LLANO, Texas (KXAN) – Grand jury indictments against a city of Llano police officer and a Llano County deputy are the latest in a series of criminal charges against the largest municipal police force in the county.
On Aug. 13, a grand jury indicted Llano Police Officer Mark Burke and Llano County Deputy Duncan Roberts each on three counts of official oppression after trying to pick a lock at a home, then kicking the door in and arresting a man inside.
The August indictments are the latest in a string of criminal charges that have led to the resignation, suspension and termination of five Llano city cops —including the force’s police chief.
Roberts is the first Llano County Sheriff's Office deputy charged in connection to any of the abuse of power charges since the first indictment came down in December 2017.
As of this report, five officers are awaiting trial on multiple counts of abuse of power charges.
Officers in Trouble
In December, Llano Officer Grant Harden was indicted on six counts; including charges of tampering with dash camera footage of a DWI stop, tampering with the video of an arrest, using excessive force against a woman he was arresting and unlawful arrest of that woman on charges of assaulting a public servant and resisting arrest.
Harden was later indicted a third time, charged with assaulting another woman prosecutors said he “unlawfully” charged with resisting arrest on April 26, 2016.
In January, in a second round of indictments against Harden, prosecutors accused him of unlawfully arresting Cory Nutt, a man who yelled at Harden, accusing the officer of speeding through his neighborhood just past 10 p.m. on May 2, 2017. The body camera video from the arrest that night shows Nutt standing in the doorway of his home, asking why a group of Llano officers wanted him to “step out” of his home to talk to them.
Nutt would not walk out of the house. The video shows officers threatening him with arrest and threatening to call his boss in what appears to be an attempt to get Nutt fired. The officers accused Nutt of using profanity and being drunk in public, although the video shows Nutt didn't leave his house and wouldn’t allow the officers inside.
“If you like wearing that shirt that says LCRA, I suggest you come on down here and start talking. If not, I’ve got four charges on you now, sorry, three. And I promise you, when I get off the phone with your supervisor, you will not be wearing that shirt anymore,” one of the Llano officers tells Nutt. The officers threatened Nutt’s job on three separate occasions during the encounter, the video shows.
None of the Llano officers ever presented Nutt with an arrest warrant or a warrant to enter his home. Eventually, Nutt stepped out of the house after Officer Aimee Shannon points a taser at him and the officers threaten him with it, “Do you want tased,” a cop asks Nutt, “She’s fixing to tase you, dude.”
“Please don’t,” Nutt told the officer while the red laser light on the end of Shannon’s stun gun bounced between Nutt’s crotch and abdomen.
Nutt eventually steps outside where he’s handcuffed and taken to jail. Nutt’s attorney, Austin Kaplan confirmed the charges were later dropped against his client.
Along with Harden, the January indictments also charged Llano Police Chief Kevin Ratliff, Officer Jared Latta and Officer Shannon with abuse of power-related charges stemming from the Nutt case.
Aside from Ratliff, the remaining officers have pleaded not guilty to the charges and are free on bond, awaiting trial. Of those officers, only Harden's attorney responded to KXAN for comment on this report.
"The cases that were indicted recently in Llano County involve complicated constitutional and legal principles that lawyers, judges and constitutional scholars cannot even agree on…When you start prosecuting police officers for official oppression based on grey or unsettled areas of law; they are not taught that law in the academy or subsequent training, or there are no policies or procedures available you are soon going to run into a situation where officers will hesitate to act - this will result in an innocent victim or Officer being seriously injured or worse." - Travis Williamson, Officer Grant Harden's Attorney
Video of Chief Kevin Ratliff during Nutt's arrest:
On July 19, a jury found Chief Ratliff guilty of all three counts against him in the Nutt case. The jury determined Ratliff omitted the facts related to Nutt's case. The chief had originally pleaded not guilty to the charges. He was then sentenced to six months in jail but the judge probated his sentence for a year so he won't have to serve any jail time.
“My attorney is working on an appeal now, so I can’t say anything just yet,” Ratliff told KXAN when contacted this week. “When it’s all said and done, I have a lot to tell. There’s case law that justifies what we did."
'Don’t Try to Break into My House'
On June 9, Roberts and Burke responded to a 911 call of domestic violence at a home just outside of town off State Highway 29.
Burke was responding as back up for the deputy. Burke was also wearing a body camera and turned it on after getting to the scene.
Burke, the video shows, met with a woman in the home’s driveway who told Burke she got into an argument with her live-in boyfriend, Clay Holley, who tried to keep her and their kids from leaving the home. The woman told officers Holley never hit her and that Holley had walked back inside their house and locked the door.
The video shows Burke and Roberts shining flashlights into Holley’s home and Burke walked inside the garage. Roberts can be heard knocking on Holley’s front door several times. Holley never answered the door.
Burke said a deadbolt was keeping them from getting inside. Burke pulled a lock pick kit from his police truck and tried for nearly two minutes to break into Holley’s front door.
Seconds later, Holley walked out of a bedroom and to the front door as Burke was picking the lock. “Don’t try to break into my house,” Holley yelled at Burke and Roberts.
The officers ordered Holley several times to open his door, the video shows.
“No, I’m not opening nothing. No, you have no right coming into my house,” Holley yelled at the officers through his glass front door.
“Open the door or we’re coming through it! A domestic occurred here, we’re going to conduct an investigation,” Burke yelled back.
The video shows Burke pull his taser as Roberts gives Holley a few final warnings and a three-count that he’s going to kick his door in.
“I’m not playing with you man,” Roberts said as he started kicking the door. On the fourth kick, Roberts forced Holley’s door open and rushed inside to arrest him.
“Dude, stop, this is my house! Stop,” Holley yelled as the officers rushed inside.
“Get on the ground. What did we tell you over and over,” Roberts said as Holley placed his hands behind his back and laid himself out on the floor of his house.
“You’re going to jail,” Roberts told Holley as he stood over him. The officers held Holley in the back of a patrol unit for nearly an hour, then later took the handcuffs off and let him go.
Holley was never charged with a crime.
Video of officers kicking in Holley's door:
What's Going on in Llano
Llano city officials have known about the allegations against their police force for nearly a year. The first indictments came down nine months ago. Since then, the grand jury’s handed up indictments against five of the department’s eight officers.
"It is what it is and you just move forward and go on,” Llano City Manager Scott Edmonson told KXAN during our interview with him at city hall on Aug. 20.
"I haven't got into it in too much detail yet. I mean, we're just dealing with it right now,” Edmonson said of questions over whether the city’s investigated the abuse of power allegations into its police force.
Edmonson would not talk about any details involving the charges. KXAN Jody Barr's questions didn’t deal with details of the charges but dealt specifically with the city’s attempts to figure out why prosecutors found alleged criminal conduct with two-thirds of its police force.
"Again, I don't want to get into that because I think that's going to go towards the individual cases and I don't want to go there,” the city manager explained when asked how this looks to the public.
Edmonson would also not answer any questions about Ratliff’s leadership at the department.
I know I'm not answering your questions, and I'm not going there...
When asked if there was a climate of corruption at the police department, Edmonson said, "Uh, no."
When asked if Edmonson could be certain of that given the city’s done nothing to investigate that angle, Edmonson replied, “Can we be sure of anything?”
Llano County Sheriff Bill Blackburn also agreed to an interview with KXAN. The sheriff found out about Deputy Duncan Roberts’ involvement in the June 9 call the night it happened, he said.
"We questioned this ourselves and we sent it over to the DA's office at the request of them and let them review it," Blackburn said.
The sheriff disciplined Roberts the Monday after the incident and stripped him of his police powers and put Roberts on paid administrative leave when the indictment came down. Blackburn didn’t allow Roberts to sit at home to earn his pay, he put his deputy to work in the county jail until the criminal charges are resolved.
"I think for the citizens of the county, if he's going to be on paid leave, he should be working for it,” Blackburn said.
"He's just a really good man. He may have made a mistake; I can't say one way or another. That's for a jury to decide now," Blackburn said of Roberts. "If I ever had a bad officer that I thought was working for me, he wouldn't be working for me, I'd fire him. I don't want people bringing disgrace on the office, and I don't feel my officer brought disgrace on the office. If anything, he made a mistake — or he didn't make a mistake — that's for a jury to decide,” Blackburn said.
"We're supposed to catch them; they're supposed to clean them."
The sheriff also said he doesn’t begrudge Llano County District Attorney Sonny McAfee, a former cop, for prosecuting the officers. “It's the way the system's supposed to work. We're supposed to catch them; they're supposed to clean them."
A trial date for Grant Harden is set for Oct. 9. The trial will take place in Burnet County after the judge in the case granted a change of venue from Llano County after arguments over whether Harden could get a fair trial there.