Monday marked the first day of trial for a former Victoria County constable accused of sexually assaulting a woman during a ride-along.
District Judge Bobby Bell seated 12 jurors and two alternates after a selection process that took almost the entire day. With the jurors selected, attorneys were on schedule to begin presenting their cases Tuesday morning.
Former Precinct 1 constable Jesse Garza, 38, faces a second-degree felony charge of sexual assault by coercion, which carries a potential sentence of 2-20 years in prison with up to a $10,000 fine. Garza was elected to office by a margin of five votes in 2016 after a runoff. He was removed from office after a one-sided civil trial in early May after failing to appear in court.
Although a grand jury also indicted Garza for official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor, Special Prosecutor Tim Poynter abandoned that charge Monday morning just before the start of jury selection.
The Texas Penal Code defines official oppression as a public servant’s improper use of power for sexual harassment or another form of mistreatment.
According to his indictment, Garza used his position as an elected official and peace officer to demand sex from a Victoria County woman during a ride-along. He also harassed and groped her, the document states.
The Victoria County woman participated in the ride-along because she was an aspiring peace officer, the indictment states.
The Victoria Advocate does not name people who may be victims of sexual assault.
Poynter declined to give details about why he chose to abandon the official oppression charge.
During a pretrial hearing before jurors were selected, Poynter and Garza’s attorney, former Victoria County district attorney Dexter Eaves, discussed with the judge several witnesses they planned to call.
Poynter said the woman who accused Garza would take the stand along with the case’s investigating Texas ranger and other law enforcement officers.
Eaves said he might call County Commissioner Danny Garcia and a Victoria County sheriff’s investigator to pursue questions about the honesty of Garza’s accuser, who has been identified in court documents with a pseudonym.
Trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.