By Jennifer Rios
San Angelo Standard-Times
SAN ANGELO, Texas — Billy Vercher, a man convicted of aggravated robbery last year, was sentenced to four years in prison for assaulting two Tom Green County jailers.
His sentence will run concurrently with the 30-year sentence he received in September.
San Angelo police said Vercher, 29, and co-defendant Patrick Earl Semple, 34, went to a house in the 2900 block of North Street and took money from the residents at gunpoint. During the robbery one of the men hit a blind resident on the head with a handgun, police said, but the injury did not require medical attention.
Vercher’s assault of a public servant charge stemmed from his time in jail in November while he was waiting to serve his prison sentence.
Detention Officer Jerrold Peterson was doing a head count when he told Vercher to take down clothes lines that were in his cell. Vercher refused, and Peterson began to take them down himself, and Vercher became angry, according to an incident report.
“I told him to come with me for not complying with an officer’s order,” Peterson said. “I told him twice more to come with me, and he still did not, so I grabbed his arm to escort him out of the cell.”
Vercher punched the officer — bloodying Peterson’s nose, cutting open Peterson’s chin and breaking a tooth, according to the officer’s report. Vercher also assaulted Detention Officer Justin Ruiz when he went inside the cell to assist Peterson. Peterson received medical attention, including stitches, because of the attack.
Allison Palmer, 51st District Attorney, said her office recognizes the difficulties of maintaining order in the jail.
“It’s important to send a message that our detention officers need to be respected,” Palmer said. “That’s why we felt it was important to go forward with this.”
She offered the four-year sentence because Vercher had already given “a good deal of time” for the aggravated robbery.
Lt. Beth Holland-Mull, of Tom Green County Jail, said she felt Vercher preyed on less experienced detention officers — some who hadn’t been at the jail a full year at the time of the assault.
She told the officers to use the incident as a learning experience.
Officers conducting head counts go into cells with their keys and pepper spray — if they’re certified to carry it — and nothing else, Holland-Mull said. A jail environment is more contained than what patrol officers see on the street, but detention officers have fewer weapons to protect themselves.
“We work the worst neighborhood in the city,” she said. “We tell (detention officers) be prepared for everything. Never become complacent.”
She hopes Vercher’s sentence makes inmates realize the state will prosecute them and will show officers they should remain vigilant.
In June there was another incident with Vercher, she said, where he didn’t want to hand back a razor he was issued to shave. Detention officers had to retrieve it, and although Vercher was combative, the officer didn’t need medical attention.
“We don’t like it when it happens to our officers, but it can be part of the job,” Holland-Mull said.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Vercher has been in the Tom Green County Jail since Aug. 25, 2012.