TYLER, Texas (KLTV) — A former Van Zandt County deputy chief pleaded guilty Wednesday to an allegation of excessive force and is accepting a 44-month prison sentence.

Steven Craig Shelton entered the plea in federal court. The sentence is pending judge approval at a later date.

Shelton avoided prosecution in Van Zandt County by entering into a pretrial intervention contract.

Documents filed in federal court allege Shelton used his forearm to punch someone in the face while handcuffed in September 2021. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Shelton admitted during a plea hearing that on or about September 21, 2021, while acting as Chief Deputy and Second in Command of the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office, he repeatedly punched a handcuffed arrestee in the face and docile. Shelton further admitted that his actions, which occurred in front of several other officers in the Rolling Oaks area of ​​Wills Point, caused bodily harm to the arrestee. Shelton admitted to punching the arrestee out of frustration, despite knowing there was no legitimate need for law enforcement to use force, the U.S. attorney said.

“Those in leadership positions in sheriff’s offices violate public trust when they abuse their official authority and position to commit assaults against persons held in their custody,” Assistant Attorney General Clarke said. . “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.”

US Attorney Brit Featherston added that law enforcement is not above the law.

“It is the undisputed duty of a law enforcement officer to protect and to serve,” 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.”

An FBI official said trust can be broken with communities when law enforcement officials commit such acts.

“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.

Shelton was released on parole after the hearing.

If the 44-month sentence is approved, it will be followed by a five-year probation.

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+ Former Van Zandt County deputy chief to plead guilty to federal charge

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