A former Victoria County constable who was removed from office in 2019 after being convicted on a corruption charge in a sexual assault case accepted a plea agreement in a separate case Tuesday that allows him to avoid prison time.
Jesse Garza, 40, faced an eight-count indictment for sexual assault, blackmail and corruption. He pled no contest to a charge of obstruction or retaliation and will serve three years of probation and pay $850 in fines and court fees. The other seven charges were dropped.
“I removed him from office, I took his badge, I put him on jail for a year and I put him on probation,” said Tim Poynter, an assistant district attorney in DeWitt, Goliad and Refugio counties who also prosecuted Garza in the two prior trials against him. “Things could have been different, but this is justice. This is a fair outcome.”
The charge against Garza will be dismissed if he complies with the terms of his deferred adjudication probation, but he could face third-degree felony charges leading to two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine if he does not.
The terms of Garza’s probation are the same as typical probations, his attorney, Keith Weiser, said Wednesday.
Weiser declined to comment further on the case’s outcome. Garza could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Garza was narrowly elected Precinct 1 constable in the spring of 2016 after The Advocate reported that he had been fired from the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked as a deputy, in 2013 for distributing obscene material.
The Texas Rangers opened an investigation into Garza in 2017 after a woman who wanted to become a peace officer accused Garza of coercing her into having sex with him during a ride-along on a rural, isolated roadway. After a yearlong investigation, Garza was indicted on charges of sexual assault and official oppression and subsequently removed from office.
A jury found Garza not guilty of sexual assault and guilty of official oppression in 2019, at which point his peace officer license was permanently revoked. He ultimately served eight months in jail.
During the sentencing period of that trial, a former sheriff’s office investigator testified that Garza sent sexually explicit photographs of a man he had a sexual relationship with for five years to that man’s fiancée and other loved ones. The man’s sexuality was a secret at the time. That investigation’s findings led former Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor to fire Garza.
In November 2019, while Garza was still in jail serving his sentence for official oppression, a grand jury indicted him on eight counts of sexual assault, blackmail and corruption.
The indictment charged Garza with forcing a man referred to by the pseudonym “Joe Thomas” to have oral and anal sex with him, stealing property worth $2,500 to $30,000, threatening to distribute sexually explicit images and harassing Thomas while serving as constable.
Thomas, through Poynter, declined to comment on Wednesday, but Poynter said Thomas was present for the prior trials against Garza and felt a plea deal would allow him to avoid the burdens of a public trial.
“The prospect of going through all of the hardship and embarrassment,” contributed to the decision not to take the case to trial, Poynter said. “The stress, the pressure, for a (potential) misdemeanor conviction — it was a hard choice. This is what we decided to do.”
The Advocate does not identify potential victims of sexual crimes.
Prosecutors decided to accept a plea deal on the obstruction and retaliation charge, and let the other seven charges against Garza drop, because the details of that charge “already came to light” during the sentencing phase of the prior trial against Garza, Poynter said.
“I think that it’s important to hold everybody accountable, especially elected officials,” Poynter said. “At this point, I have exhausted all claims against (Garza) that I’m aware of. If anything comes forward, we’ll look at it.”