Probation given to Cleveland man convicted of injuring constable in 2017 accident

Pct. 1 Constable Justin Johnston (right) visits with Chris Ungles with the Liberty County Sheriff's Office on Thursday at the Liberty County Courthouse, just moments after the sentence was handed down for the man who struck and seriously injured Johnston in February 2017.

A Cleveland man convicted for the February 2017 accident that seriously injured Pct. 1 Constable Justin Johnston will not serve any jail time if he successfully completes six years of probation. Though he was found guilty Thursday of the first-degree felony charge of Aggravated Assault of a Peace Officer, Samuel Leyva received an eight-year sentence that was deferred for probation.

Leyva, represented by Houston attorney Fabio Amador, waived his right to appeal as part of the sentencing agreement. Leyva also waived his right to a jury trial, which left the verdict in the hands of visiting Judge Carolyn Johnson, sitting in for 253rd District Court Judge Chap Cain.

On the night of Feb. 15, 2017, Johnston was directing traffic on SH 146 south of Dayton when he was hit by Leyva’s pickup truck. Leyva was not under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

In announcing Leyva’s sentence Thursday afternoon, the judge addressed the grievous injuries that Johnston suffered in the accident.

Speaking to Johnston, she said, “I believe you are a man of understanding and will find peace … it’s very important that you understand that this man’s future is in his own hands.”

Addressing Leyva through an interpreter, the judge continued, “You brought this all on yourself. Do you have anything to say?”

When Leyva declined to comment, the judge continued on with her orders that require Leyva to pay all court costs and fees, and undergo an 18-week program that the judge said “will make you a better citizen.”

Should Leyva fail to comply with all the terms of his probation, he could be subject to serving his eight-year sentence in prison.

After the verdict was announced, the constable, who still bears the scars on his head from the accident, stepped outside the courtroom to ponder the outcome of the trial.

“I didn’t really have an expectation other than a conviction of a first-degree felony. Six years of probation seems a little soft, but I am still trying to wrap my mind around it,” he said. “The testimony of Mr. Leyva’s wife and daughter were compelling. I have kids. I understand. I have a picture of my children standing by my hospital bed not knowing if I was going to live. It’s a lot to take in.”

Johnston said he still grapples with problems regarding his short-term memory and concentration, which he hopes will eventually improve.

“I will have issues the rest of my life as a result of the accident but I forgive him. I am really happy that I have some closure. It’s over. It’s done. I can move on with my life,” he said.

Johnston said that Leyva gets a chance to redeem himself.

“It’s symbolic to me that both of us got a second chance at life, and I am okay with that,” he said.

By Vanesa Brashier,

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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