Former Alamo police chief dies at 61

Arturo “Art” Espinosa, the former Alamo police chief of 21 years who retired last month, died Monday. He was 61.

Espinosa died at Edinburg Regional Medical Center following a short battle with prostate cancer.

Espinosa retired Jan. 31 after more than 40 years in law enforcement.

He was married to Gloria Espinosa of Alamo for 31 years and had two daughters, Kristina and Klarisa Espinosa who teach English for the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District.

When not at the police department, Espinosa enjoyed watching the Dallas Cowboys, barbequing and volunteering at Resurrection Catholic Church and with the Knights of Columbus in Alamo. Espinosa, along with his wife and daughters, also volunteered with the Alamo Chamber of Commerce.

The chief was known around town for his sense of humor and inclination to help the indigent by providing free funeral escort services.

Espinosa grew up on Citrus Street in Alamo near Mayor Diana Martinez in the 1960s.

“He was a very hard working, understanding individual,” Martinez said.

In the 1970s, Espinosa picked cotton and packed citrus before embarking on a lifelong career in law enforcement.

“He was always very courteous, coming from a humble beginning, so he never acted like a big shot,” former Mayor Rudy Villarreal said. “He always treated everybody fair. He was a real nice person.”

Espinosa, though, suffered a drawback to his career when the City Commission in 1998 demoted him from chief to lieutenant. Espinosa fired back the following day by filing a complaint with the Texas Commission on Human Rights alleging the demotion was due to political retaliation and his disability. Espinosa wore a prosthetic eye following an accident while playing pirates at 5 years old.

An Alamo resident testified that a commissioner had spoke about Espinosa’s eye prior to his demotion. In court, Villarreal testified that he believed the reduction in rank was “politically motivated and personal.”

He sued on grounds of violations of due process, the Texas Whistleblowers Act, the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, the Texas Open Meetings Act, Texas public policy and his rights to freedom of speech, political expression, political affiliation and association.

A jury ordered the city reinstate him as police chief and awarded him monetary damages.

“He was a good worker, and he shouldn’t have been treated like that,” Villarreal said.

Espinosa spent more than 26 years working alongside former Lt. Albert Caballero who retired in January — two days prior to the chief’s retirement.

“The chief was always very community-oriented,” Caballero said. “He always told us, ‘Be humble. Be courteous to the people, even the people we’re arresting. You don’t know what they’ve gone through.’”

Visitation will be held from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday at Memorial Funeral Home at 311 East Expressway 83 in San Juan where a rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. A Mass for Espinosa will begin at 10 a.m. on Thursday at Resurrection Catholic Church in Alamo with a procession to Val Verde Memorial Cemetery in Donna.

“He loved his city. There’s no doubt about that,” Caballero said.