Edinburg police chief files another lawsuit — this time against former chief

Suit also names former city manager

Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres has filed a second lawsuit.

At 12:09 p.m. Thursday, Torres filed litigation against the city of Edinburg, city council member and former police chief David White and former city manager Richard Hinojosa.

The chief previously filed a lawsuit May 5 against the city, alleging he is being fired for reporting Edinburg United Police Officers Association President Armando Celedon to the FBI over allegations of insurance fraud.

Celedon has not been charged with a crime.

Torres is currently on administrative leave following an April 7 ruling by a neutral arbitrator that he discriminated against two police officers for union activity.

He was placed on administrative leave with pay April 12.

Neither of Torres’ lawsuits mention the April 7 ruling that he discriminated against two police officers, which is just one of the reasons the city says it is firing him, according to documents obtained by The Monitor.

Torres obtained a temporary restraining order in his May 5 lawsuit prohibiting the city from firing him — for the time being.

In the latest lawsuit, Torres complains of his Jan. 10, 2020, five-day suspension without pay.

Torres complains he was not afforded an opportunity to respond to the allegations that are the basis of the suspension, which is contrary to city policies, according to the lawsuit.

Hinojosa, then-city manager, suspended Torres for failing to timely report domestic violence allegations against another former city manager levied by another former city employee; for investigating himself over an allegation he hired a cadet with whom he had a close relationship; and for asking a council member’s “blessing” to demote an assistant chief.

“By that time, however, local newspapers and news stations had already been informed of Torres’s suspension without pay, and news stories across different platforms had already been published based on the incomplete and/or one-sided information contained in the City of Edinburg’s Disciplinary Form,” the lawsuit stated.

The chief claims the news media received a copy of his disciplinary form before he did.

“In fact, Torres was not initially provided a copy of the Suspension, or disciplinary form, even though he requested one; he was refused a copy. He was provided a copy of the same only after such was requested by his legal counsel,” the lawsuit stated.

He appealed that suspension on Feb. 13, 2020 and met with Hinojosa to discuss the suspension and what he says are the false allegations behind it. He also submitted written responses on Feb. 19, 2020, according to the suit.

On March 19, 2020, Hinojosa denied Torres’ appeal.

Torres also complains about White, who he claims told him that he had “(gone) to the press” and “badmouthed” Torres because he didn’t believe Torres was qualified to be chief.

The chief had placed White on administrative leave on the man’s last day at the police department after White’s retirement gathering at the police station.

“He announced he was running for city council member during his retirement speech at the City of Edinburg. White advised the City of Edinburg and its residents — while still employed and wearing his Edinburg police uniform — that he was going to run for a place in the City of Edinburg’s city council and told people to ‘make sure (they) vote(d) for David White,” the lawsuit stated.

Torres said that’s “electioneering and/or campaigning” while still a city employee, which is a violation of the city charter, and that the incident was videotaped by White’s daughter, uploaded to social media and witnessed by approximately 50 police officers, including Torres, and by city management.

White was elected to the position and was sworn in on Nov. 13, 2019.

“And that same day that White was sworn in as council member, November 13, 2019, White lodged a bogus complaint against Torres alleging that Torres was having an affair with an administrative assistant at the City of Edinburg. The matter was investigated and not found to be substantiated by the City’s internal affairs division,” the lawsuit stated.

Torres claims that on April 4, 2020, White told several people at a barbecue that he was going to get the chief fired.

The chief also complains that White has demanded he hire certain people at the police department.

According to Torres, that happened on Dec. 5, 2019, when he directed Torres to hire a Coni Tapia from a dispatcher position.

“An assistant City Manager also contacted Torres to inform him that White had instructed said Assistant City Manager to have Torres interview and hire Coni Tapia,” the lawsuit stated.

Torres’ attorney said the city charter does not allow council members to make decisions regarding city personnel.

“Torres did not interview Tapia and hired someone who Torres considered to be qualified, or better qualified, for the position. The Suspension was then issued against Torres about 30 days later,” the lawsuit stated.

Torres claims White made demands for hiring certain people for the police department on multiple occasions.

“And, as aforementioned, the City of Edinburg’s charter does not allow city council members such as White to dictate appointment or removal of city employees. Hence, it would be a violation of law for Torres to hire or remove employees based on White or any other council member’s direction,” the lawsuit stated.

The chief also says that prior to White’s election in November 2019, he had no write-ups.

Torres started at the department on Jan. 7, 2019.

“Torres has been the subject of harassment and a hostile work environment. Torres has been under a lot of undue stress and has suffered from anxiety as a result,” the lawsuit stated.

He is taking medication, according to his attorney.

Torres also denies seeking a council member’s “blessing” to demote an assistant chief.

“On or about January 6, 2020, White falsely told then-Interim City Manager Hinojosa that Torres had called White requesting White’s blessing on the demotion of one of the city of Edinburg’s Assistant Police Chiefs. Torres did not do as White claimed,” the lawsuit stated.

According to the chief, his five-day suspension without pay is rooted in his “non-affiliation and/or non-support” for White’s political campaign.

“Torres was not a political ally of White, and this motivated White to lodge the false complaint against Torres, which ultimately led to Torres’s five-day unpaid suspension,” the lawsuit stated.

The chief says Hinojosa was aware of this.

“It was not objectively reasonable for White to lodge a false complaint against Torres due to Torres’s non-affiliation and non-support of White’s political campaign. It was, likewise, not objectively reasonable for Hinojosa to suspend Torres without pay due to Torres’s non-affiliation and non-support of White’s political campaign,” the lawsuit stated.

Torres alleges his First Amendment rights have been violated and that false allegations from White resulted in his January 2020 suspension.

He also alleges the city of Edinburg violated due course laws under the Texas Constitution when he allegedly wasn’t allowed to respond to the suspension even though that same lawsuit stated he responded to the allegations on Feb. 13 and 19, 2020.

Torres is seeking monetary relief of over $250,000 but not more than $1 million.