A former Progreso Police Department officer accused of sexually assaulting people after late-night traffic stops will take the case against him to trial on Tuesday.
Officer Matthew Sepulveda detained two people — a 20-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy — during separate incidents in June 2019, according to federal court records. When they arrived at the city jail, Sepulveda allegedly performed oral sex on them.
A grand jury indicted Sepulveda on two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, a federal civil rights charge. He pleaded not guilty.
“He’s entitled to a defense,” said attorney Mauro L. Reyna III of Peñitas, who represents Sepulveda. “And he’s exercising his right to a jury trial.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.
Matthew Lee Sepulveda, 25, of San Juan worked in law enforcement for five years before he was arrested.
Sepulveda applied for a job at the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office in June 2013, when he graduated from high school.
The Sheriff’s Office hired Sepulveda for an entry-level job at the Hidalgo County jail, which paid about $30,000, according to personnel records. He started in February 2014.
After three years at the jail, Sepulveda received promotions to corporal and sergeant in 2017. He also graduated from the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council police academy, which allowed Sepulveda to become a reserve deputy.
Sepulveda, though, abruptly resigned in October 2018, when he was accused of recording a meeting without permission.
“The internal investigation produced a preponderance of evidence to prove an incident of officer misconduct occurred,” according to a summary of the investigation. “However, prior to Sgt. Sepulveda being served with the Internal Investigation notification, he resigned.”
That December, less than two months after he resigned, the Sheriff’s Office investigated allegations that Sepulveda and a detention corporal provided drugs to inmates.
In recorded phone calls, inmates arranged for people to provide Sepulveda with drugs.
“Through the conversations they refer to Sgt. Sepulveda as ‘the guy, el vato, jura,’” according to documents from the internal investigation. Inmates also shared his phone number.
The Sheriff’s Office, however, never interviewed Sepulveda about the allegations. He applied for a job with the Progreso Police Department in April 2019.
On his job application, Sepulveda wrote that he resigned from the Sheriff’s Office “due to grandparents being ill,” according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act.
Progreso hired Sepulveda as a police officer. Just two months later, he started to sexually assault the people he arrested, according to court records.
On June 28, when he worked the night shift, Sepulveda arrested a 20-year-old man for driving without insurance or a license.
Sepulveda told the man he would be deported and locked him in a jail cell. Later that night, Sepulveda returned.
They went to another room, where Sepulveda performed oral sex on the man, according to court records. After the sexual assault, Sepulveda released him.
Sepulveda worked the night shift again on June 30, when another police officer pulled over a car with a broken tail light.
Five people were released after the traffic stop, but Sepulveda took a 17-year-old boy back to the police department.
Sepulveda showed the boy pornography and performed oral sex on him, according to court records. After the sexual assault, Sepulveda released him.
It’s illegal for law enforcement officers to engage in any sexual activity with a person in custody.
Investigators with the Sheriff’s Office quickly arrested Sepulveda on sexual assault charges. A federal grand jury indicted him on civil rights charges in October 2019.
Sepulveda pleaded not guilty. The coronavirus pandemic, however, delayed the trial for more than a year.
If convicted, Sepulveda faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.