A former East Texas chief deputy admitted to using excessive force on a prisoner, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced.
Steven “Craig” Shelton, 61, the second-ranked official in the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office at the time, pleaded guilty to violating a prisoner’s civil rights on September 21, 2021.
Court documents state that Shelton admitted to striking a suspect twice while the suspect was handcuffed and compliant, hitting the arrestee in the face with his forearm. Several other officers in the Rolling Oaks area of Wills Point witnessed the incident.
In his guilty plea, Shelton said that his action, which caused bodily injury to the arrestee, stemmed from frustration. He also admitted that he had no legitimate justification for using force.
U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston condemned Shelton’s action, maintaining that law enforcement officers are meant to “protect and serve.” Featherston explained that officers who do not follow the laws they are sworn to enforce thereby erode the public’s trust in law enforcement.
Assistant Attorney General Clarke added that the Justice Department will continue to ensure that law enforcement officers who “abuse their authority by using excessive force to deprive people of their constitutional rights” are held accountable.
“Those who hold leadership positions inside sheriff’s offices violate the public trust when they abuse their official authority and position to carry out assaults on people detained in their custody,” Clarke said.
Shelton’s case is in the middle of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office. A sentencing date will then be set. Shelton faces up to 44 months in federal prison under a plea agreement with prosecutors.
The FBI Dallas Field Division investigated this case, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracey Batson for the Eastern District of Texas and trial attorneys Kathryn E. Gilbert and Matthew Tannenbaum of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division served as prosecutors.