SAN PATRICIO COUNTY, Texas – A South Texas police officer accused of groping a woman during a 2019 drug arrest has pleaded guilty to two felonies, San Patricio County court records revealed Friday.
Roberto Moreno, 31, pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of a person in custody and tampering with physical evidence during a plea hearing on Aug. 13. He was given deferred adjudication on both charges, records show. Moreno will serve five years of community supervision.
While Moreno’s issues played out first as a cadet with the Corpus Christi Police Department, then as an officer in Beeville and Taft, the state agency that licenses peace officers did not have the authority to investigate his conduct.
Moreno’s repeated rule breaking culminated with an August 2019 interaction between him and a San Antonio-area woman found asleep behind the wheel of a truck in a parking lot in Taft, where Moreno was employed as a police officer.
The woman, who told Moreno she was returning home from visiting the coast, was placed under arrest for suspicion of drug possession, court records and Moreno’s body-worn camera show.
After Moreno found several items in the truck that he determined to be drugs, he handcuffed the woman and placed her in the back of his patrol unit, video shows.
About one hour and 15 minutes after first coming into contact with the woman, Moreno reached up and put his hand on his body-worn camera. The camera buzzed and began to record footage again.
Moments later Moreno is heard on the camera calling the woman “a pretty lady.”
After Moreno returns to the side of his patrol vehicle, the woman said, “I’ll go for a full body cavity search. Go for it, honey.”
Moreno responded, “Okay. I’ll take you up on your offer,” as the woman laughed. Moreno then moves in close to the handcuffed woman as the camera goes dark briefly.
The woman then responded, “Sorry that was wrong.” She then told Moreno, “At least you made my night by the way,” after he got back into the front seat of his patrol vehicle.
The Texas Rangers were made aware of the incident a week later and Moreno soon resigned from Taft PD, records show.
Six days before Moreno was charged for the incident, Taft PD officials gave him an honorable discharge on his Texas Commission on Law Enforcement license separation paperwork.
An ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Moreno and the city of Taft claims that Moreno failed to follow standard police procedure and violated the woman’s constitutional rights.
After the original investigation on Moreno aired, the Defenders obtained records from a source showing Moreno was dismissed from the Corpus Christi Police Department academy in January 2014 after being accused of assaulting a female cadet he was dating.
Corpus Christi city officials in June attempted to block the release of these same records, claiming in a letter to the Texas Attorney General that the information “is highly intimate or embarrassing and the publication of it would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person.”