A Victory County grand jury Thursday indicted a constable on charges of sexual assault and official oppression, the result of a yearlong investigation by the Texas Rangers.
District Attorney Stephen Tyler confirmed the indictment for Victoria County Precinct 1 Constable Jesse Garza is the result of an investigation that began after he received a detailed complaint from a Victoria County resident that included allegations of sexual assault.
As of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, just before the District Clerk’s Office closed, the indictment was not available because it had not been processed, a staff member said.
When reached by phone, Garza, who had not been arrested as of Thursday evening, paused and then said he was “completely unaware” of the indictment and would not comment about it.
In the letter sent to Tyler, a woman said she was sexually assaulted by Garza during a ride-along in 2017.
According to the Texas Penal Code, a public official commits official oppression by subjecting a person to unlawful arrest, detention or seizure; intentionally denying a person’s rights; or committing sexual harassment.
Tyler said official oppression, in regards to Garza’s case, “can happen when under the color of your authority, you sexually assault or harass an individual.”
During an interview with Texas Rangers, the woman said she complied with Garza’s request to touch her body and have sex in a secluded part of the county in 2017, after initially refusing, according to affidavits for a search warrant.
Garza told Rangers that the sex was consensual and occurred while he was off-duty in his personal vehicle, but the woman told Rangers that Garza was driving his county-issued vehicle and wearing his badge and gun at the time of the ride-along, the affidavit said.
In April, Bronwyn Blake, the legal director of Texas Advocacy Project, told the Advocate if Garza were to be indicted for crimes identified by the Rangers, prosecutors may look to Chapter 22 of the Texas Penal Code.
According to the chapter, certain people of authority commit sexual assault when they coerce victims into sex, including clergy, mental health service providers and public servants.
Despite the code’s use of special conditions for certain positions of authority, proving a sexual assault in court is difficult, Blake said in an earlier Advocate report. In March, Garza abandoned some duties of his office since the investigation into the sexual assault complaint began.
Four months later, Victoria County resident Gary Smejkal accused Garza of official misconduct for not doing his job amid a Rangers’ investigation into the sexual assault complaint. Smejkal, who previously worked as a law enforcement officer, asked county commissioners about the process for removing Garza from office, who he accused of not fulfilling his duties as constable, which include serving citations, lawsuits and eviction orders.
Prior to being elected, Garza was fired from his position as a patrol deputy in 2013 for allegedly violating a section of the Texas Penal Code pertaining to the distribution of obscene material.
Three years after his firing, Garza was elected to Victoria County Precinct 1, which includes Bloomington and Placedo, when he beat incumbent Richard Williams in 2016 by five votes.
His indictment will become public after it is processed by the District Clerk’s Office.
Tyler said the indictment “really does speak for itself.”