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Former Van Zandt County chief deputy admits to striking handcuffed suspect multiple times, sentenced for excessive force

Steven “Craig” Shelton, 62, admitted that in September 2021 he hit a handcuffed suspect, who was being compliant, in the face multiple times, court documents say.
Credit: AlessandroPhoto / iStock

VAN ZANDT COUNTY, Texas — A former Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy has been sentenced to more than three and a half years in prison for excessive force, officials say.

According to court documents, 62-year-old Steven “Craig” Shelton admitted that on Sept. 21, 2021, he hit a handcuffed suspect, who was being compliant, in the face multiple times, causing injuries. 

Shelton told investigators that the incident took place in front of several other officers in the Rolling Oaks area of Wills Point, Texas. Shelton also admitted that he was “frustrated” with the suspect, despite there being no legitimate reason to use excessive force, officials said.

“This defendant abused his authority as a law enforcement officer by violently assaulting and injuring a handcuffed arrestee, violating the victim’s civil rights and the public’s trust,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said. “The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable those officers who abuse their authority, wherever such abuses occur.”

Shelton previously pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced to 44 months in prison for violating an arrestee’s civil rights by using excessive force, the Justice Department announced in a news release on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

“It is an unacceptable abuse of authority for a police officer to strike a handcuffed arrestee who poses no threat,” said U.S. Attorney Damien M. Diggs for the Eastern District of Texas. 

“Public trust in law enforcement is eroded when officers do not follow the laws they are sworn to enforce. While recognizing that a vast majority of law enforcement officers protect the constitutional rights of individuals on a daily basis, the U.S. Attorney’s Office remains committed to protecting the public from officers who violate those rights," he said. 

Shelton’s case was investigated by the FBI Dallas Field Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracey Batson for the Eastern District of Texas and Special Litigation Counsel Kathryn E. Gilbert and Trial Attorney Matthew Tannenbaum of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.

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