DALLAS – A Dallas County jury found a father not guilty Tuesday of theft for taking away his daughter's cell phone as punishment.
Ronald Jackson, 36, was charged with theft of property of at least $50 but under $500, a Class B misdemeanor.
Dallas County Criminal Court Judge Lisa Green ordered the jury to find Jackson not guilty after ruling the state failed to present sufficient evidence to continue the case.
Jackson said he took his 12-year-old daughter's cell phone as punishment after finding inappropriate texts in September 2013. A few hours later, officers from the Grand Prairie Police Department showed up at his front door, asking for the iPhone 4 back.
"At that point, I decided the police don't interfere with my ability to parent my daughter," Jackson said.
Michelle Steppe, the child's mother, sees it differently.
"As a mom, I'm upset because — number one — the property belongs to me," she said.
Steppe told jurors on Monday she called police the day her daughter lost the use of her phone for disciplinary reasons.
"You can't take someone's property, regardless if you're a parent or not," Steppe said.
Ronald Jackson and Michelle Steppe readily admit they are not a couple anymore. Jackson said they were never married but had a child together. Steppe said Jackson didn't become a part of his daughter's life until she was seven.
Three months after the phone incident, Jackson received a citation in the mail for theft of property less than $50 in value, a Class C misdemeanor. According to court documents, the city attorney's office offered a plea deal in January 2014 if Jackson returned the phone.
Jackson hired an attorney and requested a jury trial in municipal court.
Court filings indicate the city attorney's office requested the case be dismissed that same month and refiled with the Dallas County District Attorney's office as a more stringent Class B misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Cameron Gray, a defense attorney representing Jackson, said a warrant was issued, and his client was arrested at his home in the middle of the night in April 2015. Jackson posted a cash bail of $1,500 to get out of jail.
On Wednesday, Detective Lyle Gensler with Grand Prairie police told News8 officers made several unsuccessful attempts to return the property to its owner.
"We do not like these kinds of instances to go into the criminal justice system," Gensler says. "We prefer to keep it out and the phone be returned and let the parents, the two adults, and let them work it out among themselves."
Michelle Steppe is married to a Grand Prairie police officer.
"In the entire investigation that never came into play," Gensler says.
During the two-day trial, Jackson's daughter, now 15, took the stand and testified about her father taking her phone.
"It was the last thing as a mother I wanted my daughter to go through," Steppe says. "I'm always here for my kids."
Steppe said she was confused by the verdict because she purchased the phone and maintained cell phone plans under her name.
"Even if you purchase something with your own money and have a receipt, it's not yours," Steppe says. "Someone can take it from you."
Jackson says the ordeal has permanently ended any chances to have a relationship with his daughter.
"I have to separate myself from them," Jackson says. "I can't ever have a relationship with them again."
Gray says the case is not over. He says he plans to file a federal complaint for civil rights violations for the way his client was treated by the Grand Prairie Police Department and the city attorney's office.
Detective Lyle Gensler with Grand Prairie police told News8 officers made several unsuccessful attempts to return the property to its owner.
Jackson still has the phone.