The PJ Tatler

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 conference…you 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.

“And I said OK. And I knew coming this morning, to my office, [unintelligible] I feel bad cause I said ‘Look, I’ve got hundreds of volunteers. And that’s OK with me, if you don’t want to be out there, you don’t have to.’ But I do expect one thing. It’s when you go out there and you’re doing your duty and you’re doing your work, that you represent us in the most professional manner, because you are representing me. And you do your job. And you do your job. And you represent us well and that, to me, is worth a lot more than going out there and helping politically.”

Treviño implies that there had been some problem with Deputy Garcia’s conduct on the job. But he admits that there have been no problems with her later in the tape.

“Have I not done my job the way I should’ve?” Garcia asks.

“No, you’ve done your job,” Treviño admits. “It’s just the things you’ve said on the outside that I don’t have the trust in you anymore.”

“Like?” Garcia asks.

“Let me finish,” Treviño says testily. “When you said you didn’t want to get involved in politics, that’s fine.”

Treviño and Garcia then discuss another officer named Ralph Garza, who Garcia tells Treviño will tell the sheriff “everything you want to hear.” Garcia also tells Treviño that Garza “has had it in for [her] from the get-go.” Garcia then tells Treviño that she declined appearing at his campaign kickoff press conference because she was under a deadline on a case and did not have “four hours to burn” attending the sheriff’s political press conference. Deputies are not allowed to make political appearances on behalf of sheriffs in uniform or on official time.

After more conversation about Garza, Treviño gets to what really seems to bother him about Deputy Garcia.

“When they put my sign up over at your son-in-law’s house, you told them to take it down,” he says.

“No I did not,” Garcia insists. Garcia explains that her daughter never wanted to post political signs on their property, the sign caused arguments between the daughter and her husband, and that’s why the sheriff’s sign eventually came down. Garcia and Treviño then discuss the sign further, and Sheriff Treviño tells Garcia that another officer blamed her for the sign’s removal.

Sheriff Treviño tells Deputy Garcia that he no longer feels comfortable with her in the department. She counters that “I have done my job.”

Trevino agrees: “You’ve done your job. Look, believe me, you’ve done your job and you’ve done a good job.”

But he carries forward with the demotion, telling her again that he does not feel comfortable with her. He tells her again at the end of the tape to report to the Intake Misdemeanors department.

Deputy Garcia ended her career with the department after this conversation.

Garcia is not the only officer to run afoul of Sheriff Treviño for political rather than professional reasons. Other officers have allegedly been fired or have resigned under pressure from the sheriff and his close lieutenants to support his political campaign. One of those officers had never been in any previous trouble and is also a combat veteran with the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Treviño is not alone among elected officials doing politics on official government time. On Sept 12, 2012, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius was found to have violated the Hatch Act, which forbids federal officials from electioneering while appearing in their official capacity. Violating the Hatch Act is usually a firing offense. President Barack Obama has allowed Sebelius to keep her job and has appeared with her on the campaign trail.

PJ Media reached out to the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department for comment about the YouTube recording last Tuesday, but were told that Sheriff Treviño was in a meeting and would get back to us for comment. No one from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department ever returned our call or offered any comment on the audio.

Alexis Garcia contributed to this report.

Update: We’ve received a note from an attorney who says the following, in regard to the story above.

  1. The enforcement responsibility for this statute rests with the federal Office of Special Counsel (“OSC”), an independent federal agency.
  2. State/local governmental officials are subject to (and protected by) the federal Hatch Act so long as the entity receives some federal funding for its operations (as EVERY state/local governmental entity does).  One of the things that the Hatch Act protects against is adverse employment actions on the basis of political affiliation and/or exercise of First Amendment activity.  This kind of thing happens all the time with local sheriff’s offices, where individuals are discriminated against because they refuse to support the elected sheriff’s reelection campaign.  This kind of action is expressly prohibited by the Hatch Act.
  3. Complaints about Hatch Act violations by state/local officials should be directed to the following office at OSC

Hatch Act Unit
U.S. Office of Special Counsel
1730 M Street, N.W., Suite 218
Washington, D.C. 20036-4505
Tel: (800) 85-HATCH or (800) 854-2824
(202) 254-3650
Fax: (202) 254-3700

There is no question here regarding the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department’s receipt of federal funds. While reporting on the border crime statistic manipulation story, we found open source information that the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department has received about $6 million from the federal COPS program since 2004.

In February 2012, Sheriff Treviño noted: “We tell the truth and say violent crime is down and cartel violence has been kept south of the river, but we get criticized because we say we need money. If we’re going to continue to lower the violent crime rate, we have to have a sustained maintenance. That’s why we need the continued influx of federal funds.” (emphasis added)