Sheriff Lucio endorses Republican Chambers over rival Garza

After losing to Democratic challenger Eric Garza in a primary runoff, Cameron County’s incumbent Sheriff Omar Lucio has endorsed the Republican candidate.

Lucio is throwing his support behind former Chief of the Indian Lake Police Department John Chambers, who is running on the Republican ticket against former Cameron County district clerk Garza, who defeated Lucio for the Democratic Party nomination in the July 14 primary runoff election.

Chambers wrote in a statement on social media, “I am happy and grateful to receive the endorsement from Sheriff Omar Lucio. Change never comes easy and farewells come hard but he chose to put partisan, policy and political differences aside to do what is best for the County as a whole.”

“Lets show the rest of the state and nation, that we, in the Rio Grand Valley, can bridge gaps and overcome differences to make life better for every hard working, honest, law abiding citizen.”

In a statement Thursday, Garza said of the endorsement, “It has come to my attention that Democrat Omar Lucio has endorsed the Republican candidate, John Chambers, for Cameron County Sheriff. I am disappointed that Mr. Lucio would support a candidate that was investigated and later indicted on fourteen separate counts of Tampering with Governmental Records. Mr. Chambers was subsequently convicted in these felony criminal cases.”

“Nonetheless, Mr. Lucio, has every right to endorse who he believes is fit to hold office. I look forward to running a hard and victorious campaign this November. Thank you!”

Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio walks through his supporter’s area Tuesday as he campaigns for re-election in a runoff election at the polling location outside Burns Elementary. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Although Chambers was convicted on 14 counts of tampering with governmental records in January 2016 and each conviction was a state jail felony, a mandate issued by the 13th Court of Appeals in April reduced the charges to misdemeanors.

Officers with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) and investigators with the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office arrested the former Indian Lake police chief on Feb. 23, 2015 on allegations that he falsified firearm qualifications records.

According to a summary from an April 2020 review by the 13th Court, a TCOLE agent contacted Chambers and informed him that firearm qualifications records for several of the department’s reserve officers were missing. “Appellant then instructed a subordinate officer to create records falsely stating that fourteen reserve officers had passed a firearms training course using appellant’s pistol,” the opinion stated.

According to the April ruling, Chambers received a report from TCOLE stating that his reserve officers’ firearms qualification records were deficient and gave him 10 days to correct the deficiency, threatening to impose disciplinary action or a $1,000 daily fine if he did not produce the documents.

Chambers appealed his conviction at the 13th Court, which affirmed the conviction on May 4, 2017. In August 2017, he appealed his conviction at the Court of Criminal Appeals. The court reversed the conviction on one point, finding that there was no evidence that Chambers did the tampering with intent to harm or defraud the state.

CCA found that evidence was insufficient because “it was legally impossible for TCOLE to be defrauded by Chambers,” according to the ruling.

“If the government has the authority to fine the defendant, then it is legally impossible for the defendant to ‘defraud’ the government out of an opportunity to fine him,” the court wrote in its opinion.

Eric Garza stands with his supporters while campaigning for Cameron County Sheriff Tuesday in a runoff election outside the polling location at Burns Elementary. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Initially, District Judge Janet Leal of the 103rd District Court had sentenced Chambers to two years, probated for five years. His case was remanded to the 13th Court. In April, an opinion reversed the judgment and remanded his case to the trial court for further proceedings and a new punishment hearing. The case is set for a status hearing on August 27.

Lucio’s endorsement of Chambers features a closeup of Lucio in his sheriff’s uniform. A statement from Lucio published on Chambers’ campaign Facebook page read, “I strongly and wholeheartedly believe that electing the democratic nominee for Sheriff would be a step back in the wrong direction at this time. I genuinely think that to sit in this chair and to be responsible for other people’s lives, you must possess the necessary law enforcement experience.”

“You can’t be the Sheriff if you don’t know what it feels to risk your life to save another. You can’t coordinate any busts if you haven’t felt the rush of adrenaline when you kick the front door of a building in search of a criminal.”

Previously, Lucio has been critical of Garza’s administrative experience, writing on Facebook the day of the primary runoff election, “Don’t chance your vote with an amateur. We all know what happened to the last amateur that was elected. Let’s reelect EXPERIENCE.”

Sheriff Omar Lucio did not respond to a request for comment by press time on Thursday.

On Thursday, the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office was contacted for confirmation on the status of Chambers’ case and whether it affects his ability to run for public office. According to the Texas Election Code, Subsection 141.00 I (a)(4), a candidate for public office must “have not been finally convicted of a felony from which the person has not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.”

Chambers stated that since his case remains on appeal, he is eligible, and that he has no felony convictions. “A conviction under the election code is not considered ‘final’ until all appeals are exhausted. My case is under appeal and no mandate has come down other than the Court of Criminal appeals overturning the felony aspect and issuing a mandate for ‘reverse and remand,’” Chambers wrote.

“I am not nor can ever be convicted for a felony after the the Court of Criminal appeals mandate removed the felony. The case is now sent back to the court of criminal appeals to review the 13th courts faulty ruling in regards to the statutory defense. I am confident I will be exonerated because I am innocent and the whole case was a political ploy to keep me from winning and bringing the change that Cameron County needs.”