Gary Smejkal to serve as precinct 1 constable

Gary Smejkal addresses Victoria County commissioners. Smejkal was appointed to serve as the constable for Precinct 1 in Victoria County after a district judge suspended Jesse Garza.

Victoria County commissioners decided Monday to stop paying Jesse Garza, the suspended constable for Precinct 1 who is facing charges of sexual assault and official oppression.

Garza was indicted in December after law enforcement investigated a report from a Victoria woman who said Garza had assaulted her while they were both in his patrol car in 2017.

Commissioners agreed to suspend Garza’s pay after months of frustration from other county officials and some Precinct 1 residents, who complained Garza was continuing to collect his $40,667 yearly salary without doing any work. Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Mary Ann Rivera said Garza had stopped working as bailiff for her courtroom, one of his constitutional obligations.

There are limited options to remove an elected official, such as Garza, from office if they haven’t been convicted of a crime. Rivera chose to take action via a complicated measure allowed by the Texas local government code, which permits citizens to file a petition for removal if they have evidence that the official in question is incompetent or has committed official misconduct. After Rivera filed her petition, a district judge suspended Garza and appointed Gary Smejkal to serve as constable in Garza’s stead. Smejkal is a Precinct 1 resident and former sheriff’s deputy and police officer.

At their weekly meeting Monday, commissioners agreed to pay Smejkal, including benefits, while he serves as constable. Smejkal will get paid the same salary as other constables as long as he is in the position.

They also decided to suspend Garza’s pay. He will continue receiving benefits depending on the outcome of Rivera’s petition.

“We thought it would be most prudent to leave the benefits in place even though the salary may be suspended,” County Judge Ben Zeller said Monday. “Whatever the outcome of this trial may be, it could be that Constable Garza is put back in place, in which case, if there’s a lapse in health insurance, and expenses arise there, who would be on the hook for that? Probably safest just to leave that in place while this is all sorted out.”

It’s unclear when, or if, Garza could return to the position. If he is convicted of misdemeanor official oppression in the criminal trial, he would automatically be removed from office. The petition filed by Rivera will end in a civil trial, and a jury would decide whether to remove Garza from his position.

Garza’s term ends in 2020. He did not respond to a phone call Monday requesting comment.

Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara.

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Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can contact her by emailing cmccarthy@vicad.com.

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