Pharr police chief demoted to lieutenant
The city of Pharr abruptly demoted police Chief Jose A. Luengo to lieutenant on Thursday, less than two years after he accepted the top job.
Interim City Manager Edward M. Wylie said in a text message that Luengo — a lieutenant who was appointed police chief in January 2019 — had been “de-appointed” and would become a lieutenant again.
“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 a news release from the city. “The city would like to thank Chief Luengo for his service and leadership to the City of Pharr.”
What prompted the decision remained unclear Thursday.
City Commissioner Roberto “Bobby” Carrillo said that Pharr simply wanted to change direction.
“Nothing negative on Luengo. Personally, I really like the man. We speak all the time. I wish the very best for him,” Carrillo said. “Hopefully he stays so he can help the next individual we hire — some of the policies and procedures he put in place were excellent.”
Pharr had suspended Luengo without pay for three days in May.
“I’m not going to go into the details,” Wylie said on May 11 in an interview with KRGV-TV. “I’m going to respect the chief and his privacy.”
KRGV-TV filed a public information request for all documents relating or referring to the suspension.
Pharr didn’t release any documents and requested a decision from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, arguing that release of the records would interfere with a criminal investigation.
“The investigation is on-going, and active,” according to a letter from the city to the Attorney General’s Office. “Release of the entire file could potentially interfere with the detection, investigation, and prosecution of a possible crime.”
Carrillo said he didn’t think the suspension was a factor in the city’s decision to demote Luengo to lieutenant.
Pharr simply wants to shift direction, Carrillo said, and is already looking at potential replacements.
“That’s why it wasn’t a termination, it was a move,” Carrillo said. “He got repositioned and we’re going to move forward.”
Luengo graduated from James “Nikki” Rowe High School in May 1997, according to Pharr Police Department personnel records. After a four-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, he returned to the Rio Grande Valley and became a jailer at the McAllen Police Department.
In April 2007, he was charged with assault, a Class A misdemeanor, according to McAllen Police Department personnel records, which don’t provide details about the incident.
The arrest warrant and affidavit from the case aren’t available. The documents may have been expunged.
According to an article published in The Monitor, however, police officers arrested Luengo and another jailer after they assaulted a player during a basketball game.
“Luengo began choking the unidentified player,” according to a Monitor article published on April 28, 2007. The other jailer “wrapped his arms around the player’s body to prevent him from fighting back.”
After the incident, Luengo accepted a voluntary demotion from crew leader to jailer, according to McAllen Police Department records. He resigned that September.
Luengo quickly found a new job in Pharr, where he handled code enforcement.
After a year with code enforcement, Pharr allowed Luengo to attend the police academy. He graduated in July 2009.
During the next decade, Luengo earned a master’s degree from the University of Texas-Pan American, a master peace officer certification from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and a promotion to lieutenant.
In October 2017, when police Chief Ruben Villescas and Assistant Chief Javier Gonzalez resigned amid a major management shake-up at the police department, then-City Manager Juan Guerra asked Luengo to become the interim police chief.
Pharr conducted a nationwide search for a new chief. After interviewing four finalists, though, Pharr selected Luengo.
Mayor Ambrosio “Amos” Hernandez and the City Commission held a swearing-in ceremony for Luengo in January 2019.
“Chief Jose Luengo is a wonderful human being. He’s a family man. He’s absolutely an outstanding, in my opinion, chief. He’s an outstanding police officer who has served the city of Pharr well,” Hernandez said.
Wylie, the interim city manager, decided Luengo should become a lieutenant again, Hernandez said.
“The city manager has ultimate authority based on the charter,” Hernandez said. “He has every right to change department heads. Which is what it was, a change in department heads.”
Hernandez said he expected Wylie would explain the decision Monday during a regularly scheduled City Commission meeting.
“Personally, I think he’s doing a great job and, obviously, he is a resource and asset to (the) Pharr PD department,” Hernandez said. “He is always welcome in the city of Pharr.”