The Edinburg United Police Officers Association has sued the city, alleging Chief Cesar Torres discriminated against officers because of their membership and activity in the union.
The 11-page lawsuit filed on April 9 alleges Torres removed two unnamed sergeants who are union members, former union treasurer Arnolda Ysquierdo and union secretary Eric Salazar from positions in the Criminal Investigations Department, or CID, because they opposed a request Torres made to the union to open the unexpired collective bargaining agreement to allow Torres to hire outside the Edinburg Police Department for the assignment of assistant chief.
On Jan. 21, 2019, Torres requested that then-president Juan Hernandez open the unexpired agreement to allow for these hires, who according to the lawsuit, would be over the age limit and exempt from polygraph examination.
“Edinburg United refused this request,” according to the lawsuit. “On Jan. 31, 2019, Chief Torres held a meeting with the sergeants of the Department, notifying them that he was going to make changes to the Department and explicitly stating that he did not care that the changes would result in lawsuits because he was not going to be around long enough to see them reach their conclusions.”
A week or so later, on Feb. 8, 2019, the lawsuit alleges Torres again made the request, specifying that he wanted to open the agreement to hire officers outside the department to fill the position of assistant chief.
In response, the union held a meeting on Feb. 19, 2019, according to the lawsuit, which alleges Torres made the pitch to union members, but allegedly refused to answer questions from officers in attendance.
The litigation also states that supervisors, union members and the then-vice president expressed opposition to the proposal while Hernandez, then-president, expressed approval. The members voted to deny Torres’ request, according to the lawsuit.
“On or about March 12, 2019, Chief Torres assigned Juan Hernandez as one of his assistant chiefs,” the lawsuit stated. “Prior to this assignment, Asst. Chief Hernandez was a patrolman and had no supervisory experience whatsoever.”
In early January, Torres told The Monitor that Hernandez was “unappointed” from his position.
“I’m not going to go into the details as to why he was unappointed, but he was not demoted,” Torres told the newspaper. “A demotion is when somebody takes an exam and earns that particular position, and here at Edinburg police, that position is at the leisure of the police chief.”
Torres told The Monitor that he can appoint anybody to the rank of assistant chief, “and he or she can also unappoint them, and that’s what happened in this case.”
As for one of those sergeants who opposed Torres’ request, the lawsuit alleges he was removed from his supervisory assignment in CID and assigned to Emergency Management on the graveyard shift, without rotation.
The litigation also alleges that Torres placed a former union president on administrative leave without pay July 12, 2019, and then on indefinite suspension on July 31, 2019. That officer was reinstated to their position in January 2020 without any discipline, according to the lawsuit.
A former union treasurer was also placed by Torres on administrative leave without pay on July 17, 2019, and then indefinitely suspended on Oct. 31, 2019, before being reinstated without any discipline on Dec. 20, 2019, according to the lawsuit.
As for Salazar, the board secretary, and Ysquierdo, the former treasurer, they filed grievances with the union after being reassigned from CID and assigned to patrol, according to the lawsuit, which alleges the grievances were sent to Torres, who did not respond.
On March 6, the union says in the lawsuit that it demanded arbitration.
“As of the date of this filing, the City still refuses to arbitrate the grievances,” according to the lawsuit.
The union’s lawsuit demands that Salazar and Ysquierdo be immediately reinstated to CID and receive any pay they would have received if they weren’t reassigned while asking for a permanent injunction to compel the city to arbitrate, as well as seeking monetary relief of $100,000 or less.
Spokeswoman Cary Zayas told the newspaper that the city wouldn’t comment because the lawsuit involves personnel matters, which the city does not comment on.
David Willis, the attorney representing the police officers association, said the lawsuit is a matter of an absolute last resort.
“Since August of 2019, the Edinburg United Police Officers Association (‘Edinburg United’) has been using the provisions of its written agreement with the City of Edinburg in an effort to resolve its issues with the Chief of Police’s improper personnel actions. Despite contractually being obliged to do so, the City of Edinburg has continuously refused to address Edinburg United’s grievances,” Willis said in the statement. “As a matter of absolute last resort, Edinburg United was forced to file a lawsuit seeking a court order compelling the City of Edinburg to arbitrate the grievances. Edinburg United hopes that the City of Edinburg will end this lawsuit by simply agreeing to arbitrate the grievances. ”