New Edinburg police chief demoted for misconduct during DPS tenure

New Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres is sworn in at Edinburg City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Edinburg’s new police chief was demoted last year while employed with the Texas Department of Public Safety after an internal investigation found he used his position for financial gain, according to documents the state agency released Monday, his first day on the job.

Cesar Torres, 51, was demoted from the rank of lieutenant to highway patrol sergeant in May 2018 following an administrative investigation. The investigation found Torres had “coerced a recruit applicant into signing a department recruiting form so that (Torres) could receive a pecuniary benefit (a recruitment award)” and “submitted department recruiting bonus forms in order to obtain a benefit to which (he was) not entitled,” according to a May 17, 2018 letter that Texas Highway Patrol Division Chief Ron Joy sent Torres.

He additionally received 15 days off without pay and, “as a non-disciplinary action,” was transferred from the agency’s Weslaco office to Austin.

Out of $18,000 in recruitment bonuses he received that were investigated, the agency determined Torres should not have received $8,000 because he “did nothing to seek out these (four) candidates or refer them for employment,” which is a requisite for the bonus program, according to the investigation report.

Torres, who was sworn in as Edinburg’s new police chief on Dec. 20, did not deny he was the subject of an investigation.

“Allegations were made and they were not sustained,” Torres said during his swearing-in ceremony. “They did find, in their opinion, that other violations did occur, although I disagree. There’s always two sides to every story.

“…It’s just an allegation.”

Recruitment program

DPS launched its Trooper Recruitment Award Program in 2008 as a way to encourage troopers to recruit people to join the agency. Troopers who successfully recruited new applicants initially received a U.S. savings bond, according to the report, and in 2015, the award changed to $2,000.

Various issues arose with the program and it was eliminated in July 2017, the report further read.

Torres, who joined the agency in 1997 after a brief career with the Mission Police Department, came under investigation in January 2017 after a DPS sergeant submitted a complaint alleging Torres “was creating a hostile and unprofessional work atmosphere,” according to the report. This prompted a management review that “cited an incident which alleged Torres forced a recruit applicant at the time to sign a Trooper Recruitment Award form in order for Torres to claim bonus money.”

That and other allegations of misuse of his administrative assistant were then forwarded to the DPS Office of Inspector General (OIG), initiating an administrative investigation in June 2017 regarding misconduct on his part relating to the Trooper Recruitment Award Program. Torres was suspended during the investigation.

The OIG’s investigation was temporarily suspended that July so the Texas Rangers, an investigative branch of DPS, could determine whether Torres’ actions were “criminal in nature.” On Dec. 7, 2017, the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office informed the Rangers it would not be prosecuting Torres for the nine $2,000 recruitment bonuses — totaling $18,000 — that the Rangers cited in their investigation.

The OIG resumed its investigation of Torres in February 2018 and completed it in March.

The investigation “determined Torres took credit for recruit bonuses that he knew or should have known he did not qualify for under department policy,” the investigation report states. “It became apparent that Torres was submitting bonuses for certain recruit candidates that could not be objectively described as having been recruited,” such as those who had started the application process on their own volition or due to the prompting of another trooper.

Torres, in interviews with investigators, described the Trooper Recruitment Policy as “vague and does not provide guidelines as to how many times a member of the department needs to call or meet with a potential applicant,” according to the report. It was his opinion that the sergeant who filed the initial complaint against him did so because they “received pretty bad evals” from Torres.

OIG investigators, however, viewed things differently. Per the report, they determined it was not “reasonable to conclude that after Torres’ prolific success with the recruit bonus program that he was unaware of the intent of the policy … He never read the policy or he evaded admitting he had knowledge of the requirements in order to avoid the consequences of having to defend his recruitment methods.”

Of the nine recruitment bonuses it investigated, the OIG found only three in which “Torres made direct efforts to contact, recruit and convince them to apply with the department when they would not have otherwise done so.”

Four, amounting to $8,000, “could reasonably be considered fallacious” because the applicants applied on their own, and two others were linked to recruits “that were based more on referrals rather than (Torres’) own efforts to seek out qualified candidates,” according to the report.

The only allegation against Torres the OIG did not sustain was having his administrative assistant conduct supervisory duties for him on his behalf.

Career change

Torres unsuccessfully appealed the disciplinary action taken against him.

DPS Director Steven McCraw sent Torres a letter on July 31, 2018, denying his request “to amend Division Director Ron Joy’s decision in his letter dated May 17, 2018.” McCraw called Joy’s decision to demote Torres to the rank of lieutenant “final” and “not subject to further departmental review.”

Torres continued working for the agency until his December hiring by Edinburg City Manager Juan Guerra.

Guerra defended hiring Torres on Tuesday, saying in a text message, “after more than 25 years of great service to DPS and the public, (this investigation) did not factor in my interest to hire Torres to lead us in improving Edinburg’s public safety record from an ‘F’ to a more respectable and acceptable rating; the residents of Edinburg deserve that.”

The ‘F’ record pertains to a ranking by areavibes.com based on annual crime rates. Guerra cited this ranking, among those from other websites, in the demotion letter he sent former chief David White, who was demoted to lieutenant in early November.

The city of Edinburg has yet to fulfill a Dec. 21 records request by The Monitor for names of those who also applied for the police chief position. The city has said approximately 20 people applied for the job following White’s demotion.