MERCEDES — Chaos erupted even before the Mercedes City Commission meeting could begin here Tuesday evening.
As dozens of residents filed into the legislative chamber ahead of two hotly anticipated agenda items to censure and remove freshman Commissioner Leonel Benavidez from office, dozens more were physically barred from entering the public building.
Click the video to see these events transpire.
— Dina (@PhotogDina) September 17, 2019
Uniformed and plainclothes officers barred the three entrances to the building, physically blocking residents and some members of the media from entering ahead of the meeting.
Meanwhile, as the chief of police and other officers attempted to keep the doors closed, pandemonium broke out inside the legislative chamber.
Commissioner Jose Gomez, who had been the first elected official to arrive and take his seat for the meeting, was seen in the hallway as the sound of yelling came from down the hall. Asked what happened, he said, “It’s chaos in there!”
Inside, multiple officers were attempting to restrain two women and one man, who were screaming. Some residents, agog, clamored for their release, while others stood silently watching.
The younger woman screamed for her mother and said she was being physically hurt. The older woman, Velda Garcia, was the same woman police officers tried to ask to leave during a Sept. 3 meeting when she sat quietly video recording that meeting.
It is unclear what prompted officers to remove Garcia and the other two people Tuesday, but they were ultimately removed by officers.
Later, once the meeting officially convened, resident Dalia Peña approached the podium to make a public comment about the police chief, whom Commissioner Benavidez is accused of calling a “rookie” and who has delivered a sworn affidavit against the embattled commissioner.
Peña briefly left the chamber after completing her comment, then tried to return to retrieve her purse. It was at that point that police officers attempted to restrict her from re-entering the chamber. Police Chief Dagoberto “Dago” Chavez, himself, stood at the glass double doors that lead into the commission chamber.
Peña could be heard saying repeatedly that she was just trying to retrieve her purse before leaving. Regardless of her entreaties, two officers restrained her physically, holding her up against a hallway wall while applying handcuffs.
Peña said she had not done anything wrong.
Moments after being removed from the building, yelling could be heard coming from outside city hall, where numerous residents remained, unable to enter the meeting.
With the absence of Commissioners Jose Gomez and Cris Hernandez — who had left city hall just before the meeting began — and due to a temporary restraining order handed to City Attorney Anthony Troiani by Commissioner Benavidez, the commission tabled discussion of agenda items 7 and 8, which called for the censure and removal, respectively, of Benavidez.
The city meeting continued.