Acting as his own attorney, Bill Ruth tried unsuccessfully Wednesday in a 35th District Court hearing to have state’s evidence tossed out in the case against him for assault on a peace officer.
Senior Judge Cecil Puryear of Lubbock – who was assigned to hear the case after the recusal of District Judge Steve Ellis – denied Ruth’s bid to have evidence including the video from sheriff’s Cpl. Taylor Fletcher’s body cam tossed. The video depicts Ruth’s arrest by Fletcher and deputy Scotty Burke on Jan. 11, 2019 on a contempt of court warrant.
Puryear set a May 18 trial date, although it was not clear which case will go to trial that date – assault on a peace officer or misapplication of fiduciary funds. Ruth, 55, has been indicted on both of those charges, and issues related to both cases were the topics of Wednesday’s hearing.
The bulk of the three-hour hearing centered on the assault on a peace officer case, which arose from an altercation between Ruth and the deputies in Ruth’s Jan. 11 arrest.
Puryear denied Ruth’s claim that the deputies had illegally gone onto the private property owned by his mother, Peggy Joyce Ruth, and entered her home without consent to arrest Ruth on the contempt of court warrant.
“The consent to come on the property comes from the arrest warrant,” Puryear said.
Ruth has also been indicted on misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and evading arrest.
Ruth, formerly of Brownwood, lives in Fredericksburg and lists his occupation as attorney and real estate developer, his Facebook page states.
The hearing begins
Coryell County District Attorney Dusty Boyd, who was earlier named special prosecutor in the case against Ruth, was accompanied in court by assistant district attorneys Jeff Parker and Scott Stephens.
At the defense table, Ruth sat next to attorney James Chapman of Fredericksburg. Chapman at one time was Ruth’s attorney in the misapplication of fiduciary funds case.
Puryear granted Chapman’s request to withdraw as Ruth’s attorney. Chapman said in a written motion that Ruth, an attorney, “has undertaken to represent himself by filing motions with the court” without Chapman’s knowledge or participation. Ruth has also declined to pay Chapman’s fee, Chapman’s motion stated.
After being allowed to withdraw, Chapman remained seated next to Ruth and argued on behalf of Ruth to have the misapplication of funds case moved to Gillespie County. Puryear denied that request.
After Ruth began acting as his own attorney, Chapman remained seated next to Ruth and occasionally gave him advice.
One of Ruth’s first acts was to seek a continuance in the assault on a peace officer case, saying the counsel he had hired in that case no longer represented him. Puryear denied that request.
Ruth begins his case
Ruth elaborated on the circumstances of the contempt of court case that led to his Jan. 11 arrest.
Visiting Judge Brad Underwood signed an order of commitment on Dec. 17, 2018 ordering Ruth to serve 30 days for contempt of court, court document state. The contempt charge was related to a civil case.
Ruth maintained he had complied with court orders and that court documents from other jurisdictions negated the Brown County arrest warrant.
Through his own testimony and the testimony of his sister, Angie Schum, Ruth gave his version of the events of Jan. 11, 2019.
Ruth said he was up at 4 a.m. and on the road. In an earlier jailhouse interview, Ruth said he had left Fort Worth that morning and was traveling to Fredericksburg. He said his mother called him and asked him if he’d like to stop in Brownwood to have dinner with her.
Plans were made for Ruth, his sister and mother to meet at the County Road 233 home owned by Peggy Joyce Ruth and her late husband, Jack, and drive to Santa Anna for dinner, Ruth said in the earlier interview.
Ruth’s first encounter with a deputy
Ruth testified that he arrived at the County Road 233 property in far southern Brown County and was retrieving mail from a mailbox near the shoulder of the road, with his car parked close by.
“I was very sick,” Ruth testified, saying he was having issues related to his diabetes.
Ruth said a deputy — Fletcher — drove up in his patrol vehicle and asked Ruth if he was broken down. Ruth said no and Fletcher drove away, Ruth testified.
A few minutes later, Ruth testified, he was on the property watering animals when Fletcher and deputy Scotty Burke drove onto the property, approached Ruth and said there was an arrest warrant for Ruth.
Ruth said he told the deputies he had court documents in his car that negated the arrest warrant. He said he retrieved the documents, then went inside the house to get his glasses. The deputies followed him in without permission, Ruth said.
The arrest according to Ruth
Ruth and Schum, who arrived a short time later, said the conversation between Ruth and the deputies was initially cordial and professional as they stood in the kitchen.
Ruth said he told the deputies he’d been arrested several times previously and with each arrest, he’d driven himself to the jail and checked himself in.
Ruth said he told the deputies he was going to have dinner with his mother and sister and then he would check himself into jail.
Then Fletcher became aggressive and moved toward him, Ruth said. He said he feared Fletcher was pulling his gun and also feared Fletcher would use the nearby kitchen knives as a deadly weapon against him.
Fearing for his life, Ruth said, he backed out of the kitchen and into the living room, where he was attacked by both deputies and tased three times.
“I never intentionally tried to make physical contact with the deputies,” Ruth said.
Ruth said Fletcher told him to “quit resisting” but said he was paralyzed from being tased and could not resist.
Ruth also claimed the sheriff’s office had been illegally tracking him through his cell phone and said it was too coincidental that Fletcher was driving by Ruth’s mother’s house when Ruth was present.
Ruth further claimed that sheriff’s officials released the video of Ruth’s arrest to Joe Cooksey and said Cooksey has posted the video on this Brown County Watchdawg page. Ruth wanted to call Cooksey to testify, but Puryear denied that request.
Cooksey said sheriff’s officials did not give him the video.
The arrest according to Fletcher
Called by prosecutors to testify, Fletcher said he has never tracked Ruth and said the sheriff’s office has no cell phone tracking devices.
Fletcher said he was on patrol when he saw Ruth by the side of the road, checking the mail and walking back to Ruth’s car. Fletcher said he stopped to check on Ruth, whom he recognized but did not believe he had ever met.
Fletcher said he was initially unaware of a warrant for Ruth’s arrest.
Fletcher said followed his usual practice of radioing dispatch when he is stopped with a vehicle or individual. He said he gives his location and the vehicle’s license plate number in case anything happens.
Fletcher said after he cleared with Ruth and drove away, another deputy asked by radio if Fletcher had been speaking with Ruth. Fletcher said he was informed there was an arrest warrant for Ruth.
Fletcher called for backup, and after Burke arrived, the deputies drove onto the property to look for Ruth.
Fletcher said he found Ruth watering animals and told him there was a warrant. “He acknowledged that there was a warrant,” Fletcher said, adding that Ruth said he had paperwork that countered the warrant.
Fletcher said he indicated he wanted to hear Ruth’s side of the story and wanted to see Ruth’s paperwork.
It was starting to rain, Fletcher said, and Ruth and the deputies walked into the house. He said while Ruth did not verbally invite the deputies inside, Ruth’s behavior was “inviting.”
Fletcher said the conversation was initially cordial, and Fletcher went outside to talk on the phone with dispatch and with Sheriff Vance Hill. Fletcher said once he had confirmed that Ruth was to be arrested on the Brown County warrant, he went back inside and told Ruth the time for talking was over.
Fletcher said his attitude toward Ruth did not change and he continued to be kind and professional.
“It’s an arrest warrant out of a court, and that’s how I treated it,” Fletcher said.
The deputy said he asked Ruth if he wanted to take his paperwork with him to jail, and Ruth replied, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“He quickly stepped away from me,” Fletcher testified. Fletcher said Ruth backed out of the kitchen and into the living room, and resisted the deputies efforts to grab his wrists and put on handcuffs. At one point, Fletcher said, Ruth made a “dodging maneuver” around a pillar in the living room.
“You struck me, and that’s what knocked my body cam off,” Fletcher said, answering one of Ruth’s questions on cross-examination.
Fletcher said he received several strikes to his side and arm. At one point Ruth ran toward him, Fletcher said, and he deployed his Taser.
Ruth fell onto the couch, Fletcher said. In his written arrest report, Fletcher said Ruth started to get back up, and Fletcher cycled the Taser to prevent that.
At one point, Ruth claimed one of the prosecutors was signaling Fletcher how to answer questions by shaking his head "no." Puryear did not respond to Ruth's claim and testimony resumed.
Ruth argued that Fletcher had changed some of the details as he testified.
“The story I heard from the witness hasn’t changed,” Puryear said from the bench.