HOUSTON -- A county sheriff pleaded guilty to charges he tortured his prisoners, subjected blacks, women and rock music fans to strip-searches on a local highway and demanded kickbacks from a bail bondsman over a six-year period.
Wearing cowboy boots and a brown suit, San Jacinto County Sheriff James C. 'Humpy' Parker, 47, pleaded guilty Friday to two felony civil rights charges and one extortion charge before U.S. District Judge Gabrielle McDonald.
Parker immediately resigned from the office he has held since 1969 and agreed to help federal officials in a continuing investigation of alleged corruption in San Jacinto County, located about 60 miles northeast of Houston.
Prosecutors recommended a three year prison sentence and a $15,000 fine for the sheriff, but Judge McDonald said she would defer ruling on the plea bargain until next month.
Parker had faced a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Woodward said a three-count criminal information accused Parker of water-torturing at least 15 prisoners, illegally arresting motorists on the highway and extorting money from a local bail bondsman over a six-year period.
'On the water tortures, that was reserved for major felonies where they could not solve the crime, but they had a suspect. They'd bring them in and torture them until they got a confession and then take that evidence to the prosecutor,' Woodward said.
'This water torture generally included the placement of a towel over the nose and mouth of prisoners and the pouring of water into the towel until the prisoner began to move, jerk, or otherwise indicate that he was suffocating and or drowning,' the information said.
The second charge alleged Parker and deputies would stop on U.S. highway 59 'hippies,' blacks or motorists who drove vehicles with a Shreveport, La., license plate or bumper stickers from a Houston rock radio station.
Sometimes both male and female drivers were strip-searched on the highway, Parker admitted.
The document charged Parker and his unnamed cohorts sometimes damaged taillights or other equipment on vehicles to make it appear after the fact that the original traffic stop was legitimate.
The prosecutors accused Parker and his cohorts of selling or keeping things they seized from motorists and pocketing illegal fines, bonds or 'prepayments' they collected.
The information also claimed Parker forced a bail bondsman to give him a one-third kickback on fees illegally collected from suspects, Woodward said.
The American Civil Liberties Union previously filed suit making many of the same accusations against Parker.