Former Llano police chief loses appeal of 2018 jury convictions

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Kevin Ratliff walked through the doors of the Llano County courthouse on Jan. 11, he made a stop at the security screening like any other citizen. Ratliff wasn’t able to flash a police badge and walk right through this time.

That’s because Ratliff lost his ability to police in 2018 after a jury convicted him of three of the highest-level misdemeanors under Texas law for the crimes of: two counts of official oppression and one count of tampering with a government record.

Grant Harden, Jared Latta, Aimee Shannon and Kevin Ratliff (Llano Police Photo)
Grant Harden, Jared Latta, Aimee Shannon and Kevin Ratliff (Llano Police Photo)

Ratliff was one of four Llano officers charged with unlawfully arresting a man in May 2017. The man, Cory Nutt, had yelled at Officer Grand Harden for speeding through his neighborhood, according to court records. Harden later showed up at Nutt’s door—along with Officer Aimee Shannon, Sergeant Jared Latta and Chief Ratliff.

Body camera video obtained by KXAN shows the four trying to convince Nutt to come out of his home. The video also shows the officers threaten Nutt with a taser and at one point in the video, Ratliff threatens to call Nutt’s supervisor.

Officers threatened to arrest Nutt throughout the video; accusing him of being drunk in public. The video shows Nutt was inside his home during the entire incident.

Ratliff eventually walked inside Nutt’s home—without a warrant—and stood behind him. Nutt eventually walked out of his home and the officers cuffed him and took him to jail. Ratliff also accused Nutt of resisting arrest because he refused to walk out of his home.

The Llano County grand jury indicted all four officers with various charges connected to the Nutt incident. Ratliff was later convicted of each charge. Harden and Latta were also convicted in separate jury trials.

Former officer Aimee Shannon has not been convicted and her official oppression charge remains pending with no trial date set.

In August 2018, Ratliff appealed his conviction claiming there was “insufficient” evidence to sustain his convictions. Ratliff also claimed the trial judge made a mistake when issuing the jury charge and defining a police officer as “a public servant.”

Ratliff — convicted of tampering with a government record — also argued that it was Officer Harden who prepared the police report from the Nutt incident and it was Harden who omitted the details of Ratliff going into Nutt’s home without the legal authority to do so.

Prosecutors argued by initialing Harden’s police report detailing what happened during the call, Ratliff agreed to omitting that detail from the official government record.

Ratliff, the indictment stated, “…did then and there, with intent to defraud or harm another, namely, Cory Nutt, make or present or use a governmental record, namely, a Llano Police offense report, in case number L 17-130, by omitting or misrepresenting facts of the arrest of Cory Nutt, and the Defendant made or presented or used the governmental record with knowledge of its falsity.”

The Ratliff appeal asked for each of his convictions to be overturned.

Ratliff’s side argued he had a right to go into Nutt’s home without a warrant because he “…witnessed Cory Nutt committing the offense of resisting arrest, for what he could have reasonably believed was a felony, in his presence or within his view, he would have also reasonably believed he was authorized to arrest him without a warrant,” Ratliff’s side wrote in the August 2018 appeal.

In 2018 and 2019, a total of 5 Llano Police officers and 1 Llano County Sheriff’s deputy were indicted on police abuse-related crimes in three separate arrests of citizens. These are the case files in the Llano County District Clerk’s Office. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr

On Feb. 14, the Third Court of Appeals ended the former chief’s pursuit of having his criminal convictions undone. The court published a 39-page order denying Ratliff’s appeal and upheld the three guilty verdicts.

“Having overruled all of Ratliff’s issues on appeal, we affirm the district court’s judgments of conviction,” the order stated.

Only one of the six justices on the appeals court sided with Ratliff — but only on one point. “While I join most of the Court’s opinion, I cannot agree that this trial court’s erroneous instruction, over objection, relieving the State of proving one element of the offense, is harmless,” Justice Chari L. Kelly wrote in her order.

Kelly believed the jury charge defining a police officer as a public servant was enough of an error to send Ratliff’s case back to the trial court.

Ratliff could appeal further. Ratliff declined to comment when contacted by KXAN. Instead, Ratliff’s attorney responded to say “The case is on-going and it would be inappropriate for either him or me to comment,” Attorney David Schulman wrote in an email to KXAN.

Schulman added that he has not yet made a decision on appealing the case further.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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