A former employee of the Rio Grande City school district filed a federal lawsuit against three school board trustees alleging his termination from the district was political retaliation.
Ricardo “Rick” Lopez, a former truancy officer with the school district, filed the lawsuit earlier on Tuesday against board trustees Daniel J. Garcia, Eleazar Velasquez and Daria “Dr. B.” Babineaux, claiming a violation of his rights to freedom of expression and due process.
He claims that Garcia abused his position on the school board to pressure him “by telling him that he could not advance any further within the school district without carrying out his particular personal requests and the requests of his political allies on the school board,” according to the complaint.
Lopez said that during the 2016 school board elections, he was pressured to support the Kids’ Choice political slate on which Garcia and the other two defendants were running.
In 2017, Lopez was arrested for attempting to bribe a judge who at the time was presiding over the case of Jose Luis Garcia Jr., a man who was charged but later acquitted in the death of 17-year-old Chayse Olivarez.
In the federal complaint, Lopez alleges that Garcia pressured him to approach the family of Jose Luis Garcia Jr. “and put in a good word to them about him so that they would hire him, Daniel J. Garcia, to represent Jose Luis Garcia, Jr.”
Lopez added that Garcia pressured him again to approach the judge in the case to request a lower bond for Jose Luis Garcia Jr.
In that attempt, Lopez said he met with the judge’s brother but upon leaving that appointment, he was pulled over and arrested for attempting to bribe a judge.
He was subsequently placed on paid administrative leave by the school district until October 2018 when his contract was not renewed.
Lopez’s allegations against Daniel J. Garcia are similar to those he made in a petition Lopez filed last year to remove him from the board.
The judge presiding over the removal proceedings ruled to temporarily remove Garcia from the board in November.
After initially supporting the Kids’ Choice team, which included Garcia, Velasquez and Babineaux, Lopez claims “the pressure reached a breaking point when he was mistreated and pressured over and over again,” according to the complaint.
As a result, he changed his support to their rivals, “Team Hope.”
Then around October 2018, investigators began questioning the board members in Kids’ Choice about Daniel J. Garcia’s involvement in the alleged bribery attempt of the judge and because of that, Lopez alleges that the board immediately asked to place Lopez on the board meeting agenda “in order to retaliate and non-renew/terminate” him.
Also that month, Lopez states that as he was putting up a sign for “Team Hope,” the school district’s police served him with a letter stating he was being terminated by nonrenewable of his contract.
“This method of direct service was against school protocol and an improper method of service under school board rules and regulations,” the complaint stated. “The timing of the termination makes it clear that RGCCISD board members, a majority of which were members of Team Kids’ Choice and who voted to terminate his contact, were acting in political retaliation by unlawfully terminating (Lopez) for his failure to support Team Kids’ Choice and Team Onward.”
Lopez also states that after the notice of nonrenewal of his contract, he sent letters to the superintendent requesting reinstatement but he didn’t receive a response.
“No hearing was ever afforded him to present his concerns over the nonrenewal/termination of his contract.”
In response to Lopez’s claims, the school district issued the following statement:
“Today, Rio Grande City CISD was served with a new lawsuit filed by an individual in Federal Court. The lawsuit is in the process of being carefully reviewed and the District is taking all necessary and appropriate steps and measures regarding this matter.”
An initial hearing is scheduled for May 6 in federal court.