Smith County constable accused of offering illegal sexual favors in Day 1 of trial

Crime & Public Safety

TYLER, Texas (KETK) – The trial of an East Texas constable accused of official oppression of his office began Wednesday morning in downtown Tyler.

Joshua Black is the sitting Pct. 2 Constable for Smith County and is accused of offering sexual favors in exchange for free or discounted supervised visitation services to a woman named Bailey Vandergriff.

There are three potential aspects for official oppression and they are:

  • Intentionally subjecting another to mistreatment or to arrest, detention, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment, or lien that he knows is unlawful
  • Intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power, or immunity, knowing his conduct is unlawful
  • Intentionally subjects another to sexual harassment

Black is charged with the first aspect: mistreatment toward Vandergriff by offering the favors. Vandergriff was going through divorce proceedings and family court in Smith County directed her to have supervised visits with her daughter.

In his opening statement, Smith County prosecutor Richard Vance admitted that there were flirtations on both sides and sexually explicit messages sent by both Black and Vandergriff.

However, he said that Black is held to a higher standard as an elected law enforcement officer and that he crossed the line into illegal territory by hinting toward a “deal” between them where it appeared he would offer free supervised visits to Vandergriff in exchange for sexual favors.

Two of these visits were held at the Smith County Pct. 2 Constable’s Office.

Defense attorney Mishae Boren had a brief opening statement that said the investigation by the Texas Rangers was “one-sided” and also said, “My client is innocent.”

The witness who spent the vast majority of the day testifying was Nick Castle, the head investigator for the Texas Rangers.

Vance showed screenshots of semi-nude photographs sent by Vandergriff to Black. He does not object to the photos after asking for them. He actually asked for more, saying “I can’t see the platinum.”

A separate screenshot was shown where Black tells Vandergriff that his fee for supervised visits is $50 an hour, but for sex they would be even.

He communicated this offer partially through emojis. Castle says that he believed this met the definition of solicitation for prostitution.

Another round of texts was shown by prosecutors of Vandergriff sending a picture of several boxes of condoms asking if he had a “preference.”

Black replies saying that he heard his office would be occupied the following day and that their “deal” can happen in his Pct. 2 office later.

Vance then played a video recording of Black being interviewed by Castle nearly one year ago. When confronted about a text where Black asked for a picture from Vandergriff and to let him “feel the platinum”, he tells Castle that he can’t remember the context of that text. This answer came after a 35-second pause.

Throughout the interview, Black repeats several times that it was “inappropriate” and “stupid” but that his intention was never to imply that she must have sex with him to continue the visits.

During cross-examination by Boren, Castle admitted on the stand that there was no explicit threat made by Black where he threatened to cut off access for the supervised visits.

Castle was pressed by Boren if Vandergriff’s phone was ever forensically downloaded. He replied it had not been. She then asked if Vandergriff could have deleted messages, Castle replied: “It’s possible.”

Boren’s questioning of Castle highlighted repeatedly that the flirting was done by both sides and that Vandergriff repeatedly initiated it.

After the jury was dismissed for lunch, Judge Austin Jackson revoked the bond for Black due to him being late for court two days in a row. Black will be in the custody of deputies as the trial continues.

A live blog that was updated during the trial has been left below.


2:38 p.m.

Boren passes questioning of Castle back to prosecutor Richard Vance. Castle has been on the stand for roughly four hours.

Boren’s questioning highlighted that there was flirting on both sides and never a direct threat made by Black.

2:20 p.m.

Boren asks if there was ever a message or a conversation where Black threatened to Vandergriff that she wouldn’t be able to see her daughter unless she had sex with him.

Castle says he did not come across a message like this.

2:00 p.m.

Castle was asked by Boren if Vandergriff’s phone was ever forensically downloaded. He replied it had not been.

She then asked if Vandergriff could have deleted messages, Castle replied: “It’s possible.”

1:38 p.m.

Defense attorney Mishae Borden has begun her cross examination of Texas Rangers investigator Nick Castle.

12:20 p.m.

Prosecutor Richard Vance finishes his questioning of Ranger Castle after nearly three hours. He says that he has roughly four witnesses remaining.

After the jury was dismissed for lunch, Judge Jackson revoked Black’s bond due to him being repeatedly late to court.

12:05 p.m.

In the interview, Black repeats to Castle several times that he understands the texts look bad and that it was embarrassing.

Despite this, he says he never meant them to mean that he wanted to exchange sex as a substitute for payment.

11:55 a.m.

In a separate text, Black tells Castle that a text he sent that included an eggplant emoji and peach emoji was “flirtatious and playing.” He did admit that it was inappropriate.

11:50 a.m.

In the interview, when confronted about a text where Black asked for a picture from Vandergriff and to let him “feel the platinum”, he tells Castle that he can’t remember the context of that text. This answer came after a 35-second pause.

11:45 a.m.

In the interview from Sept. 29, 2020, Black is asked why Vandergriff might file a complaint of exchanging sexual favors for supervised visits.

Black replies that there was “jokingly flirtation” but nothing had ever happened between them. When Castle asked in the interview if any inappropriate contact had ever happened, Black said “it depends on your definition” and that it may seem like it was out of context there was, but no sexual contact had occurred.

11:30 a.m.

Castle serves Black with a search warrant for his phone, signed by now-retired Judge Christi Kennedy. While the phone was being downloaded, Castle interviewed Black. The interview was recorded and is now being played in front of the jury.

11:20 a.m.

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith entered the courtroom and sat in the row directly in front of the media.

11:15 a.m.

A screenshot is shown by prosecutors of Vandergriff sending a picture of several boxes of condoms asking if he had a “preference.”

Black replies saying that he heard his office would be occupied the following day and that their “deal” can happen in his Pct. 2 office later.

Castle believes that this is also solicitation for prostitution.

10:50 a.m.

Judge Jackson swore in Bailey Vandergriff as a witness before bringing the jury back from break. While she was present, Black did not look up from writing on his notepad.

Vandergriff will stay out of the courtroom until she is called to testify. Castle’s testimony has resumed.

10:32 a.m.

Judge Jackson has dismissed for a 15-minute recess. Castle is still on the stand.

10:25 a.m.

Castle said that based on more than 50 pages of text message screenshots he believed that laws had been broken.

He had a second meeting with Vandergriff in September.

10:15 a.m.

Another screenshot is shown where Black appears to offer sexual favors to Vandergriff instead of cash payments for his supervised visitation business.

Castle has been on the stand for roughly one hour.

10:00 a.m.

A screenshot is shown where Black tells Vandergriff that his fee for supervised visits is $50 an hour, but for sex they would be even.

He communicates this offer partially through emojis. Castle says that he believes this meets the definition of solicitation for prostitution.

9:50 a.m.

Screenshots of semi-nude photographs sent by Vandergriff to Black. He does not object to the photos after asking for them. He actually asked for more, saying “I can’t see the platinum.”

While concerning, Castle says that the flirting was not illegal.

9:25 a.m.

Castle testifies that an investigation began in August 2020 after Bailey Vandergriff called his office. She was initially hesitant to give up Black’s name, but eventually met Castle and showed him her phone.

He confirmed that it was Josh Black’s phone number. Castle met with Black, who confirmed the phone number on Vandergriff’s device was his.

9:10 a.m.

Defense attorney Mishae Boren gives a brief, two-minute opening statement calling the Texas Rangers investigation one-sided and that her client is innocent.

Texas Ranger investigator Nick Castle is called to the stand.

9:00 a.m.

During opening statements, prosecutors reveal that Black is accused of asking for inappropriate photographs in exchange as payment for having supervised visitations for a divorced mother.

Family courts had assigned him to supervise visits between parents going through divorce proceedings. He usually charged $50 an hour for the visits, but prosecutors alleged that he offered that the woman send nude photos of herself to him instead.

Prosecutors acknowledge that there were instances where the woman went along with Black’s messages. They say that while that may be true, Black is the one who is a sworn peace officer and held to a higher standard.

8:45 a.m.

Judge Austin Jackson has brought the jury into the courtroom. There are 7 total jurors: 6 jurors and one alternate.

The jury is made up of two white men, four white women, and one black woman.

Original Story

TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Smith County Precinct 2 Constable Joshua Black will begin his first of two trials this month Wednesday morning as he faces a felony count of official oppression.

Black is also charged on one count of misdemeanor prostitution and will also face a separate jury later this month on that charge. Monday morning was spent between 114th District Judge Austin Jackson and County Court at Law 2 Judge Taylor Heaton on which trial would proceed first.

Official oppression is typically classified as a Class A misdemeanor in Texas but can be upgraded to a third-degree felony in certain cases, which it was in Black’s.

In Texas, a law enforcement officer can be charged with official oppression under any of the following circumstances:

  • Intentionally subjecting another to mistreatment or to arrest, detention, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment, or lien that he knows is unlawful
  • Intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power, or immunity, knowing his conduct is unlawful
  • Intentionally subjects another to sexual harassment

It’s been unclear from pre-trial proceedings which of the circumstances Black is alleged to have violated.

Another twist was added in the case when he was arrested again last Friday for a separate indictment of prostitution, just three days before his first trial was scheduled to begin. Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman said that the charge dealt with a separate victim than the first.

Under Texas law, the maximum penalty for a Class A misdemeanor in a fine of no more than $4,000 and/or a one-year sentence in county jail.

Black was appointed to be the Pct. 2 Constable back in 2018 when Andy Dunklin vacated his position to become the precinct’s Justice of the Peace. He ran unopposed in the 2020 election this week.

He holds an associate’s degree in criminal justice from TJC and graduated in 2007 from TJC’s 10th session Police Academy. He has completed training at The Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Institute of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University for constables.

Black also served in the army component of the Texas State Guard, 2nd battalion 19th regiment, where he received the regimental commanders’ award.

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