Edinburg fires its police chief amid legal disputes

In this Dec. 20, 2018 file photo, Edinburg Chief of Police Cesar Torres is sworn in at Edinburg City Hall. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

After more than a month of contention marked by lawsuits, the city of Edinburg has fired Cesar Torres as its police chief.

The termination came Friday, which is when the temporary restraining order Torres had obtained against the city prohibiting the municipality from firing him expired.

The city says Assistant Chief Peter De La Garza will serve as interim chief effective immediately.

While disciplinary actions against Torres began more than a year ago, the tide began to truly turn unfavorable for the former chief on April 7, when a neutral arbitrator ruled he discriminated against two police officers for union membership and activity.

After that ruling, City Manager Ron Garza told Torres he could either resign or be fired and offered the former chief a severance package while giving him until April 12 to decide.

On April 12, Torres sued, alleging he was fired for reporting an officer, who is a high-ranking union member, to the FBI over allegations of insurance fraud. Torres further alleged that Garza and other city officials tried to “chill” that investigation, an allegation the city says is baseless.

In a brief statement, FBI spokeswoman Michelle Lee said the city’s actions regarding Torres has no bearing on FBI matters.

“Pursuant to FBI policy we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation. The City of Edinburg’s action, relating to the former Chief of Police, has no bearing on any FBI matters,” Lee said.

After Torres sued, Garza placed the former chief on administrative leave and recommended he be terminated. Garza gave Torres until May 5 to respond, which is when Torres sued.

On May 6, Torres obtained the temporary restraining order from 139th state District Judge Bobby Flores.

The city, however, later removed the lawsuits to federal court, removing Flores’ jurisdiction. And on Friday, Torres’ attorney, Katie Klein, had not filed any motions in the federal court record as the temporary restraining order expired.

Torres also sued the city, former interim City Manager Richard Hinojosa and current city council member and former police Chief David White on May 13, alleging he wasn’t provided due process when he was suspended without pay in January 2020. Torres also alleges White was out to fire him for not supporting White’s campaign for city council.

Former City Manager Juan Guerra had demoted White in late 2018 after Guerra determined that the city of Edinburg had poor crime stats, which The Monitor later reported was based off data from websites such as wallethub.com. Guerra offered Torres a job before the day he applied and Torres started on Jan. 7, 2019.

That set off more than two years of what Garza, the city manager, has called a “bitter fracture” within the Edinburg Police Department between supporters of Torres and the Edinburg United Police Officers Association, which eventually sued on behalf of the two officers who Torres discriminated against.

And in a sense, the department is back, in some semblance, to where it was when Guerra demoted White.

De La Garza is now interim, just like he was back in late 2018.

In fact, the city says this is the four-decade veteran’s fourth time serving as interim chief.

“As a 42-year veteran of the Department, Chief De La Garza is an experienced, well-rounded, and highly respected member of the law enforcement community. This is Chief De La Garza’s fourth appointment as Interim Police Chief. His proven leadership skills, integrity, and dedication to the citizens of Edinburg make De La Garza the ideal choice for Interim Police Chief during this transition,” city spokeswoman Ashly Custer said in a statement.

The city will utilize the services of an executive recruiting firm and consider stakeholder and community input in the search for its next police chief.


Cesar Torres Timeline

Dispute between Edinburg, police chief heads to federal court

From politics to a pop concert: How the rift between Edinburg and its police chief widened