Jurors learned Friday that the man they had just convicted was fired years ago from the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office for harassing another man and sending revenge porn to his friends and family.

“Mr. Garza had a long history of harassing people on duty,” said Special Prosecutor Tim Poynter. “This has been an ongoing problem.”

Former sheriff’s office investigator Herb Tucker found former Precinct 1 Victoria County constable Jesse Garza in 2013 had sent sexually explicit photos of a man he had a sexual relationship with for five years. In 2015, Texas lawmakers made unlawful disclosure or promotion of intimate visual material a state jail felony. At the time, Garza was employed as a deputy in the office.

“Today, it would be a crime,” said Poynter, who was assisted in his prosecution by Houston attorney Daniel Barrera.

After that testimony, jurors then took about 15 minutes to return a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine for official oppression for Garza, who turns 39 on Sunday.

Jurors were allowed to choose between jail time or probation, for which District Judge Bobby Bell would decide the terms.

The sentence came a day after a jury of 11 women and one man found Garza guilty of official oppression and returned a not-guilty verdict for sexual assault, a second-degree felony that carries a sentence of two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. In this case, official oppression was defined as a peace officer’s abuse of power to sexually harass a person.

Defense attorney Dexter Eaves asked jurors to give Garza probation, saying that doing so would be more severe for the convicted former constable.

“He’s going to walk out a free man with nothing on him ... He’s going to pack up his stuff and go to West Texas,” said Eaves about jail time, adding, “You’re not being soft. You’re being tough.”

That wasn’t enough considering Garza had betrayed the public trust bestowed on him, Poynter said.

“He had the authority we gave him as a society ... and he exploited it. He is no better than anyone in that jail,” said Poynter.

Garza’s victim took the stand again Friday to tell jurors that since accusing the man of sexually assaulting her along a darkened, isolated Victoria County roadway in 2017, she has lived with feelings of shame, mistrust for other law enforcement officers and worry of reprisal from Garza himself.

“I feel I have to be more vigilant,” the woman testified.

The woman’s mother said she was proud of her daughter’s courage but also worried about the damage to her reputation by bringing the case to trial.

“She stood up for what she believed in regardless of how people are going to look at her, what this can do to her reputation and what this can do to her future,” the mother said. “She still stood by it because what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong.”

The Victoria Advocate does not identify victims of sexual harassment or assault.

During his testimony earlier Friday, Tucker said he began his investigation after receiving a complaint from a man who claimed to have been harassed by Garza.

After ending their relationship, Tucker said, Garza had sent six photos of the man engaged in sex with other men, whose sexuality was then a secret.

Recipients included the man’s fiancee as well as other loved ones.

Tucker said he determined the photos were sent from Garza’s email address and harassing phone calls were made from a pay phone near the former constable’s home.

The conclusions of Tucker’s report led Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor to fire Garza, said the former investigator.

Although the Victoria Advocate reported in 2016 that Garza had been fired for “distributing obscene material,” he nevertheless won the constable’s office in a runoff election by five votes.

Friday, Garza remained in the Victoria County Jail, where he will serve his entire yearlong sentence, said Chief Deputy Roy Boyd.

Former peace officers must be housed in segregation for their own safety, meaning Garza will have no opportunity to serve as a jail trustee, which would allow him the possibility of early release, Boyd said.

Boyd added sheriff’s officials do not set early release rules but instead follow laws already set by the state. Additionally, Garza’s conviction means he will never be allowed to serve as a peace officer again in Texas.

Although prosecutors had hoped to send Garza to prison for sexual assault, the mother of Garza’s accuser said the conviction for official oppression was still a victory.

“I told her ... ‘After today we can put this behind us,’” her mother said, adding, “‘You’re going to have a badge, and he’s not.’”

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

(2) comments

David Murray

Will he really spend time behind bars?

jwilcox Staff
Jon Wilcox

Great question! sheriff's officials tell me that Garza will in fact spend an entire year in the county jail because a safety requirement to segregate him from other inmates means he won't be able to accrue any time for good behavior.

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