TYLER, Texas — A Smith County constable accused of stealing and abusing his power while serving an eviction notice last year has been temporarily suspended from his position after a citizen filed a lawsuit seeking to remove him from office.
In June, Lester Melontree filed the lawsuit noting Pct. 1 Constable Curtis Traylor-Harris and his two deputies' criminal charges and Traylor-Harris' multiple bond violations. He wrote that Traylor-Harris' actions amount to "gross carelessness."
Representing the state, Thomas Wilson with the Smith County District Attorney's Office asked the visiting judge during a Thursday hearing to temporarily remove Traylor-Harris from office due to "official misconduct" in connection with his criminal allegations.
Traylor-Harris, Pct. 1 Sgt. Derrick Holman and former Pct. 1 Chief Deputy LaQuenda Banks were arrested in November and are charged with official oppression and property theft. Due to bond violations, Traylor-Harris has been jailed since May on a $1 million bond.
The judge found the state's misconduct claims to be true and issued a temporary suspension.
Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman said permanent removal could occur either through criminal conviction in the 241st District Court or the civil case proceedings.
Ralph Carraway Jr., an investigator with the Smith County District Attorney's Office, was then appointed as the acting constable. The judge made the selection after reviewing a list of three suggestions from Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran and county commissioners.
Traylor-Harris said that none of the criminal charges have been proven true at this time through a conviction.
An arrest affidavit obtained in November 2021 details body camera footage of Traylor-Harris, Banks and Holman stealing several items from a Tyler residence in late January last year while the resident, who was receiving an eviction notice, was away.
The Texas Government Code states a lawsuit is one of two ways that an elected official can be removed from their role while the other method requires the official to be criminally convicted.
During the lawsuit hearing, the judge heard from Texas Ranger Chris Baggett about the investigation that led to Traylor-Harris, Banks and Holman's arrests.
While on the stand, Baggett reviewed the body camera footage and testified it seemed that Traylor-Harris and his officers were committing organized theft as Banks took watches, an AirPods box and other items from the residence.
According to the affidavit, Traylor-Harris carried a watch display case into a closet while continually attempting to hand it to Banks. She followed Traylor-Harris and he’s heard saying “take that (expletive)” referencing watches from a display case.
Baggett told Wilson that Traylor-Harris directed Banks to steal items based on his statement saying “take that (expletive)."
Baggett testified that the resident filed a Tyler police report in February 2021 after her items were taken. Only some of the items were returned to the tenant.
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.
Baggett estimated the value of the items totaled roughly $750. He said the officers gained entry into the house through a court-ordered eviction notice.
In his questioning of Baggett, Traylor-Harris said his attention was not set on Banks, who was taking watches out of boxes, when inside the residence. Traylor-Harris said he and his deputies were searching the home for drugs.
Baggett testified that Traylor-Harris could be seen taking money and placing it into a box.
Baggett testified that Banks was the only person seen taking items from the home. He also that noted the video came from Banks' body cam and he couldn't see what happened outside of that footage.
He said that Banks returned a majority of the items taken from the home.
Prior to the start of the hearing, Traylor-Harris said he was not prepared because he did not have legal representation. Wilson said according to Texas law, people are responsible for obtaining counsel in civil cases, such as this lawsuit.
Holman's trial is set for Oct. 24. Banks has a plea hearing set for Aug. 23.
Last December, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement suspended all three of their peace officer licenses. Because of the suspension, Banks and Holman cannot work or have authority as peace officers.
According to TCOLE, Traylor-Harris cannot be removed from office through the commission because that would have to be done at the county level.