Defense’s expert witness says bodycam footage never shows Traylor-Harris taking items

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Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 9:10 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 7, 2022 at 10:53 PM CST
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - The trial of suspended Smith County Pct. 1 Constable Curtis Traylor-Harris continued Wednesday morning in 241st District Court.

Traylor-Harris was arrested in 2021 for allegedly stealing from a home during an eviction.

The second day of witness testimony started with the state calling Texas Ranger Chris Baggett.

Baggett told the court he received a call about the possible theft from another agency investigating a misdemeanor crime case against the person being evicted.

The alleged theft had been seen on former chief deputy LaQuenda Banks’ body cam video.

The Smith County District Attorney’s Office later requested an investigation.

Prosecutors then reintroduced the body cam video as evidence and highlighted where Baggett believed he saw theft occurring.

At the start of Banks’ video, Baggett said he heard Banks saying she turned her camera off. A noise indicating when a camera is turned on or off was then heard.

Constable Traylor-Harris was standing right next to Banks when she said this, Baggett said.

Baggett said he observed Traylor-Harris trying to hand Banks a watch box, but her hands were already full. Banks can then be heard unzipping her uniform, Baggett said.

Baggett later observed what he believed to be Traylor-Harris saying, “take that s***.” Baggett believes Traylor-Harris was referring to the items he was handing off to Banks from inside the closet.

Baggett later observed Banks handing off what appeared to be a wallet to Traylor-Harris.

As prosecutors continued to play and stop the video, Baggett observed Banks being asked by Sgt. Derrick Holman if her body cam is on. Holman later asks about cash, Baggett said.

“Oh, he got that,” Banks can be heard saying,

Baggett believes Banks is referring to Traylor-Harris.

Later in the video, Baggett understood interactions between Banks and Traylor-Harris indicated the constable knew Banks was putting stolen items in her uniform.

The video shows Traylor-Harris later opening a jewelry box in a closet with Banks. Banks replies that she’s already seen it. Baggett said this could indicate that Traylor-Harris thought the item could be worth taking.

Banks is later seen taking sunglasses and saying “cleaning house.” Baggett observes Traylor-Harris standing right in front of Banks when this is said.

Baggett later observes Holman patting Banks’ uniform where she stored the stolen items. They then joked about her needing to go back the patrol unit to “sit down and rest.”

While still watching the video, Baggett observed Traylor-Harris holding a wad of money. A conversation can be overheard in which someone suggests giving the money back to the owner. Baggett said the money is still unaccounted for.

Baggett said while drugs were found in the house, the theft preceded those discoveries.

The homeowner later filed a stolen items report with the Tyler Police Department, Baggett said.

Prosecutors then played the video captured by Holman’s body cam.

The video shows the discovery of drugs inside the home. Holman can later be heard saying, “we can take whatever we want now.”

Holman’s camera is later turned off. Baggett said this could be to “hide what he was doing.”

During the investigation, Baggett said he spoke with Tyler police officers, Banks, Holman, and Traylor-Harris. He also spoke with the family being evicted from the home where the alleged theft happened.

Baggett said he found there to be sufficient evidence to obtain arrest warrants on Banks, Holman, and Traylor-Harris.

On the stand, Baggett referred back to his notes from the interview with the constable.

Baggett said Traylor-Harris told him he didn’t see any items being stolen. Prosecutors point out this contradicts what was seen in the video.

All three lied, Baggett said. Banks was the only one to later change her story.

Just after Baggett was passed to the defense, the jury was excused from the room to take up a matter brought up by the defense.

The defense claimed prosecutors solicited Baggett’s opinion as to whether Traylor-Harris committed theft — a violation of rules previously set outside the presence of the jury, they said.

District Attorney Jacob Putman said he did not believe the state violated their own bill of limine. The defense only wanted to put this on the record and submitted a bill of exception.

After a brief break, the jury was brought back in. The defense then started questioning Baggett.

Defense Attorney Timothy Kimble asked if Baggett ever saw Traylor-Harris taking anything in the body cam video.

“I see him holding the money and I see him taking the money out of his pocket,” Baggett said.

Kimble then asked about Baggett’s interview with Banks. He asked if Banks ever indicated that she feared being fired as a result of not taking items at the home — something Banks said on the stand during her testimony.

Baggett said she never said anything about that during their interview.

Kimble asked if Baggett ever obtained search warrants for Traylor-Harris and the others. He said no.

Baggett was then asked if Banks ever told him that she felt she was ordered to be part of a criminal plan. Baggett said no.

The state then rested its case.

After the jury was excused, the defense argued the state failed to offer evidence that showed Traylor-Harris committed a crime.

The defense then argued a provision protects constables from property damage done when they’re doing their job.

Judge Jack Skeen Jr. denied the defense’s motion. The defense then indicated they have witnesses they’d like to call, but they won’t be ready until after the lunch hour. Attorney Andrew Dammann said he hoped to speak with his expert during lunch and requested the court wait until 1:30 p.m. to bring the jury back.

Following lunch, the defense’s first expert was sworn in outside of the jury’s presence.

Sgt. Ash Harmon is newly retired from the Collin County Pct. 1 Constable’s Office. He is not considered a witness, only an expert for the defense.

Defense’s expert witness says bodycam footage never shows Traylor-Harris taking items

Prosecutors argued Harmon could do nothing more than watch the body cam video and share his own opinion. The defense argued prosecutors did the same with Texas Ranger Chris Baggett.

District Attorney Jacob Putman argued Baggett was called as a witness to the case, being that he investigated the crime.

Putman argues Harmon used no method to arrive at his opinion and has never been called as an expert in court.

The court ruled that Harmon will not be allowed to testify to the defendant’s knowledge of theft and possession of controlled substances.

The jury was then brought back in.

When questioned by the defense, Harmon explained how writs of possession work. This was the same procedure ordered to be executed by Traylor-Harris and his deputies.

Harmon stated during an eviction roughly 90% of the items inside a home will be placed in bags on the curb.

The defense then played portions of the body cam video.

Harmon said the video appears to show Traylor-Harris searching for drugs. He only sees Banks taking personal items.

Harmon said it appeared Banks was talking to herself when taking the items.

When questioned by the defense, Harmon said it appears Banks stops taking items when in the presence of Traylor-Harris.

Throughout Harmon’s testimony, the state objected several times relating to relevance and speculation. This led to several meetings at the judge’s bench.

Defense attorney Andrew Dammann asked if Harmon ever observed Traylor-Harris taking any items on the video. Harmon said he did not.

When questioned by prosecutors, Harmon was asked if he watched any of Traylor-Harris’ body cam video. Harmon said he did not, because there was no video.

Putman asked how much Harmon was being paid to be the defense’s expert witness. He said $2,500.

The jury was then excused for a brief recess. After they returned, the defense recalled Texas Ranger Chris Baggett to the witness stand.

The defense then called a private investigator to the witness stand. Prosecutors objected to the witness, saying the defense is trying to set him up as an expert.

The jury was then excused from the courtroom.

Prosecutors argued the private investigator is an unaffiliated party who will share only what he thinks about the case.

District Attorney Jacob Putman argued they too could bring in witnesses to give opinions on video the jury has already seen.

Judge Skeen ruled the witness will not be allowed to testify in front of the jury.

The defense then requested an early recess because their other witnesses won’t be available until tomorrow.

Judge Skeen said court will resume Thursday morning.