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Former Van Zandt County Chief Deputy Pleads Guilty


WASHINGTON – Steven “Craig” Shelton, 61, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in the Eastern District of Texas to violating an arrestee’s civil rights by using excessive force against him. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston for the Eastern District of Texas, and Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno of the FBI Dallas Field Division made the announcement.

During the plea hearing, Shelton admitted that on or about Sept. 21, 2021, while 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 arrestee. Shelton admittedly hit the arrestee out of frustration, despite knowing there was no legitimate law enforcement need to use force.

“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 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.”

“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.”

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

They will schedule a sentencing date after completing a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

The FBI Dallas Field Division investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracey Batson is prosecuting it for the Eastern District of Texas and Trial Attorneys Kathryn E. Gilbert and Matthew Tannenbaum of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.