Refugio County, TX — In March of last year, just days after he was awarded "Officer of the Year," Refugio police officer Lee Jordan injured a 3-day old infant — with pepper spray. Several weeks later, he was held accountable and charged with official oppression and injury to a child.
Now, a year after he was formally indicted by a grand jury, he's been found not guilty — despite video evidence of the act.
Assistant District Attorney Tim Poynter, who prosecuted the case, said cases against peace officers are challenging because of the community's backing of law enforcement. Though the case faltered, he said he didn't regret taking it to trial because he believed "clear and unjustifiable harm" was done to the infant, Rico Paredes.
"No one is above the law. No one is below the law. Just because (Jordan) was a police officer doesn't make him above the law. Just because Rico Paredes' family did not act the way most people would act doesn't mean Rico is below the law," he said. "I thought injury was clear. ... I'd try it again."
According to police, Jordan pulled over a family in a car for allegedly speeding on March 12, 2021. That vehicle was driven by Michael Paredes — who had a warrant out for his arrest. The incident was captured on body camera footage — which was never released publicly but was shown in court — showing Jordan speaking with the family before he pepper sprayed them.
As Jordan returns to his vehicle, he radioed in and discovered that the warrant was for unlawful possession of a firearm that stemmed from an interaction he had with Paredes weeks before.
When Jordan comes back to the family he tells Paredes that he is under arrest and Paredes asks if he can make a phone call before being taken to jail. The officer tells him no which reportedly made Paredes verbally angry. In response to the verbal anger, Jordan filled the car with pepper spray — knowing there was a baby inside.
"My baby is in there! My baby is in there," Paredes yelled as Jordan drags him from the vehicle and is put in handcuffs.
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Rico Paredes who was born just days earlier, was in the backseat with his mother, Chelsea Berlanga.
According to a lawsuit filed by Berlanga last year, the baby and mother were pepper-sprayed twice by Jordan and needed medical attention. The Caller Times reports:
The lawsuit alleges Berlanga and her child suffered multiple injuries after Jordan pepper-sprayed them twice during the stop, which Ruiz states was performed without probable cause.
Berlanga suffered swollen lips, stinging eyes, blurred vision, difficulty breathing, rashes and blisters around her nose and lips, and burning in her throat as a result of the incident, according to the lawsuit.
The infant suffered difficulty breathing, irritated skin and swollen eyes, and he had a "blister-like rash" on his face and a "pimple-like irritation" on his chin, according to the lawsuit.
"Their injuries were proximately caused by negligent acts or omissions of the Defendant who negligently used tangible property without provocation or justification on two occasions," the lawsuit reads.
Jordan's attorney, Eric Perkins told reporters after his client was acquitted that the charges were frivolous and just an attack on law enforcement.
"We've had a real rough time the past two years defending law enforcement. It's been just a meat grinder," he said. "I'm glad to find that reason and common sense prevail even in small-town America under these kinds of circumstances."
Had he been convicted, Jordan faced up to two years in jail and thousands in fines.
Berlanga's lawsuit is still moving through the courts and the city of Refugio has sought qualified immunity.