The Llano City Council this week is expected to decide the fate of Police Chief Kevin Ratliff, who was convicted July 20 of three Class A misdemeanors for his part in a questionable intoxication arrest.
Ratliff’s convictions on official oppression and record-tampering continue the saga of an improper arrest in May 2017 that has left the tiny police department in disarray. The chief and three of his officers who took part in the arrest have been suspended with pay since January. Those three officers are awaiting trial on other charges, and a fourth officer was fired in June.
District Attorney Wiley McAfee began an investigation in January into a charge of public intoxication filed against Cory Nutt. The four officers and Ratliff were indicted on Jan. 31 after it was determined that Nutt was inside his own camper, and that Ratliff went into the trailer to get him. The charge against Nutt was later dropped.
Officers Grant Harden, Jared Latta and Aimee Shannon are free awaiting trial later this year on charges related to the arrest. Officer Melissa Stone, who also took part in the arrest, was fired in June after she was accused of destroying a digital recording of a drug arrest March 26.
Officer Kenneth Poe has been serving as interim police chief since the investigation began, supervising the department’s only other remaining officer. The department for the past several months has gotten assistance from the Llano County Sheriff’s Department, City Secretary Toni Milam told The Texas Monitor on Tuesday.
The city council is expected to discuss in closed session sometime this week the status of Ratliff and other department staffing issues, Milam said. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement’s legal guidelines prohibit anyone convicted of an offense more serious than a Class B misdemeanor in the last 10 years from serving as a peace officer in the state. The guidelines, however, allow a government body to appeal to the commission for a waiver of the guidelines to hire a licensed officer.
“This is not a done deal,” Milam said. “The council will go into executive session to discuss current and past personnel before making any decisions. Nothing’s changed with the department’s operation and no other officers have been brought on.”
The Texas Monitor also contacted City Manager Scott Edmonson for comment, but did not hear back from him at the time this story was published.
A jury in state District Judge Evan Stubbs’ Burnet County court convicted Ratliff of misdemeanor evidence tampering and two misdemeanor counts of official oppression. The jury reduced the evidence-tampering charge from a felony.
Ratliff faces up to a year in jail and as much as a $4,000 fine for each of the convictions.
Harden had already been on paid leave after a grand jury indicted him Dec. 5 on several felony and misdemeanor counts in connection with a suspected drunk driving traffic stop in June 2017.
The jury found probable cause to try Harden for allegedly fabricating evidence, tampering with official records, and oppression. Convictions would bring maximum prison sentences of more than 20 years.
Harden and the other officers had filed paperwork on May 2, 2017, charging Nutt with public intoxication. McAfee’s investigation determined that Ratliff had gone into Nutt’s camper.
“You just can’t go into someone’s home and arrest them without a warrant, without consent, or exigent circumstances,” McAfee told the local DailyTrib.com after the jury brought back its verdict against Ratliff. “And the jury obviously found there was no exigent circumstances in this situation.”
The indicted officers “misrepresented what happened in the arrest in that they left out going into [Nutt’s] residence,” McAfee said. They also left out of the report that Ratliff had forced Nutt out of the camper to make the arrest, the prosecutor said.
After Ratliff’s conviction, McAfee told reporters the jury got it right. “Obviously, I have mixed feelings being a strong supporter of law enforcement and with a background in law enforcement,” he said. “It’s always tough when there’s an officer, especially a police chief, involved.”
Ratliff’s attorney, Austin Shell, called the reduction of the tampering charge to a misdemeanor “a huge win for Kevin.”
“He retains his right to vote, he retains his right to have a firearm, and it helps him in future employment possibilities,” Shell told reporters. “A felony conviction would have changed his life dramatically.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].