Breckenridge Texan

Joint investigation leads to arrest of local man for cattle theft

July 17
22:38 2018

Cattle rustling is a crime many people don’t often think of when they think of 21st century criminal activity. Yet, every year, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association’s team of 30 special rangers investigate about 1,000 agricultural crime cases and recover an average of $5 million in stolen cattle and assets. This year, at least one of those cases was in Stephens County.

Jonathan Berry

Earlier this month, TSCRA Special Ranger John Bradshaw assisted Stephens County Chief Deputy Kevin Roach in an investigation into cattle theft, resulting in the arrest of Jonathan David Berry, 45, of Breckenridge.

Berry, who was a lieutenant at the Walker Sayle prison unit at the time of his arrest, was arrested on July 5 on charges of felony cattle theft. He is currently out of jail on bond. According to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesperson, Berry resigned from his job with the TDCJ following the arrest, after having worked there for almost 20 years.

“We had a tip that this gentleman had stolen cattle from his family’s land and sold them at the sale barn on three…different occasions in Eastland,” said Stephens County Sheriff Will Holt. “Chief Deputy (Kevin) Roach did all the detective work on that and found all the financial documents and showed proof that the guy was the one that sold them. So he obtained the warrants, and when we arrested the guy, the guy confessed.”

According to a complaint filed in the Stephens County Justice Court on July 5, the deputy states that he began investigating the case a month prior to the arrest after receiving a call from a man who owns property in the southwestern part of the county. He reported that Berry was a distant relative, who he had allowed to live on the property until January 2018.

In early June, the property owner had received a phone call from an acquaintance of Berry’s who informed him that Berry had sold cattle from the property and kept the money for himself, according to the report.

During the investigation, Roach requested the assistance of Bradshaw. They both contacted the Eastland Cattle Exchange and reportedly received the following information:

  • Three invoices with descriptions of the cattle, as well as the license plate numbers of two vehicles connected to Berry. Two invoices were from July 2016, and one was from May 2017.
  • Three invoices detailing the sale of seven head of cattle and information about three checks issued to Jonathan Berry. According to the deputy’s written statement, the amount of money paid to Berry totaled $4,614.90.

About a week after the investigation began, a Grand Jury subpoena allowed the investigators to access bank records for Berry. According to Roach’s statement, there were three deposits into Berry’s account that matched the three checks issued by the cattle exchange.

One of the invoices indicated the sale of a cow that did not belong to the complainant who had called Roach. Continued investigation showed that cow to have the brand of another Stephens County resident. Neither cattle raiser had given Berry permission to sell the cattle, Roach stated in his report.

According to the Texas Penal Code, the theft of cattle having a value of less than $150,000 is a third-degree felony. An individual convicted of a third-degree felony could face two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

A 2015 Texas Tribune article states that in 2011, the TSCRA special rangers investigated 804 cases in Texas that included 13,000 livestock stolen or missing. According to the article, by 2014, that number had dropped to 726 cases that included 5,325 animals reported stolen or missing. Although the 2014 cases involved less than half of the number of animals reported missing in 2011, the 2014 livestock was valued at $4.89 million, an increase of more than $800,000 from 2011.

The TSCRA special rangers are commissioned peace officers and also investigate thefts of horses, saddles, trailers, equipment; poaching; and white-collar criminals who commit agricultural fraud. They also inspect livestock to determine ownership and prevent theft after a natural disaster such as wildfire, flood or hurricane; determine the ownership of stray livestock; and, educate landowners on how to prevent theft and spoil the plans of thieves.

TSCRA offers a cash reward for information leading to the arrest and/or grand jury indictment of individuals for theft of livestock or related property. According to the TSCRA website, anonymity is guaranteed. To provide information, call 888-830-2333.

For more information about other activities by the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office, click here to see Holt’s most recent summary report.

 

Story by Tony Pilkington and Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

Photo courtesy of the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 11 a.m. July 18, 2018, to include information from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice about Berry’s resignation and his length of employment with the prison system.

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