Caught on Tape: Border County Sheriff Demotes Experienced Deputy Over Politics, Personal Vendetta (Update: Federal Law Implications?)

A newly revealed audio recording suggests that Hidalgo County, TX, Sheriff Guadalupe "Lupe" Treviño makes law enforcement personnel moves based on personal and political vendettas. The tape suggests that the sheriff who is responsible for one of the busiest border counties in the United States rewards political supporters and punishes officers that he believes do not support his political campaigns. On the tape, Sheriff Treviño is heard demoting a seasoned career officer over a petty dispute involving one of his campaign yard signs.

Back in August, we reported on the manipulation of crime statistics in the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Department. In that three-part series, we showed hidden-camera video evidence that Sheriff Lupe Treviño, a Democrat who has been sheriff in Hidalgo County since 2004, leads an effort that systematically distorts and downplays the extent and nature of criminal activity in the county, which sits on the border between Texas and Mexico. In that report, one deputy alleges that Sheriff Treviño turns a blind eye to Mexican drug cartel activity in his county. Treviño manipulates the statistics and keeps deputies from proactively fighting crime, the deputy says, so that the county appears to be safer than it really is, and so Treviño can claim to have reduced crime in the county, which sits on the border between Texas and Mexico. Hidden-camera video captured a sheriff's department crime analyst admitting that Sheriff Treviño personally orders the statistical manipulation. The Obama administration uses statistics from Hidalgo County and other border communities to tell the American people that the U.S.-Mexico border is safer than ever before.

Late last Monday night a new tape surfaced on YouTube. On this tape, which was recorded inside the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office headquarters in Edinburg, Texas, on December 12, 2011, Sheriff Treviño is heard telling Senior Deputy Linda Garcia to pack her things in her office and move them, because she is being transferred from a department staffed by veteran officers like herself to another department, in which junior officers begin their law enforcement careers.

Treviño begins the meeting telling Garcia: "Uh, I'm gonna transfer you out. I want you to clean your stuff out this afternoon. Tomorrow morning, I want you to report to Commander Montemayor and he will tell you where you're gonna go." Commander John Montemayor heads the sheriff's department's investigations and patrols sections.

Senior Deputy Garcia's law enforcement career began in 1982, and she had been with the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Department for about five years when the recorded conversation took place. Trevino is heard on the tape stating that since Garcia has not been on patrol for some years, he is choosing not to put her back on patrol. Instead, he transfers her from Internal Affairs, a department typically staffed by top veteran investigators who have spotless service records, to Intake Misdemeanors, a department typically staffed with junior officers starting out on their careers in criminal investigations.

After explaining his decision not to send Garcia back to patrol, Sheriff Treviño explains his decision to demote her.

"I have lost confidence in you," Treviño tells the veteran officer. "I know that you are not in favor of me, for whatever reason. I know you changed your mind. And that's fine, that's fine," Treviño tells Garcia. He continued, "One thing I do want you to understand, is that politics has nothing to do with this. But it does."

"But it does," Garcia is also heard to say on the tape.

"But it does," Treviño says again, before Garcia says, "Of course it does."

"Sure it does," Treviño says. "Well I'll tell you it doesn't, but it does."

Treviño then spells out the politics behind his decision to demote Garcia.

"When you were asked to go to our kickoff press said 'I don't get involved in politics. I don't want to get involved in politics.' That's fine. I respect that. There's a lot of people here that told me that, and I respected it." After some crosstalk, Treviño continues.