Former deputy pleads guilty to official oppression
Jan. 11, 2016 at 11:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 12, 2016 at 6 a.m.
A former Victoria County Sheriff's deputy investigated for using excessive force with a motorist agreed to permanently surrender his peace officer's license.
Daniel Bettes was offered a plea agreement Monday, the day his jury trial was supposed to start.
Bettes pleaded guilty to official oppression, a class A misdemeanor. He was sentenced to two years deferred adjudication probation and 200 hours of community service. He was fined $2,000.
Under deferred adjudication, the charge could be dismissed if he completes the term successfully.
Bettes, 46, did not plead guilty to the felonies listed on his indictment, aggravated perjury and tampering with a government record to defraud or harm, although he admitted to committing the latter, according to court documents.
The charges stemmed from an Oct. 10, 2014, traffic stop of commercial truck driver Guadalupe Perez, 60. Bettes arrested Perez for evading arrest or detention. Perez, who was tased twice and received a head injury in the incident, has contended he did not do anything wrong, let alone anything to necessitate the force Bettes used.
District Attorney Stephen Tyler declined to prosecute Perez.
Tyler said Monday the plea agreement guaranteed Bettes would not be a peace officer anymore in Texas and diminished his chances of becoming a peace officer in another state, which protects the public. He thought that was important, especially because of what has happened in St. Louis, Baltimore and Tulsa, Okla., over the years.
"The Texas Municipal League (which represented Bettes) has very capable attorneys, and they seldom plea, so that, to me, demonstrates there was a strong case in large part in my opinion because the individual officers at the sheriff's office did not tolerate this," Tyler said. "They felt besmirched by his conduct, and they were all cooperative with the prosecution."
Tyler would have called 21 witnesses to the stand. Some would have testified about Bettes' other unbecoming conduct, including pushing a resident and crashing his patrol car while traveling 90 to 100 mph in separate incidents. In the latter incident, Bettes was going to Lavaca County to assist the SWAT team in a hostage situation, but he was not needed, Tyler said.
Neither Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor nor Chief Deputy Roy Boyd could be reached for comment Monday.
The Victoria Advocate filed Monday an open records request with the Victoria County Sheriff's Office for the video in the case.
Last year, Bettes' case highlighted some flaws not only in the Victoria County Sheriff's Office's hiring practices but in the hiring practices of all law enforcement in Texas. Some sheriffs described other law enforcement agencies as being unwilling to be honest or forthcoming about former employees because they feared being sued.
Tyler said Tuesday the Keller Police Department, which fired Bettes for similar behavior before he came to the Crossroads, did not return the Victoria County Sheriff's Office's calls about Bettes. Tyler said he was able to obtain Bettes' employment records from the Keller Police Department through a grand jury subpoena.
Defense Attorney Scot Courtney, of San Marcos, was prepared Monday to re-urge a motion Judge Robert Cheshire denied last week to Judge Eli Garza. The motion was to try the misdemeanor charge separately from the felonies, which Courtney thought the law required. Because Bettes accepted the plea agreement, the motion became moot.
Courtney said his client chose to accept the plea because he thought it was in his best interest, not necessarily because he thought he would lose.
"In any good plea agreement, neither side is completely happy," Courtney said. "But both sides have to feel they have been treated fairly, which I feel like is the case here."
He said neither side lost the opportunity to give the public a fuller explanation of what happened Oct. 14, 2014.
"Now that the case is disposed of, all the evidence is public information," Courtney said. "The story is the videotape of the stop. It's all there."
But Perez's civil attorney, Bobby Garcia, said it is not "all there" - at least not in the video. That's because Bettes parked in front of Perez's vehicle. His dashboard camera was pointed away from the pair's interaction.
But not having video or a large criminal sentence does not weaken the civil case his client plans to file, Garcia said.
"It is completely to the contrary. The fact there has been a successful prosecution against him makes it a lot easier to prove certain types of information," Garcia, of McAllen, said.
"What's important is not only the evidence you're able to prove but the evidence that does not exist. It's evidence that does not exist because it was intentionally taken out by this particular police officer," Garcia added.
Garcia declined to specify what laws he would claim the county or Bettes' violated in a lawsuit except to say "when you go hunting at a courthouse, you go loaded for a bear."