Local media reported that jurors deliberated for over four hours before reaching a verdict on each count on Thursday evening. The sentencing phase of the trial began Friday, and prosecutors are asking the jury to give Harris the maximum penalties. According to ABC affiliate KLTV, the state requested that the jury sentence Harris to incarceration rather than probation.
Harris faces a sentence of 180 days to two years in the state jail and a fine of up to $10,000 on the theft charge. Official oppression is a Class A misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of one year in the county jail and a $4,000 fine.
Jurors heard testimony that Harris and his deputies stole cash and other belongings from a residence as they were serving an eviction notice and ostensibly searching for narcotics. Led by Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman, prosecutors also played body camera footage they contended showed Harris stealing items from the dwelling.
Testimony from an investigator with the Texas Ranger Division, Chris Baggett, was also central to the government’s case against Harris. Baggett stated that Harris, former Chief Deputy LaQuenda Banks, and former Deputy Derrick Holman all lied in their interviews with police.
Banks was one of the government’s witnesses against Harris. Prosecutors have also charged Banks and Holman with theft and official oppression. While Banks reportedly told jurors that she had not been promised anything for her testimony, she hoped that her cooperation would result in a better outcome in her own criminal case.
Among other arguments, the defense contended that Harris was oblivious to any wrongdoing that occurred during the search and that the prosecution was politically motivated. Testifying in his own defense, Harris claimed that Putman and the Smith County Commissioners Court were coordinating an effort to oust him.
Texas law includes an unlawful “arrest, detention, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment, or lien” in the definition of official oppression.
Visiting Judge David Brabham suspended Harris from his office in July and appointed Ralph Caraway Jr., an investigator with the district attorney’s office, to be interim constable. Prior to his suspension, Harris continued to collect a $74,000 annual salary.
Harris ascended to the constable’s office by winning a runoff after the victor in the 2020 Democratic primary was disqualified due to an insufficient number of valid signatures.
During his tenure, Harris quarreled with the commissioners court over the management of his precinct’s office. He also threatened to file a civil rights complaint alleging violations of his and his employees’ constitutional rights during the Texas Rangers’ investigation.
Though Harris posted bail and had been free since November 2021, he was back in custody by the end of May for attending a police graduation ceremony in Navarro County in full uniform with his service weapon. The conditions of his bond stipulated that he could not leave Smith County or possess a firearm.
The Texas Rangers arrested Harris again, whereupon Judge Jack Skeen Jr. increased his bail to $500,000 and then increased it again to $1 million. An appeals court later decided that the bond was “excessive.”
A status hearing in Banks’ case is scheduled for January 17, 2023 in the same court where Harris was convicted. Holman is scheduled for trial on January 23.
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Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."