Former Sheriff Sentenced For Oppression

A former West Texas sheriff accused of making improper advances to a female county worker must serve 30 days in jail for misdemeanor official oppression.

Ex-Swisher County Sheriff Emmett Benavidez of Tulia pleaded guilty Monday in Canyon, about 25 miles south of Amarillo. Benavidez, 65, will be allowed to serve the Randall County jail term on weekends, starting Friday, as part of the plea agreement.

Prosecutors say Benavidez in 2011 sexually harassed a former Swisher County worker while he was on official business in neighboring Randall County. He resigned amid the investigation.

Randall County District Attorney James Farren said Tuesday that the woman videotaped the incident with her phone. He said it happened during daylight hours in a vehicle and that his office was able to verify the offense took place in Randall County by identifying landmarks that appeared in the video's background.

"We had a lot of evidence for the event that occurred in Randall County," Farren said. "That's pretty stout."

Benavidez also was sentenced to a year of probation, fined $500 and must complete 30 hours of community service. He's also required to attend a course on making rational decisions.

In February, the worker and another former Swisher County female employee reached a settlement with Benavidez over sexual harassment. The civil suit alleged that Benavidez fondled himself in front of them and that a Swisher County judge retaliated against them for reporting the incidents. The suit was later amended to include alleged retaliation by Benavidez's successor.

Benavidez, his successor and the judge denied the allegations. The $300,000 settlement dismissed all claims against the successor and judge, the women's attorney, Rob Hogan, told the Amarillo Globe-News at the time.

Tulia, about 75 miles north of Lubbock, was the site of scores of arrests during drug busts in 1999 that gained international attention. The undercover drug agent who built cases against the 46 people who mostly were black was discredited and sentenced to probation for 10 years after a jury found he falsely testified in a hearing.

In 2003, Gov. Rick Perry pardoned 35 of 38 who went to trial or accepted plea agreements.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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