he had won the position, the transition of power wasn’t smooth as no one wanted to open the office for him, all the records were gone, there were no books, or anything. “I couldn’t do nothing…We didn’t have nothing to start from. We started from scratch. Everything was totally clustered and totally messed up with no sense of direction,” Wooten said. Because he had won the lawsuit earlier on, he felt as if the department was mad, and they didn’t want to do anything to help him.
Under Wooten’s leadership there were good things that impacted the community. He brought in a new division; they started having civic club meetings to in the community to find out what was going on. They started cleaning out drugs in the community, Black deputies were getting promoted, they began neighborhood patrols, and so much more. He also created a buffalo soldier emblem and placed it on their badges, their sleeves, and their cars. “I knew they didn’t like it. I kept putting a thorn in their side…it made the White boys mad,” Wooten mentioned.
With all the positive Wooten was doing, he noticed that the books were bad. “You couldn’t tell where the money was,” he reflected. Since everything was cleared out and nothing was left when he took over, he couldn’t figure out what was going on, and couldn’t even see how to start his budget. The county started to do an investigation and noticed money was missing, checks were sent out, and there was no paperwork to track anything. “I ended up as the villain. Even though I had been there long enough, they claimed I took the money.”
Wooten ended up in court with an all-White jury. One of the jurors even called him a nigger during the case and wasn’t removed. The county offered probation if he resigned or stepped down, but he knew he was innocent. Even though he had people testify on his behalf, he was still sentenced to three years in prison. “I just trusted in the Lord,” he said.
Wooten started writing his book that he recently published called “From Hell to Glory.” The book details events that occurred in his life as well as his time with the Harris County Sherriff’s department. Dr. Bobby Mills, a longtime friend said, “The social commentary in this book is both timely regarding law enforcement issues, as well as, spiritually enlightening as it relates to what God demands and expects of us.” After some time in prison, one day after a spiritual dream, Wooten’s case was overturned, and he was free to go. That’s what the Lord did for me,” Wooten said.
With everything Wooten went through, all he could do was trust in God and regardless of what they did, he knew God would bring him out on the other side. He concluded with, “The battle is not won, we just brought about some major changes.”