Cameron County Commissioners Court this week voted that the county will represent Sheriff Eric Garza in a civil rights lawsuit filed against him by one of his sergeants.
Sgt. Rodrigo Almanza alleges the Garza and his Chief Deputy Robert Gracia violated his right to free political speech after he supported incumbent Sheriff Omar Lucio in the 2020 sheriff’s race.
Commissioners Court voted on providing representation for Garza Tuesday during an executive session meeting. There was no mention of who will represent Gracia.
Garza earlier declined to comment on the lawsuit because it is pending litigation.
Almanza states, in the lawsuit, that he was a public and vocal supporter of Lucio and that on his time off he participated in Lucio’s campaign by block walking, assisting in political events and showing positive support for Lucio on social media.
In the lawsuit, Almanza claims Garza and Gracia retaliated against him for supporting Lucio by taking the following actions:
>> Transferring him to the Transport Division from the prestigious Criminal Investigations Division, where he handled major crimes and also served as a liaison to the CCSO’s counterpart in the Republic of Mexico
>> Stripping him of all subordinates and supervisory duties
>> Assigning him to shift schedules and working conditions not given to the other CCSO supervisors
>> Having him report to a person not certified as a peace officer, and
>> Requiring him to perform menial and pointless tasks like distributing inmate meal carts and physically manning a perfectly operational gate.
Almanza claims that Garza and Gracia violated his right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Almanza seeks compensation and punitive damages, attorneys fees, declaratory relief, and “injunctive relief that requires Sheriff Garza and Chief Deputy Gracia to assign Sgt. Almanza to a position that exercises supervisory authority, with all of the customary benefits and privileges customarily granted to supervisors of the CCSO, and prohibiting them from subsequently reassigning him from there based on his protected activity of supporting Omar Lucio’s political campaign.”
A pretrial conference on the lawsuit has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. June 29, before U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez Jr.