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A former Texas police officer was sentenced Tuesday to 30 years in prison after he sexually assaulted two people while on the job: a 17-year-old boy in his care following a traffic stop, and an undocumented man whom he allegedly threatened with deportation before performing oral sex on him.
Matthew Lee Sepulveda—who worked as an officer for the police department in Progreso, Texas, from April to July 2019 before he was ultimately accused of assault and fired—was found guilty of two civil rights violations in March, ahead of his sentencing from U.S. District Judge Randy Crane this week.
Sepulveda’s first assault took place on June 28, 2019, after conducting a traffic stop on a person without a license or insurance, according to a criminal complaint and the Progress Times. An undocumented man, identified only as “CL” in testimony during Sepulveda’s trial, was the victim, the Progress Times reported.
In March, CL testified that he pleaded with Sepulveda to be let go at the time, fearing deportation. Sepulveda responded that he’d “have to do something,” according to the Progress Times.
“I was like: ‘What can I do? I can do community service, sweep, mop, come clean the office,” CL said, according to the Progress Times.
CL recalled that Sepulveda said it wouldn’t be that simple, adding: “And then I kind of stayed quiet for a little bit and he said: ‘I need you to grab that chair, turn out the light, and let me suck your dick.’”
Thinking he didn’t have a choice, CL did what Sepulveda said, according to the Progress Times.
The assault took place in a squad room at the Progreso Police Department, according to the criminal complaint in Sepulveda’s case. CL reported the incident hours after it occurred, and Sepulveda’s DNA was located in his underwear, according to the local U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Progress Times.
But just days later, on June 30, Sepulveda assaulted someone else on the job: a 17-year-old boy he’d also encountered during a traffic stop, according to the criminal complaint.
That traffic stop involved several kids and multiple police officers, according to the criminal complaint, and all of the vehicle occupants were advised to call their parents as a result. The two kids who couldn’t get in touch with their guardians—brothers, according to the Progress Times—were taken back to the Progreso Police Department.
The 17-year-old was taken to the department’s squad room while his brother was in a holding cell. Sepulveda told him he could go home if he did a “favor,” according to the criminal complaint. Sepulveda then touched the teen’s penis and performed oral sex on him.
“I didn’t know what to do,” the teenage victim testified, according to the Progress Times. He didn’t immediately tell anyone about the assault until the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office started investigating Sepulveda, along with the FBI.
Sepulveda is hardly the first officer to be accused of sexual assault; a 2014 study led by researchers at Bowling Green State University in Ohio noted “the job affords unique opportunities for rogue police officers to engage in acts of sexual deviance and crimes against citizens they encounter.” Many of those victimized are minors.
While handing down his order, Judge Crane “commented on the shame and embarrassment to law enforcement as a result of Sepulveda’s actions,” according to a news release Tuesday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.
He wasn’t the only one: “The vast majority of law enforcement officers in the United States are deeply committed to fulfilling their oath to serve and protect our community,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs said of Sepulveda’s case, according to the news release. “Sepulveda betrayed this oath by preying on his victims, exploiting his authority to serve his own personal, depraved interests.”
However, Sepulveda’s attorney at the time of his sentencing, Carlos A. Garcia, noted cops accused of other civil rights offenses have gotten lighter sentences, even in circumstances where the victim died. Take Michael Slager, the South Carolina officer who killed Walter Scott, an unarmed motorist: He received a 20-year sentence in 2017.
“I’m disappointed in the sentence,” Garcia said. “I don’t think it’s proportional to the crimes of conviction.” Garcia also said he believed the trial wasn’t fair, alleging prosecutors failed to disclose allegations about one of Sepulveda’s victims to both defense attorneys and the jury.
When asked for comment about that claim, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas told VICE News, “We became aware of additional information following the return of the verdict and responded quickly and as necessary.”
Crane denied a request for a new trial, the spokesperson added. Garcia said he intends to file a notice of appeal.