TYLER, Texas — One of two constable deputies accused alongside suspended Pct. 1 Smith County Constable Curtis Traylor-Harris of stealing from a Tyler resident while serving an eviction notice last year testified Tuesday that she was "forced" to take the property.
Traylor-Harris entered a not guilty plea to the charge of property theft by a public servant in the 241st District Court Tuesday morning.
Traylor-Harris was charged with official oppression and property theft by a public servant in November 2021 for the alleged January 2021 theft along with Pct. 1 Sgt. Derrick Holman and former Pct. 1 Chief Deputy LaQuenda Banks.
An arrest affidavit details body camera footage of Traylor-Harris, Holman and Banks stealing several items from a Tyler residence in late January last year while the resident, who was receiving an eviction notice, was away.
The stolen items included watches, ammunition, cash, Oakley sunglasses, Ray-Ban sunglasses, makeup and a safe containing antique coins, quarter collection, military medals, a diploma, a birth certificate and a social security card, the affidavit read.
The prosecution said Traylor-Harris used his elected position for his own personal gain and asked the jury to hold him accountable. The defense said Traylor-Harris, who began as constable on Jan. 1, 2021, was doing well 26 days into the job but he was still a novice.
Traylor-Harris was temporarily suspended from the constable position this July after a citizen filed a lawsuit seeking to remove him from office, citing the charges against him. If convicted, he'll be permanently suspended.
While on the witness stand, Banks said the eviction of the Poster family on Jan. 26, 2021 was the first eviction she had been present for. Among the three of them, Holman was the one with some eviction experience.
Shown in her body camera footage, someone asked if Banks' body cam was recording. She testified she turned on her camera accidentally. The footage was replayed for the jury while Banks was on the stand.
Holman in the video is heard saying, “take whatever you want,” while inside the house, Banks testified.
Traylor-Harris told her to “take what you want” and he made an unzipping motion on his shirt. She took that as him telling to take what she wanted and hide items in her shirt, Banks testified.
“He was my boss so I’m going to do what he says to do,” Banks said. “I was forced to do it. I felt if I chose not to I would’ve most likely gotten fired.”
If there hadn’t been a Texas Ranger investigation, Banks said she would’ve kept the items. She agreed with the prosecution’s statement that she and the constables stole from the Poster family.
Banks can be seen in the video rummaging through items in the house. Banks said she took makeup and showed it to Traylor-Harris, and she agreed there was no reason to do that other than to steal it.
At the time, Banks said the three of them found their actions funny but now she said she doesn’t feel that way. She can be seen unloading items that were stuffed into her shirt into the constable vehicle.
After several months went by, Texas Ranger Chris Baggett called her to set up a time for her to be arrested, Banks said. At that time, she decided to give a statement of what happened.
Banks said she hasn’t been offered any deal or special treatment for testifying for the prosecution.
Looking back, Banks said what they did was wrong.
“I’m embarrassed. That is not anything I would ever do. I regret it,” Banks said.
Banks said she had not been issued a body camera for her previous law enforcement positions. So she didn't know how they worked. She testified that if they, including herself, didn't take what they wanted she would have been fired.
Banks reviewed documents showing that she returned Dior makeup and other items to the Texas Rangers.
She testified that Traylor-Harris was aware of what was going on. She said she was scared of losing her job that "she needed to take care of (her) family" if she didn't do what Traylor-Harris said.
Banks testified it was "stupidity" to follow the orders of a newly elected constable who had been in office for 26 days.
She claimed Traylor-Harris made nonverbal cues to get her to take items from the house.
The prosecution also called Brittany Poster, the woman who Traylor-Harris, Banks and Holman are accused of stealing from during an eviction, to the stand. They also played the videos from Banks’ body camera footage of the eviction.
In January 2021, Poster and her family were living in a Tyler rental property and she owed some back rent payments. She knew an eviction was likely and coming, she testified.
On Jan. 26, she was at work when her daughter called to say they were getting evicted. Nothing was packed up and she had no idea that would be the day, Poster said.
"I was confused and a little bit thrown off. When she called me, she was really upset," Poster said. "I really didn't understand what I was going to based on the phone call."
Poster and the prosecution went over the items, such as watches, new AirPods, makeup and sunglasses, and each ones' worth that were allegedly stolen from her home.
Poster testified that she found that over $3,000 in cash was missing from rooms in the residence. She also noticed a MacBook laptop and Apple watch were missing after she moved out.
Shortly after the eviction, she made a report to the Tyler Police Department regarding the stolen items. She didn't know who had taken her items, Poster testified.
Poster said she communicated with a Tyler police detective about the theft claim and the detective told her she was a woman scorned. She testified she believed a law enforcement officer took the stuff. The detective was not believing her report of the stolen items.
Baggett then contacted her for a Texas Ranger investigation, and after watching the video she saw Banks, Traylor-Harris and Holman taking items from the home, Poster testified.
She said Baggett later returned many of the items to her.
After an attempt to make a police department report, Poster said she felt like other efforts would be futile.
Ariana Poster, the daughter of Brittany Poster who was at the home when the constables arrived in January 2021, recalled hearing knocking on the door and there were people in the house moments later.
She remembered it being pretty hostile when the constables came in. She was asked to put her hands up. She testified she asked if the constables had a warrant, and she recalled them saying one wasn’t needed, she testified.
She testified the constables told her she wasn't allowed to touch anything.
"It's bringing up a lot of emotions now," Ariana Poster said while getting emotional. "Clearly, it's still affecting me now."
Testimony will continue Wednesday morning.