Former Odessa sheriff dies at 92

Yearwood was Odessa’s only Black sheriff

A former sheriff who served one term in the 1990s has died in Odessa at age 92.

Reginald “Reggie” Joseph Yearwood died Sunday of natural causes. He was sheriff of Ector County from Jan. 1, 1997, through Dec. 31, 2000.

Yearwood on Nov. 5, 1996, became Ector County’s first and only Black sheriff.

He beat the 16-year incumbent Republican Bob Brookshire by more than 2,000 votes. He ended Brookshire’s reign as the county’s head lawman.

“Looking at it now, it’s a heck of a triumph,” Yearwood told the Odessa American after the race. “It just feels great.”

He would serve one term after he was defeated by Mark Donaldson in 2000. Donaldson won 19,858 to 13,049. Donaldson had served as Brookshire’s chief deputy, but was demoted by Yearwood and eventually fired.

In a November 1996 Odessa American feature on Yearwood, he said he learned compassion from his grandmother and how to deal with difficult people in the military.

He also said he refused to dwell on race and said he wouldn’t be a Black sheriff but “a county sheriff who happens to be Black” and also said Black oppression belongs to the past. He went so far as to say that using race as an excuse to break the law “is bullshit.”

Yearwood worked since age 11 when he took a job sweeping floors and stocking shelves at a local grocery store. By age 14 or 15 he went to work at another store. He married wife, Rita, at age 19 and they had two sons, Reginald and Ronald.

He enlisted in the Army at age 19 and said that was his first encounter with racism — from fellow soldiers. He would rise in rank and eventually spend his career in the military on the police force.

He was a military police officer for 23 years. He worked at the El Paso Sheriff’s Department from 1972 until 1981. He retired in 1992 and came out of retirement to run for sheriff in Ector County.

Yearwood’s wife died in January 2020. Arrangements are being handled by Sunset Memorial Gardens and Funeral Home, but no service date has yet been set.