Former cop gets $225K bond in sex assault case

EDINBURG — A now former Progreso police officer accused of sexually assaulting a man who was in his custody has been arraigned and assessed a total bond of $225,000.

Justice of the Peace Jason Peña, Precinct 5, Place 1, presided over the arraignment of 24-year-old Matthew Sepulveda at the Hidalgo County Detention Center Wednesday afternoon.

Sepulveda is facing one count of violating the civil rights of a person in custody and one count of sexual assault.

Peña set bond at $75,000 cash or surety for the civil rights charge, which he said is a state jail felony. For the charge of sexual assault — a 2nd degree felony — the judge set bond at $150,000 cash or surety.

Sepulveda was quiet as he entered the small courtroom, which sits off a small hallway bookended by two electronically-secured steel doors inside the county jail. His only words were to say yes when the judge confirmed his identity and again when asked if he understood his Miranda rights.

The press was not allowed to question Sepulveda during the proceedings.

After stepping forward to sign the bond forms, Sepulveda turned and walked out of the courtroom, escorted by men wearing a uniform he once shared.

Prior to his employment as a Progreso police officer, Sepulveda served more than four years as a detention officer at the very jail where he is now being held.

Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra said Sepulveda began working at the jail in February 2014 and resigned in October 2018.

During that time, Sepulveda was promoted twice — first to corporal, and then again to sergeant. Both promotions occurred over a six month span in 2017.

Matthew Sepulveda, right, is seen with Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra in this November 2017 photo, which was shared by the sheriff’s office Facebook page in honor of Sepulveda’s promotion to sergeant.
Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office | Courtesy photo

The sheriff explained the quick turnaround between the promotions was due to the implementation of corporal as a new rank within the department that year. “We opened the rank of corporal because when we did a study… (it showed) we needed more supervisors to employees,” Guerra said Wednesday.

After the implementation of the corporal rank, only those with such rank would be eligible to apply for the higher rank of sergeant. And of that number, consideration would be given to those with longer tenures. “And of course, the corporals were all promoted at the same time,” Guerra said.

However, there was more to Sepulveda’s time as a detention officer than moving up in the ranks. A year after his dual promotions, he was set to face disciplinary action — what the sheriff termed “administrative reviews” — after returning from family medical leave.

“Instead of facing those administrative reviews he just decided to go ahead and resign,” Guerra said.

According to the sheriff, Sepulveda was going to receive written counseling for violating a department policy against recording a previous counseling session.

The sheriff also clarified previous reports that Sepulveda had been under investigation after his departure for allegedly supplying drugs to inmates. “That didn’t go anywhere. When IA was done, it was unfounded,” Guerra said of the internal affairs investigation into the matter.

Sepulveda resigned from the county jail before the administrative reviews could be effected. It’s unclear if he had ever been disciplined while serving the Progreso Police Department.

Progreso Police Chief Alberto Rodriguez could not be reached for comment as of press time Wednesday, though the Progress Times reported that Rodriguez fired Sepulveda last week.

On Thursday, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement — which licenses peace officers in the state — released Sepulveda’s employment and law enforcement education history in response to a public information request.

It shows that Sepulveda’s position as a jailer ended on October 21, 2018. It also shows his employment at the Progreso Police department ended July 2. Sepulveda started at the police department just three months earlier, on April 17.

However, TCOLE has appealed to the Texas Attorney General the release of Sepulveda’s F5 form, which would detail the circumstances regarding the end of Sepulveda’s employment.

Guerra said Chief Rodriguez and his department are cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation into the allegations against Sepulveda. The sheriff said he expects the chief to be interviewed by sheriff’s investigators and the FBI.

Sepulveda is accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old man who was at the time in custody. The Monitor does not identify victims of sexual assault.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Sepulveda allegedly told the man he was under arrest for driving without a license or proof of insurance. He also told the man that he would be deported.

Once at the police department, Sepulveda allegedly escorted the man from a holding cell to a small office away from the view of surveillance cameras. If anyone were to ask where they were going, Sepulveda instructed the man to say he was having an anxiety attack, the affidavit read.

It was in the office that Sepulveda allegedly performed oral sex on the man before escorting him to the lobby, where his parents were awaiting his release. Sepulveda allegedly said “everything was taken care of” when the man’s mother asked if there were any pending fines or citations.

Once home, the man told his mother what had occurred while he was in custody. The family reported the incident to the sheriff’s office, which dispatched investigators within hours of the alleged assault.

The FBI joined the investigation due to the potential violation of the man’s civil rights, Guerra said.

The sheriff also spoke of how the arrest of a law enforcement officer breaks the community’s trust in those charged with protecting them. “Here at the sheriff’s office, we work so hard to get that community trust and now … a peace officer arrested, it breaks that community trust,” Guerra said.

“We should be held to a higher standard as law enforcement officers … because we hold the position that we have — (as) a peace officer, we have authority over people,” Guerra said.

Sepulveda was released from custody on Thursday morning, jail records show.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information released by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, as well as Sepulveda’s release from custody on July 11.