A Galveston Police Department officer was charged Friday with three third-degree felonies after being accused of helping a suspected drug dealer avoid other Galveston police officers by supplying him with information.
John Rutherford, 40, was charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, misuse of official information and tampering with physical evidence, according to the department.
Rutherford is accused of supplying classified information about officers’ locations, working assignments and patterns to a person selling prescription drugs, Police Chief Vernon Hale said during a press conference Friday afternoon at the Galveston Police Department headquarters.
The information allowed “criminals to work with impunity and not be captured,” Hale said.
“In my opinion, they also put officers’ safety at risk,” Hale said.
Galveston police investigators received a tip during an unrelated investigation months ago that an officer might have an “integral role” in a drug dealing ring, Hale said.
Rutherford was arrested 8 a.m. Friday at police headquarters, police said.
The investigation took place over a period of months and involved the FBI, DEA and Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, Hale said.
Salvador Rivera, 32, of Galveston, also was arrested Friday by an FBI SWAT team at a home in the 5600 block of Lafitte Avenue in connection with the investigation of Rutherford, police said.
Rivera was charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, misuse of official information and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, also third-degree felonies. His bond was set at $750,000, police said.
Third-degree felonies are punishable by sentences of two to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000, according to the state penal code.
Rutherford, a patrol officer with 15 years on the force, was being held Friday in the Galveston County jail, police said. His bond was set at $750,000.
He also was placed on administrative leave from the department pending an internal investigation.
Hale — who this month officially started as Galveston’s police chief — declined to say whether any other officers were under investigation. He credited Galveston Police Department officers with initiating the investigation into Rutherford months ago.
“To the community, we realize that you may feel betrayed by someone sworn to protect you,” Hale said. “Trust me, you are not alone in that disappointment. Galveston police officers are disgraced that this could have occurred.
“Galveston Island should be proud of our agency. It was our officers who initiated, conducted, concluded and arrested this officer to protect the integrity of this profession, of this badge that we earned and of the nobility of policing.”
Hale told the department’s officers, some of whom attended the press conference, the arrest was not a poor reflection on their work.
The president of the Galveston Municipal Police Association said the union’s members were saddened and shocked by the arrest.
“If true, the actions of this officer do not echo the mission statement of the Galveston Municipal Police Association,” said Jeff Murdock, president of the association. “We know that in order to be effective and provide the best possible service to our citizens, there needs to be trust in our law enforcement.”
Friday’s arrest was the second time in recent history that a Galveston police officer has been charged with a felony.
In January 2017, former officer Michael Andrews was charged with felony drug possession after being caught in an undercover sting buying steroids. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in August 2017.
That incident and the one announced on Friday were not connected, officials said.