TEXAS – A judge has thrown out a felony record-tampering indictment against the first black woman elected sheriff in Texas.
Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens was indicted in April 2018 on a state jail felony charge of record tampering, along with two misdemeanor campaign finance violations.
However, state District Judge Randy McDonald of neighboring Chambers County noted Thursday that Stephens’ two 2016 campaign opponents were charged only with misdemeanor campaign finance violations.
McDonald wondered aloud “why one is being charged with a felony when the other two aren’t.”
So he granted a defense motion for dismissal of the felony count against Stephens.
All three still face trial on the misdemeanor campaign finance violations.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which has been prosecuting the case, says it may appeal.
Stephens, who was elected in 2016, was named in an indictment in April 2018 charging one count of tampering with a government record, a state jail felony, and two counts of accepting cash contributions exceeding $100, both class A misdemeanors.
The two other candidates, Ray Elliott Beck, and Joseph Sterling Stevenson, were both indicted on one count of accepting a cash contribution exceeding $100, a class A misdemeanor.
Beck was also indicted on one count of failure to return a political contribution, which is also a class A misdemeanor.
The indictments stemmed from an investigation by the Texas Rangers and the Attorney General’s Office with assistance from the Chambers County District Attorney’s Office that started after the offenses were discovered during an unrelated federal investigation, Attorney General Ken Paxton said at the time.
“No one is above the law. The conduct of the people indicted by the grand jury is illegal and erodes the public trust. Working with local and state law enforcement, my office intends to hold them accountable,” Paxton said Friday.