New details emerge in Rio Grande City secretary’s arrest

The incident report on the arrest of Rio Grande City’s city secretary revealed more details into the personnel issues within the administration.

Lyzette Peña was arrested on Jan. 24 on a charge of unlawful interception, use or disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications after allegedly placing a recording device in the human resources office.

The device was discovered by Human Resources Director Valerie Brown Garza on Sept. 6, prompting the investigation by the Rio Grande City Police Department that was eventually turned over to the Starr County Special Crimes Unit.

Video surveillance, which was synced with the audio that was on the recording device, showed Peña briefly walking outside of city hall then returning inside and entering Garza’s office around 7:18 a.m.

A scan of Peña’s computer revealed a history of that device having been plugged into her computer.

Investigators with the Rio Grande City Police Department interviewed Brown and Peña on Sept. 17.

During her interview, Peña said City Manager Alberto Perez had texted her about getting an employee file from the HR office on Sept. 6, the day Brown discovered the device.

When interviewed by investigators on Sept. 18, Perez said he and Peña had been working on personnel files and had all the files on his desk except for one he could not locate.

Perez said he asked Peña to retrieve the file from Brown’s office but Peña couldn’t find it there, so they both looked through the files on his desk and there they located the missing file.

He also noted that he had given Peña a USB that morning so that she could save employee information on there to give to him. However, he said Peña didn’t save the information on the USB drive but instead emailed it to him. She did, however, return the USB.

However, Peña had told investigators that she and Perez had been working on something without Brown knowing because they suspected she had been leaking information and said some of the information about Brown had been discussed during a city commission meeting in executive session.

She was asked why she went outside before going into Brown’s office and she explained that she was checking to see if another employee close to Brown was in the area.

Peña said she had already told Perez, the city manager, that if that employee saw her in Brown’s office, he would tell Brown.

She also told detectives, “I know it looks bad but y’all need to talk to Mr. Perez,” according to the incident report.

One of the investigators asked Peña if it involved the recorder to which Peña replied: “They wanted to investigate how easy it was to get information from Valerie.”

At that point, however, Peña indicated she would not be answering anymore questions regarding the recorder and stated several times during the interview that she needed to check with the city attorney to know how much information she could disclose.

Perez, though, denied that Brown was under investigation.

When asked about any possible reasons for anyone to have a recording device in Brown’s office, Perez said there were none that he had authorized or been aware of.

He did, however, acknowledge that he’d had issues with Brown and even placed her on probation because she had allegedly disclosed confidential information about personnel matters.

Perez said he had also written her up for allegedly disclosing information to other city staff and was sent home for one day, but Perez said he was asked to bring her back.

However, he said that Brown was not being looked at for leaking information at the time the recorder was found in her office and he never gave anyone a directive to place a recording device in Brown’s office.

When asked if Peña may have thought that he wanted her to place the recording device in Brown’s office, “he said that he didn’t need that because people talk anyway,” according to the incident report.

Perez said, though, that Brown was in fact leaking information and that he had written her up for it.

During another meeting with investigators, on Sept. 23, Perez handed over write-up documents on Brown with the subject line “insubordination and not keeping me apprised of potential legal matters.”

The write-up, dated May 30, referenced a meeting between Perez and Brown on May 24 to discuss a rumor about an employee having been arrested. It stated that Perez asked Brown if she had heard about it and she admitted she had but hadn’t informed Perez.

In a recovered deleted file from the audio recording device, Brown’s voice is heard speaking on the phone about the employee who was allegedly arrested. That phone conversation happened on May 23, according to Brown — the day before Perez met with her about the rumor on May 24 and a week before she was written up.

Perez did not immediately return a request for comment for this story. A scan of his computer did not show a history of the recording device ever being plugged into his computer.

During his initial interview with investigators, Perez questioned why Brown did not report the recording device immediately to him instead of putting it in her pocket to turn over to him later in the day.

Perez confirmed that Brown came to him some time after lunch on Sept. 6 and turned over the recording device she had discovered in her office, which she said she found after accidentally kicking over her computer.

Brown had told the city’s IT specialist that she had found the recorder around 11 a.m. that day, right before lunch, according to the report.

However, upon reviewing the audio recording and video surveillance footage, investigators found that the timing did not match Brown’s statement about when she found the device.

The audio file is about two and a half hours long, which means that if the device was planted in her office at 7:19 a.m., it must have been discovered at 9:54 a.m.

The report also noted that video showed Perez was in the area around Brown’s office at 10:18 a.m. and later stood talking to someone directly outside her office at 11:03 a.m. for several minutes.

The incident report, which was obtained by The Monitor through a public information request, detailed other allegations of political divisions among the city staff and of leaks that were not directly related to the case.

After she turned herself in to law enforcement on Jan. 24, Peña was released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond.

The city placed her on administrative leave and appointed an interim city secretary on Feb. 5.