Two Central Texas YouTubers were indicted by a grand jury on Wednesday on felony exploitation charges after police said they harassed senior citizens for the hearing.
Joey P. Perez, 37, and Paul Estrada, 35, both of Belton, have each been charged with elder abuse, a third degree felony.
The two suspects also face a class B misdemeanor charge of interference with public office. Additionally, Perez faces an additional charge of harassment, a Class B misdemeanor. He is also pending indictment on a third-degree felony retaliation charge for allegedly threatening officers during his arrest.
The charges stem from an incident on April 9, 2021 at the Belton Post Office, 111 N. Wall St., and the Belton Police Department, 711 E. Second Ave., when the couple allegedly harassed two women and l recorded for their video. -chain sharing, according to an affidavit of arrest.
“I would say the (suspects) are accused of targeting a 77-year-old woman and a second woman who often uses a cane for help.” Belton Police Sgt. Daniel Ontiveros said in the affidavit. “(The suspects) engaged in their behavior to generate more views on their YouTube channels. The higher number of views of their videos and subscribers to their channel would, in turn, generate gain and notoriety for themselves.
Ontiveros alleges in the affidavit that the 77-year-old woman was approached by the couple when she was getting her mail at the post office, followed to her car and continuously harassed.
“The suspects quickly and aggressively invaded (the woman’s) personal space with their cameras to induce fear, alarm and anger,” Ontiveros said. “(Perez) was live-streaming the event mocking (the woman) for being a ‘Karen’, ‘losing her mind’ and ‘being a slave’ while creating a breach of the peace.”
Another woman approached Perez and asked him why he was filming, and he allegedly berated her and made obscene gestures at her.
“When she asked ‘Why would you do that to me?’ the suspect said, “Because I can, so go home and kick it,” Ontiveros said. “It was all broadcast live with (Estrada) helping with the filming.”
The women drove to the Belton Police Department and were followed by the suspects, who continued to film them and “proclaiming that broadcasting these clashes live was their job and their way of making a living”, said Ontiveros.
While filing a police report at the station, Ontiveros alleged that the couple invaded the women’s area and confronted them about reporting the incident to authorities.
“(The women) were quickly ushered to a secure part of the building where it took officers some time to calm them down and keep them from shaking in fear,” Ontiveros said.
A man who witnessed the post office incident was also allegedly confronted and threatened by Perez at the police station.
“(The suspects) then confronted officers in the lobby and swore at them,” Ontiveros said. “During the live broadcast of the event, a viewer is seen pledging money to the suspect’s channel.”
Police intercepted a Bell County Jail phone call between Perez and a woman where they learned his channel had more than 6,000 subscribers and believed he would receive a check for $300-400 for his videos, according to the affidavit.
“Estrada made numerous calls in jail, admitting at various times to working in conjunction with (Perez), working as a scout for videos, keeping a ‘clean’ phone on him while filming in case of arrest,” said Ontiveros. “(Estrada lamented Perez’s actions) and that (his) YouTube channel is not as important as his family.”
In an April 2021 press release, Belton spokesman Paul Romer said Perez and Estrada refer to themselves as “First Amendment listeners.”
For several weeks, Romer said, both have been actively recording and commenting on police activities in the area and posting them online.
Belton Police Chief Gene Ellis had previously sent certified letters to the two men acknowledging their right to record police activity, but asked them to do so safely, allowing officers to discharge of their duties without hindrance, as specified by Texas law, according to the statement.
Both men have been on bail since 2021.