Alton police officer fired for sexual harassment has previous record

3 years 9 months 3 weeks ago Tuesday, February 11 2020 Feb 11, 2020 February 11, 2020 7:34 PM February 11, 2020 in News - Local

ALTON – A police officer was fired by the Alton Police Department in 2019 after a woman came forward with sexual harassment allegations while she was in custody. Records obtained by CHANNEL 5 NEWS show the officer had an employment history with similar allegations prior to his employment in Alton.

The recent allegations against then Alton Police Officer Heriberto Sanchez surfaced in Sept. 2019.

Police arrested a woman for driving while intoxicated. In a sworn statement, she claimed she met Sanchez and told him she didn't have money to make bail. Sanchez reportedly told her he'd see what he could do. When Officer Sanchez walked her to the arraignment, he told her he secured the lowest bond for her.

Later, the woman boarded a police unit heading to county jail. Officer Sanchez was driving. She said in her statement she noticed the recording light inside the police unit turn off. After a reportedly suggestive question inquiring about her undergarments, Sanchez stopped by a drive thru to buy the woman food. She had mentioned she was hungry. They started talking and that's when the woman claims the officer reminded her of the low bond he supposedly helped her get. When they got close to the jail, the officer asked her if he could call her and she agreed.

Calls followed. At one point, the officer claimed he could help get her charges dismissed because he was friends with judges. That was contingent on her answering his calls. It got her attention and she agreed to go to dinner. When they finished, the two were talking in the parking lot. That's when she claimed Sanchez kissed her and she moved away.

The officer invited her out to the movies, but the woman said she also felt he was insinuating a sexual relationship. She stopped answering his calls after that. In her statement she said, "Although I wanted to have my case dropped, I was not willing to do the things he wanted."

A romantic relationship with someone under the officer's custody is inappropriate and against policy. Those allegations surfaced Sept. 20, 2019 and immediately Sanchez was placed on administrative leave and an investigation was opened.

This is his second time facing similar accusations. Sanchez worked at the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office in 2016. According to internal affairs records, then Investigator Heriberto Sanchez grabbed the hand of a coworker and placed it over himself in a sensitive area. He spoke with investigators on July 27, 2016 and told them he believed he had a prior long-standing consensual relationship with the affected co-worker. That same day Sanchez resigned writing a letter on a piece of notebook paper.

Sanchez was hired two years later by Alton Police Department Chief Jonathan Flores, April 2018. Flores gave an interview after he hired Sanchez. He said he knew Sanchez from when they both worked at the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office, albeit on different shifts. He called Sanchez an "acquaintance" and said he was familiar with his work ethic. Flores said he hired Sanchez knowing of the allegations that surfaced toward the end of his employment at HCSO. "People in their law enforcement careers are going to make mistakes and I believe that they deserve a second chance to redeem themselves," he said in an interview he gave May 14, 2018. He felt Sanchez was honest about his past, something confirmed in the application CHANNEL 5 NEWS obtained where Sanchez positively marked he had been accused of discrimination such as sexual harassment by a coworker. Before hiring him, Flores said he called the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office to ask about his employment history. He wanted to know if Sanchez was "hirable" and was told he was. Flores said in that interview, "This is an unfortunate incident. I would venture to say that it's an isolated incident. It's something that was outside of his normal character."

When Chief Flores was contacted for comment on the 2019 termination he felt the five-month span in the termination did not merit an interview and instead issued a statement:

On Friday September 20th, 2019 our office was made aware of alleged misconduct by one of our employees Investigator Heriberto Sanchez. Investigator Sanchez was immediately placed on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation.

An internal affairs investigation was conducted at which time multiple policy violations were discovered. As a result Investigator Sanchez’ employment with our agency was terminated. The Texas Rangers were contacted to review a possible criminal component to the allegations, however the complainant was uncooperative with their agency. 

“As law enforcement officers we are held to an elevated standard of trust. It is incumbent upon all of us to adhere to this standard and do the right thing at all times. This incident should serve as a reminder to all law enforcement personnel that while we are privileged to uphold the law we are not above it.”

Chief Jonathan B. Flores

The Alton investigation began September 20, 2019. The next day, Sanchez received a letter informing him an Internal Affairs Investigation reviewed violations for prohibited conduct and sexual harassment and breaking the rules of unbecoming conduct and fraternizing with inmates. It stated, "it has been determined that there is a criminal aspect to the allegations. The case has been turned over to the Texas Rangers. Effective immediately your employment with the City of Alton is being terminated." He was terminated September 21, 2019.

Heriberto Sanchez retained an attorney to handle his affairs but told CHANNEL 5 NEWS he believes these allegations are false.

The woman who accused Sanchez of the inappropriate behavior also retained an attorney. He sent a statement on her behalf:

This office represents [the client] as a result of a complaint by her of sexual harassment by a detective with the Alton Police Department.  We are currently investigating the merits of her complaint.  If after an investigation into this matter confirms a sexual assault or sexual harassment claim, we file suit to protect the interests of [our client].  If you have further questions regarding this matter, please contact us. 

When asked if this investigation would affect Alton Police Department hiring practices, Chief Flores said they will continue hiring on a case-by-case basis.

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