EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
BURNET — A Burnet County jury deliberated for about seven hours July 19 before acquitting suspended Llano Police Chief Kevin Ratliff of felony tampering charges. However, the jury did convict the man on three Class A misdemeanors.
“It was a huge win for Kevin,” said his defense attorney, Austin Shell. “Because he retains his right to vote, he retains his right to have a firearm, and it helps him in future employment possibilities. A felony conviction would have changed his life dramatically.”
Ratliff was charged with two counts of official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor, and one count of tampering with a government record to defraud or cause harm, a state jail felony, in regard to the May 2, 2017, arrest of Cory Nutt at his Llano residence. A grand jury indicted Ratliff in February of this year on the charges for his role in the arrest.
The Burnet County jury convicted Ratliff on the Class A misdemeanor official oppression counts as well as a Class A misdemeanor tampering charge. The jury had a choice between convicting him of a felony level tampering charge or the Class A misdemeanor.
All three misdemeanor convictions are punishable by up to a year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine. Punishment will be assessed at a later date.
Wiley “Sonny” McAfee said the charges stem from how officers arrested Nutt then handled the ensuing paperwork. During the arrest, McAfee said Ratliff entered the private residence to arrest the suspect on public intoxication charges, but the district attorney pointed out the officers involved, including Ratliff, didn’t have any justification to go into the home.
“The fact they went into his residence — that wasn’t a public place — for a public intoxication arrest, you just can’t go into someone’s home and arrest them without a warrant, without consent, or exigent circumstances,” McAfee said. “And the jury obviously found there was no exigent circumstances in this situation.”
Three other officers involved in the arrest also face charges for their alleged actions during the incident.
As for the tampering with a government record charge, McAfee said that had to do with the official report.
“The officers misrepresented what happened in the arrest in that they left out going into (Nutt’s) residence,” he said.
Though his office did get convictions in the case, McAfee admitted it was a tough one.
“Obviously, I have mixed feelings being a strong supporter of law enforcement and with a background in law enforcement. It’s always tough when there’s an officer, especially a police chief, involved,” he said. “But, the jury got it right. They worked hard. I know they paid a lot of attention to the details.”
Shell shared similar thoughts about the jury.
“They did a tremendous job,” the defense attorney said. “They really paid attention to the evidence and worked hard in their deliberations. They followed the law, and I can’t say enough for them.”
Shell also pointed out that his client received a tremendous amount of support from his family and the community. Shell estimated that, over the course of the four-day trial, which began Monday, July 16, there were no fewer than 50 people in the courtroom for Ratliff.
“The community was behind him. They didn’t want him convicted of a felony,” Shell said. “Kevin is such a good man. We were really happy he was cleared of the felony charge.”
Ratliff’s future in law enforcement is yet to be determined. The city of Llano placed him “on leave with pay” on Jan. 12 of this year and named an interim chief “pending the outcome of the investigation.”
While a felony would have ended his law enforcement career, Shell said there is still hope that Ratliff can remain in the field.
“He’s entitled to a hearing on what’s going to happen to him; it was just waiting for the outcome of this trial before it could proceed,” Shell said.
McAfee said the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement application states that a person with a Class A misdemeanor conviction is disqualified for life from becoming a peace officer in Texas.
“But a city or agency can apply for a waiver on a person’s behalf if they want to hire him,” the district attorney said.
The trial took place in State District Judge Evan Stubbs’s courtroom.