Cameron County files lawsuit against sheriff

Alleges Garza taking actions beyond his duties


BROWNSVILLE — The Cameron County Commissioners Court filed a temporary restraining order petition against Sheriff Eric Garza alleging he is taking actions beyond his duties as sheriff.

The TRO petition was filed Wednesday and the Commissioners Court Civil Legal Division said it had no choice but to file the lawsuit because Garza acted outside the scope of his legal authority.

“These actions are in contrary to the Commissioners Court and the Texas Constitution, which Sheriff Garza is bound to uphold,” the petition states.

The lawsuit states that without authority Garza seized the court’s budget decisions and has disregarded the powers and authorities imposed by the Civil Service Regulations and unilaterally terminated a Memorandum of Understanding.

A statement by the Civil Division in part reads, “The Court on numerous occasions attempted to work with Mr. Garza to avoid a public dispute but it was to no avail as he was determined to go down this contentious path. Mr. Garza, much like the suspects he investigates, must recognize that no one is above the law and that the County will protect and enforce its constitutional and statutorily mandated powers in the best interest of the public and its employees.”

In a late afternoon press conference at the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office Robert Gracia, Garza’s chief deputy, said the County’s Civil Division sued its own client and “this is without a doubt a waste of the taxpayers’ money.” Because Garza is a litigant in the TRO, he is unable to comment on it, Gracia said.

Gracia said the Commissioners Court is preventing Garza from doing his duties to protect the public which he was elected to do.

“It was Sheriff Eric Garza’s desire to have a healthy working relationship with County Judge Eddie Trevino and the Commissioners Court. Instead of handling this like responsible elected officials we are headed to court to determine who should provide security at the Cameron County Courthouse,” he said.

He said that Garza believes he will prevail in the suit.

Gracia added that all court orders issued by judges will be followed. “We do everything strictly by the law.”

The Cameron County Sheriff’s Department has been providing security at the courthouse from April 29 through Wednesday. The Precinct 2 Constable Office will take over the security starting Thursday.

The Memorandum of Understanding or MOU in question pertained to a Dec. 22, 2016 agreement between then sheriff Omar Lucio’s office and Cameron County Precinct 2 Constable Abelardo Gomez Jr. that stated Gomez’s office would be in charge of courthouse security and provide the officers with a law enforcement commission. “The MOU became effective in 2013 and is required to be updated if there are any changes to the elected officials that signed the MOU,” the petition states.

Chief Deputy Robert Gracia held a news conference Wednesday regarding the lawsuit the county filed against sheriff Eric Garza. (Laura B. Martinez | The Brownsville Herald)

The TRO petition reads that on March 25, 2021, Garza sent Gomez and Commissioners Court a letter that stated the MOU would be terminated on March 29, 2021, and that the courthouse security would fall back under the sheriff department’s supervision.

The county’s Civil Legal Division met with Garza on March 26 where Garza was informed that the 15 deputies providing security at the county judicial building were being budgeted and commissioned by Gomez. He was also alerted to the Civil Service rules and limitations imposed on him and was asked to rescind the letter “and allow an orderly legal and administrative process to accomplish Sheriff Garza’s goals.”

In a March 22, 2021 letter addressed to County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr., Cameron County District Administrative Judge Benjamin Euresti Jr., Cameron County at Law Administrative Judge Laura L. Betancourt and Constable Gomez, Garza writes, “It is my stance that the MOU is not a legally binding contract, and therefore, it cannot hamstring my duties as the newly elected Sheriff of Cameron County.”

The TRO petition states Garza denied the request and that on March 29 these deputies began “working” at Sheriff Garza’s direction. Garza directed the deputies to report to the sheriff’s office at 5 p.m. March 26 to be commissioned and employed by him.

“Sheriff Garza’s actions are textbook ultra vires” of him acting beyond his legal powers, the TRO states.

The lawsuit states:

>>Sheriff Garza cannot seize deputies budgeted to another department

>>Sheriff Garza cannot separately reclassify deputies without Civil Commission’s due process

>>Sheriff Garza cannot use his statutory ministerial duty for courthouse security to establish discretionary actions

>>Sheriff Garza cannot unilaterally revoke the MOU and must comply with the MOU as it is considered statutorily unfinished business

The legal filing states that “if a temporary restraining order is not issued, Cameron County will suffer irreparable harm before full trial on the merits can be conducted.”

A hearing for the Temporary Restraining Order has been scheduled for 10 a.m. April 27, in the 445 state District Court in Cameron County.