KBTX Investigates: Was this man's bail bond set unfairly high by a judge?

A man with local ties says authorities treated him unfairly when it came time to set his bail bond following his arrest.

Travis Dean Sheppard, 39, was booked into the Bell County jail last year after a family friend claimed he overheard Sheppard making threats to harm two DPS employees and a judge in Brazos County.

His bonds were set at a total of $530,000 - an amount comparable to suspects accused of actual murder. Sheppard says he took a plea deal on a felony charge because he couldn't afford the bail and needed to be released from jail so he could attend child custody hearings.

Weeks later, his lower-level charges were dismissed after county prosecutors determined there wasn't sufficient evidence to prove he was guilty.

He's hoping these new developments will allow him to reconnect with his daughter whom he lost custody of following the arrest.

The Night of the Arrest
On the night of June 9, 2018, deputies found Sheppard with his friends on FM 93 near Temple after receiving a report of the alleged threats made to kill his ex-wife, who is a DPS employee, and his ex-wife's boyfriend, who is a DPS Trooper.

He was also accused of threatening to take out the Brazos County family judge who presided over his child custody case.

Sheppard admits he was upset that night after having an argument with his parents at their home in Harker Heights. He was also coping with a recent setback in a child custody dispute involving his 6-year-old daughter and his ex-wife. Still, he denied ever making the threats.

Sheppard was arrested after deputies found he was in possession of several legally-owned firearms and ammunition.

Bell County authorities charged him with three misdemeanor counts of making terroristic threats and the Texas Department of Public Safety charged him with one felony count of retaliation.

Request Denied
Sheppard sat in jail for 10 months after his arrest, claiming he couldn't afford to bail out.

His attorney called it "excessive and oppressive" and said Sheppard was being illegally confined and restrained by Bell County.

In a hearing on June 21, 2018, in the 27th Judicial District courtroom, a judge denied the request.

Months later, Sheppard says he was offered a plea deal by prosecutors.

If he pleaded guilty to the felony charge of retaliation, he'd be released and given 5 years deferred adjudication.

He took the deal.

Charges Dismissed

Despite taking a plea deal on the felony charge, Sheppard still faced the three lesser charges from Bell County, but last month, those charges were tossed out by county prosecutors.

After reviewing his case, Bell County decided there wasn't sufficient evidence to find him guilty of a crime- citing "faulty criminal complaints."

"It destroyed my life," said Sheppard. "The reason I'm speaking with you today is so that you can get this out there so people can understand there's injustice going on all day long and there's nothing that can be done. You have to file a complaint with the state of Texas about the state of Texas."

The Bell County District Attorney tells KBTX there's no plan to go back and revisit Sheppard's felony case, and for that reason, Sheppard says he's being kept from seeing his daughter who currently lives with her mother in Brazos County.

The last time he saw her was May 2018.

We did reach out to 27th Judicial District Court Judge John Gauntt for comment on this case, but he did not return our calls. Bell County and DPS officials also declined to speak on the specifics on this story.

Sheppard says he is working with Houston-area attorneys to file a civil rights violation lawsuit against all agencies involved in his arrest.

Bail Reform Efforts
Sheppard's reason for taking the plea deal is why bail reform is a hot topic right now across the state of Texas.

Defense attorneys are pushing to reform bail practices that keep defendants locked up behind bars until their day in court.

"You are presumed innocent until you are proven guilty,” said Defense Attorney John Quinn recently in an interview with KBTX. “Just because you have been arrested doesn’t mean you are guilty, and it’s already costing you money for something they haven’t proven you did. That seems to fly in the face of that presumption."

Quinn and others are attempting to bring standardized bails to Brazos County courtrooms. Click here to see our previous coverage on this topic.

Harris County officials agreed last month to settle a federal lawsuit over how it sets bail for criminal defendants. Read more about the lawsuit and how it could influence other Texas counties by clicking here.

Share Your Story
If you have a story to share about bail bonds, please email Rusty Surette at surette@kbtx.com.