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Documents reveal why Pharr suspended police chief

1 week 15 hours 3 minutes ago Saturday, August 01 2020 Aug 1, 2020 August 01, 2020 9:43 AM August 01, 2020 in News - Local
Pharr Mayor Ambrosio "Amos" Hernandez, left, administered the oath of office to police Chief Jose A. Luengo, at right, in January 2019. (Photo courtesy of the city of Pharr.)

The city of Pharr released documents Saturday that reveal why then-police Chief Jose A. Luengo was suspended in May.

Interim City Manager Edward M. Wylie asked Luengo for a police report on a theft investigation that involved the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, according to text messages and documents released on Saturday morning.

Luengo, apparently concerned that release of the police report would jeopardize an ongoing investigation, said he couldn’t provide Wylie with the report. Luengo offered to meet with Wylie or arrange a briefing on the case instead.

Wylie responded by suspending Luengo for three days without pay.

“Your response to Mr. Wylie’s request was both insubordinate and disrespectful toward the City Manager,” according to a written reprimand dated May 8. “Your behavior does not align with the performance expectations set forth by management for the City of Pharr Police Chief.”

The memo also warned Luengo not to disobey the city manager again.

“This personnel action serves notice to you that the continued disregard to management's authority will not be tolerated,” according to the memo. “Failure to improve will result in more severe disciplinary action to include removal from the position of Department Head, reinstatement to the last tested rank and up to immediate termination of employment with the City of Pharr.”

On July 2 — nearly two months after the suspension — Wylie replaced Luengo.

Pharr announced the decision with a brief news release.

“The City of Pharr announced today that its police department is headed in a new direction after Chief Jose Luengo was removed as head of the city's law enforcement department,” according to the news release. “The city would like to thank Chief Luengo for his service and leadership to the City of Pharr.”

Pharr replaced Luengo with Andrew “Andy” Harvey Jr., a retired Dallas Police Department lieutenant who served as police chief in Palestine and Ennis.

Why the city had disciplined Luengo in May remained a mystery.

On May 11, when Luengo started his three-day suspension, Wylie declined to provide any details about what happened.

“I’m not going to go into the details,” Wylie said during an interview with KRGV-TV on May 11, adding that he wanted to maintain a respectful working relationship with Luengo. “I’m going to respect the chief and his privacy.”

It’s relatively common for city managers to decline to discuss personnel matters. The documents, though, are public records.

KRGV-TV filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act for all documents relating or referring to Luengo’s suspension. At least two other people also filed requests for the documents.

Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal and Zech, a Harlingen-based law firm that frequently handles public information requests for the city, asked the Texas Attorney General’s Office to determine whether or not Pharr could withhold the documents.

“In this case, the requested information is for all documents related to a specific disciplinary action involving the current Pharr Police Chief, the underlying police investigation is currently under an active investigation,” according to a letter dated June 2 from the law firm to the Attorney General’s Office. “The information attached as Exhibit ‘B1’ constitutes the information that the City possesses that would be responsive to this request. The investigation is on-going, and active. Release of the entire file could potentially interfere with the detection, investigation, and prosecution of a possible crime.”

The letter also included a section titled “Litigation is Reasonably Anticipated,” but the text of that section was redacted from a copy of the letter sent to KRGV-TV.

Texas law requires the city and other governmental bodies to provide requestors with copies of their letters to the Attorney General’s Office. Parts that “disclose or contain the substance of the information requested” may be redacted. However, governmental bodies may not redact the arguments themselves.

The Attorney General’s Office determined the letter to KRGV-TV had been improperly redacted.

“The city sent to one of the requestors a copy of its written comments submitted to this office pursuant to section 552.301(e)(1)(a), but redacted portions of its arguments from the copy. After review of the copy of the city’s brief sent to the requestor at issue, we conclude the city redacted information from the copy that does not disclose or contain the substance of the information requested,” according to a letter ruling from the Attorney General’s Office dated July 20. “Therefore, we conclude the city failed to comply with the procedural requirements of section 552.301(e-1) of the Government Code.”

As a result, the Attorney General’s Office directed Pharr to release the documents.

Denton Navarro released the documents, which included a memo, a personnel action form, text messages and a copy of the police report, at 8:37 a.m. Saturday.

Wylie didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday morning. Luengo couldn’t be reached for comment.

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