Edinburg strips police chief’s authority; assessing ‘leadership capabilities’

A letter sent to Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres on April 12 obtained by The Monitor reveals he was placed on administrative leave with pay until further notice.

“This action is required to conduct an assessment towards your leadership capabilities within the department,” City Manager Ron Garza wrote in the letter.

Garza also withdrew all of Torres’ authority as chief.

“Additionally, I have withdrawn all authority vested in you by virtue of your commission as a Police Chief for the Edinburg Police Department. You are ordered to surrender all departmental property immediately,” Garza wrote.

While on administrative leave, Torres will receive his salary, benefits and all other entitlements of his employment.

The newspaper received the document through a Texas Public Information Act request.

Torres remains on leave.

The city had previously declined to provide any details on the move because it is a personnel issue.

The action followed a ruling by an independent arbitrater on April 7 that Torres retaliated against two police officers for activity related to their membership in the Edinburg United Police Officers Association, or EUPOA.

The officers, Arnaldo Ysquierdo and Eric Salazar, opposed a proposal Torres made to hire an assistant chief from outside of the agency shortly after he took the job as chief in January 2018. Torres said during a December mediation that he didn’t think anyone in the department was qualified for the position.

Ysquierdo and Salazar were reassigned from the Criminal Investigations Division to patrol in August 2019 within days of being elected to leadership positions in the union.

The reassignments resulted in the loss of pay, job prestige, favorable working hours and the ability to wear plain clothes.

The EUPOA later sued after the city of Edinburg refused to hear their grievances and a federal judge ultimately issued an order compelling mediation.

That mediation occurred at City Hall in December under neutral arbitrator Richard R. Brann, who earlier this month determined that Torres reassigned the men because the evidence went against Torres’ explanation that the officer displayed poor work performance and was contrary to favorable evaluations made by their supervisors.

Brann concluded that the only reason Torres reassigned them was because of their opposition to his proposal for lateral hires for the assistant chief position.

That conclusion was reached in part by evidence presented at the mediation that showed multiple officers who opposed Torres’ proposal faced unfavorable reassignments and disciplinary actions.

Included in this group is current EUPOA president Armando Celedon, who was arrested and charged with official oppression and tampering with government records before being fired.

A grand jury no-billed Celedon and he received back pay and reinstatement to his job.

Celedon joined other members of the union in voting to report officer Juan “Jay” Hernandez to the Texas Rangers over allegations he improperly used an EUPOA credit card to purchase tickets to a Jennifer Lopez concert.

After Torres was unable to get his proposal to hire from outside the department for an assistant chief, he appointed Hernandez, a patrol officer with no supervisory experience, as the assistant chief.

Hernandez, while a member of the EUPOA, supported Torres’ proposal for lateral hires and later left the EUPOA.

He was never charged for the Jennifer Lopez ticket purchases and was later sent back to patrol.

Brann’s ruling, which notes multiple other instances of officers facing adverse reassignments and disciplinary actions for opposing Toress’ proposal, orders the city to reinstate Ysquierdo and Salazar to their positions in the Criminal Investigations Division after determining Torres violated the union’s Meet and Confer agreement with the city, which prohibits discrimination for union activity or membership.

“To remedy this violation, the City must now reassign Eric Salazar and Arnaldo Ysquierdo to the positions that each held in CID on August 8, 2019 and grant them any back pay and benefits they have lost from August 8, 2019, until the time of their reassignment,” Brann wrote in the ruling.

This is also not the first time Torres has faced disciplinary action.

In February 2020, he was suspended for five days without pay for three incidents: allegedly investigating a claim against himself; seeking a council member’s “blessing” to demote an assistant chief; and failing to inform city management about an assault investigation involving a former city manager, who was eventually cleared of the charges.

Documents regarding that suspension said Torres will “need to improve his management skill” and is “required to attend any and all police chief and management development trainings as directed by the city manager.”

Another violation could result in “censure, suspension, and disciplinary action including termination of employment,” the document said.