STAFF WRITER CONNIE SWINNEY
LLANO — A grand jury indicted a beleaguered Llano police officer Dec. 5 on charges of tampering with evidence and official oppression, accusations stemming from a drunk driving traffic stop, officials say.
The Llano County Grand Jury indicted 32-year-old Matthew Grant Harden, who is on leave from the Llano Police Department, after the panel assessed allegations made by the motorists involved.
Harden arrested Jenny Cambiano and Enrique Gonzales in June 2017, on alcohol-related charges during a traffic stop, along with additional charges against Cambiano for resisting arrest and assault on a public servant.
Excerpts of the indictment documents accused Harden of “the false alteration being the defendant turning off the video and audio recording of the arrest . . . or deleting a portion of the video and audio recording of the arrest.”
Further details alleged Harden used “excessive force against or causing bodily injury to” Cambiano.
“The grand jury made a thorough examination of the facts and made a determination that there was probable cause that these crimes had occurred,” Llano County District Attorney Sonny McAfee said.
Harden’s attorney Travis Williamson of the Cedar Park-based Law Office of Travis Williamson and Associates maintains his client is not guilty of the allegations.
“Officer Harden is a distinguished member of the police department. He’s never been accused of using excessive force,” Williamson said. “In the grand jury process the defense is not permitted to present any of the witnesses or any expert witnesses who we anticipate will testify that Officer Harden’s reaction and his conduct that night were reasonable.
“When the case is presented in a full and fair manner to a full jury in an open court room Officer Harden will be fully exonerated,” Williamson added.
The officer turned himself in to the Llano County Jail on the day of the indictment and bonded out the same day.
According to records, his charges include two counts of tampering/fabricating physical evidence with intent to impair, a third degree felony with bonds totaling $6,000; one count of tampering with a governmental record, a state jail felony with a $1,500 bond; and three counts of official oppression, a class A misdemeanor with bonds totaling $2,500.
The “intent to impair” charge is punishable by two to 10 years in prison on each count. Tampering with a record is punishable by up to two years in a state jail facility; and official oppression is punishable by up to one year in a county jail.
“When a police officer is alleged to have committed crimes, that’s an allegation of a violation of the public’s trust,” McAfee said. “Not speaking about this incident but any incident — we have to look at the conduct of our public officials and especially those who enforce our laws to ensure they are complying with the public trust and their responsibility to preserve the law.”
Prior to the indictment, the Llano County Sheriff had barred the jail from accepting Harden’s arrestees.
Harden was also under fire for a social media post which prompted an inter-agency alert by the Texas Department of Public Safety and was perceived as a threat by some staff at the Llano County Courthouse.