Officer responds after manslaughter suspect withdraws plea

Published 12:18 am Wednesday, May 25, 2022

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BEAUMONT — Luis Torres, who previously pleaded guilty to an intoxication manslaughter charge in which Beaumont Police Officer Sheena Yarbrough-Powell was killed, withdrew his guilty plea Monday.

Torres, 20, was to be sentenced Monday in Judge John Stevens’ criminal district court. He will now go to trial on July 18, according to information from the court.

He also previously pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for injuring a second officer. That case has been dismissed and will be re-filed.

Assistant District Attorney Pat Knauth said they would now proceed with the trial. The intoxication manslaughter charge carries a punishment of probation to 5 to 99 years or life and a fine up to $10,000.

The aggravated assault charge caries a punishment of probation to 2 to 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000, he said.

Knauth declined to discuss the case but said the family of Yarbrough-Powell was looking forward to closure.

Defense Attorney Tom Burnank did not return a call to Port Arthur Newsmedia by 2:25 p.m. Monday.

BPD Officer Haley Morrow said the news Torres withdrew his plea was a gut punch to the department and all who knew and loved Yarbrough-Powell.

“The suspect responsible for taking her precious life and seriously injuring another officer was supposed to be sentenced (Monday) morning at 9 a.m. after pleading guilty in April. Although nothing can bring Sheena back, our hope was that the sentencing would bring some closure and maybe an ounce of justice,” Morrow said on social media.

The hope quickly changed to shock, disbelief and anger when they learned of the decision, she said. Now, loved ones and coworkers will sit and listen to the details of the night she was killed.

On Aug. 9, 2020, 23-year-old Officer Sheena Yarbrough-Powell and then 28-year-old Officer Gabriel Fells were traveling northbound on Cardinal Drive near the Texas 347 overpass when a wrong way driver not using headlights struck them head-on.

Fells was taken to a hospital for severe injuries, underwent surgery and was released.

Yarbrough-Powell died at the scene.

Police said Torres was driving without a license and was believed to be highly intoxicated with a blood alcohol content of .296.

— By Mary Meaux