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Trial begins for former Progreso cop accused of sexual assault

An undocumented man testified Tuesday that a police officer arrested him, threatened him with deportation and sexually assaulted him at the Progreso Police Department in June 2019.

Fearful he would be deported, the man — identified during courtroom testimony by the initials “CL” — pleaded with Progreso police Officer Matthew Sepulveda to release him.

“He told me: ‘I can’t just let you off like that. You’re going to have to do something,’” CL said, recalling the conversation on June 28, 2019. “And I was like: ‘What can I do? I can do community service, sweep, mop, come clean the office.”

Sepulveda, though, apparently had other plans.

“No, it’s not that simple,” CL said, recalling what Sepulveda told him. “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.’”

CL said he was stunned. He did what Sepulveda asked.

“I didn’t think I had an option,” CL said. “He had me there under arrest.”

Progreso fired Matthew Lee Sepulveda, 25, of San Juan after the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI started investigating the incident.

Prosecutors accepted the case, which brought CL face-to-face with Sepulveda again Tuesday morning at the federal courthouse in McAllen.

“To serve and to protect. Matthew Lee Sepulveda took that oath: To serve and protect. To enforce the laws. To protect the community. And to serve the community,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarina S. DiPiazza told the jury during her opening statement. “And the reason you’re here today is because Matthew Lee Sepulveda violated that oath. He broke the laws that he swore to enforce and he victimized the people that he swore to protect.”

Attorney Mauro L. Reyna III of Peñitas, who represents Sepulveda, questioned the lack of eyewitness testimony and the evidence, which showed Sepulveda’s DNA on CL’s underwear.

“There are going to be no witnesses that saw any of this happen,” Reyna said, adding that no video or audio recordings captured the alleged sexual assaults.

Reyna also attempted to cast doubt on the DNA evidence and told the jury he planned to call an independent expert to challenge the government’s conclusions.

The trial, which had been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, started Tuesday at the federal courthouse.

Jurors wore masks and sat in the gallery, which allowed for social distancing. Attorneys wore masks too. And several parts of the courtroom were separated by plastic dividers.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane didn’t allow reporters to attend the trial in person. Instead, he allowed reporters and members of the public to watch the trial on Zoom.

To afford some level of privacy to CL, the court asked witnesses and attorneys to refer to him by initials. The camera also turned off when CL entered the courtroom and didn’t show him testify.

His voice, however, could be heard clearly.

CL said he felt embarrassed and disgusted by what happened. After he went home that night, CL couldn’t sleep and decided to call the Mercedes Police Department.

Mercedes referred CL to the Sheriff’s Office, which started investigating the case. Within days, the Sheriff’s Office identified another victim.

He will testify on Wednesday.

Sepulveda is charged with two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, a federal civil rights charge. He pleaded not guilty.

If convicted, Sepulveda faces a maximum sentence of life in federal prison.

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