DOJ: Former Texas chief deputy pleads guilty to violating federal civil rights of handcuffed detainee he assaulted ‘out of frustration’

Former Texas Chief Deputy Steven “Craig” Shelton, 61 (KPRC)

VAN ZANDT COUNTY, Texas – A former Texas chief deputy pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to violating an arrestee’s civil rights by using excessive force against him during an arrest last year, the US Attorney’s Office announced.

During the plea hearing, Steven “Craig” Shelton, 61, admitted that on or about Sept. 21, 2021, while he was acting as the chief deputy and second-in-command of the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office, he repeatedly struck a handcuffed and compliant arrestee in the face.

Shelton further admitted that his acts, which occurred in front of several other officers in the Rolling Oaks area of Wills Point, Texas, caused bodily injury to the detainee. Shelton said he struck the victim out of frustration, despite knowing that there was no legitimate, law enforcement need to use force, prosecutors said.

“Those who hold leadership positions inside sheriff’s offices violate the public trust when they abuse their official authority and position to carry out assaults on people detained in their custody,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. “The Department of Justice will continue to hold accountable law enforcement officers, at every level, who abuse their authority by using excessive force to deprive people of their constitutional rights.”

With his guilty plea and pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement, the defendant faces a 44-month prison sentence.

“It is the undisputed duty of a law enforcement officer to protect and serve,” said U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston. “Public trust in law enforcement is eroded when officers do not follow the laws they are sworn to enforce, and my office will continue to hold those accountable who think they are above the law.”

“Officers who use excessive force break the trust of their communities and their oath to protect and serve,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Violating the civil rights of an arrestee is a clear abuse of authority and will not be tolerated by the FBI. We are dedicated to upholding the constitutional rights of everyone and expect those in law enforcement to do the same.”

A sentencing date will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.