VAN ZANDT COUNTY, Texas – A former Texas deputy chief pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday to violating the civil rights of an arrested person by using excessive force against him during an arrest last year, the U.S. attorney’s office said .

During the plea hearing, Steven “Craig” Shelton, 61, admitted that on or about September 21, 2021, while serving as chief deputy and second in command of the sheriff’s office of Van Zandt County, he repeatedly punched a handcuffed and obedient arrestee in the face.

Shelton further admitted that his actions, which occurred in front of several other officers in the Rolling Oaks area of ​​Wills Point, Texas, caused bodily harm to the inmate. Shelton said he punched the victim out of frustration, despite knowing there was no legitimate need for law enforcement to use force, prosecutors said.

“Those in leadership positions in sheriff’s offices violate public trust when they abuse their official authority and position to commit assaults against people held in their custody,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen said. Clarke. “The Department of Justice will continue to hold accountable law enforcement officers, at all levels, who abuse their authority by using excessive force to deprive people of their constitutional rights.”

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With his guilty plea and in accordance with the terms of the plea agreement, the defendant faces a sentence of 44 months in prison.

“It is the undisputed duty of a law enforcement officer to protect and to serve,” U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston said. “Public trust in law enforcement is eroded when officers fail to uphold the laws they are sworn to uphold, and my office will continue to hold accountable those who believe they are above the law.”

“Agents who use excessive force break the trust of their communities and their oath to protect and serve,” said Deputy Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigations Division. “Violating the civil rights of an arrested person is a clear abuse of authority and will not be tolerated by the FBI. We are committed to upholding everyone’s constitutional rights and expect law enforcement to do same.

A sentencing date will be set after the completion of a pre-sentence investigation by the US Probation Office.

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