An Oral History of Ken Paxton’s Mugshot

How the Texas attorney general readied for his close-up.

Terry Box, Collin County sheriff: We’ve been using the towels in mugshots for, what? Oh, more than a decade, I guess. Larry Smart and some of the other folks at the jail came up with the idea.

Lt. Larry Smart: We decided to make everyone the same. We had defense attorneys complaining about wrongful identifications, saying people were getting picked out of lineups based on clothing. So this was, you know, a pretty easy fix. And cheap. I think it was just $10 for a pack of three. Shoot, I got some for myself.

Box: Honestly, some of the ladies that come through here aren’t crazy about it. I don’t know if it’s a cleanliness thing, or it’s just because terry cloth is about as flattering as an episode of Fashion Police. Wait. I mean—can you edit that part out?

Smart: Come on. Everyone knows the sheriff loves his E! network.

Box: But I can promise you that we keep those towels clean. And they’re good quality. I have some at the house. That said, when I heard we were probably going to have Ken Paxton coming in, I did decide to hire someone to style the shoot. 

Smart: We don’t get a lot of famous people in here since the whole Deion and Pilar thing cooled off. We wanted to make sure we nailed it.

Box: I called up this young lady who was dating one of our deputies, the guy who takes the booking photos, actually. She used to work for Sachse’s city magazine, Too Sachse. I think she was the fashion editor and CFO.

Jane-Stephanie Carney, stylist: I also drove the delivery van. 

Box: I asked her to pull a few different looks for the AG to choose from. 

Carney: I mainly tried to figure out what sort of color palette worked best with Mr. Paxton’s complexion, which is what we in the business call “Lake Dad.” I don’t always trust photos, so I hung out in the lawn care area at Target until I found the right generic guy and then just started holding towels up to him. 

Ken Paxton, Texas attorney general: I didn’t even really think about the towels at first. We live in McKinney, so I guess I knew the policy. I just didn’t think it would ever apply to me, you know? It was my daughter Abby that pointed it out to me a couple of days before. She said, “Daddy, you’re going to be a meme.” I’m sorry—I don’t do voices very well. She has that vocal fry thing that a lot of young women seem to have, and also kind of uptalks?

Smart: Oh, man, I cannot stand vocal fry. 

Paxton: Anyway, I had my attorney start trying to figure out how we could get around that.

Joe Kendall, defense attorney: The judge in the case, George Gallagher, he and I used to be in a classic-rock cover band in law school, the Gaveling Wilburys.  

George Gallagher, Tarrant County district judge: I played a Rickenbacker bass and sang all the high harmonies.

Kendall: So it was pretty simple. I called him up, and he agreed that it was a high-profile case and that the Gaveling Wilburys were due for a comeback gig. 

Box: When Judge Gallagher called me up and told me that Mr. Paxton did not have to wear a towel when he was booked—and also, unrelated, asked if I knew of any good drummers—Jane-Stephanie was pretty ticked off. I don’t know if she didn’t keep the receipt for the towels or what. 

Carney: That photo got thousands of retweets on Twitter. I really could have carved out my own lane as a jailhouse stylist. It’s so hot right now, with Orange Is the New Black and everything.

Smart: I think everyone was pretty irritated at the shoot. Paxton was being such a diva. He hated the party tray we picked up from Kroger. He said ranch dip made him blotchy and bloated. 

Box: He was so concerned about looking cocky. You know how some women have what they call “resting bitch face”? Well, Mr. Paxton has resting—I can’t say the word.

Paxton: I was definitely worried that I would look arrogant or overconfident. I’m a lawyer. I know these things can be prejudicial to people. And I know my face looks like an 8-year-old’s drawing of a small-town high school football coach. So the whole time I was in front of the camera, I was just thinking, “Don’t do the face, don’t do the face, don’t do the face, don’t do the face.” I don’t know what happened.


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