Charge dropped against Mercedes mayoral candidate

The Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office has dropped charges against community activist and Mercedes mayoral candidate Israel Coronado.

District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said his office couldn’t go forward with prosecuting the sole charge of disrupting a meeting — a Class B misdemeanor — based on the available evidence.

“Based on reviewing the case and based on what we had at this point, we felt that we couldn’t go forward on this case at this point and prosecute the case,” Rodriguez said Tuesday of the charge against Coronado.

For Coronado, there is no sense of vindication or sigh of relief at the news. Instead, the mayoral candidate who first got his start as a citizen activist calling for leadership accountability and financial transparency in the wake of two devastating floods, said the ordeal only serves as fuel to continue his fight.

“My goal is to get to the bottom of this,” Coronado said Monday. “And we’re gonna take every avenue open to us so that we can get the data and the information that we need to make those responsible accountable for what they did,” he said.

Coronado has long called his arrest an act of political retaliation — by the majority on the commission who have long been the target of the community’s ire, and by Mayor Henry Hinojosa.

“This was definitely a political attack,” Coronado said just hours after being released from custody in December. “I have been very vocal against the mayor, the mayor pro tem, as well as the chief of police, where I have pointed out many of the deficiencies that keep happening left and right in our town,” he said then.

Things began in early December 2019 — just days after announcing his intent to run for mayor — when Coronado was arrested by Mercedes police after leaving a commission meeting at city hall.

While the commission was behind closed doors in executive session, Coronado left city hall to buy a pizza after having sat through the first three hours of the meeting. It was outside the pizza parlor that police surrounded his vehicle.

Officers informed him he was being taken into custody on a warrant for disrupting a public meeting — but not the meeting he had just left. Instead, officials alleged Coronado had disrupted a meeting held months earlier — a raucous meeting in September where four other residents had been arrested as the room erupted into pandemonium.

Like Coronado, the four arrested that autumn day have been vocal critics of Mercedes’ leadership. Three of them — Velda Garcia and her two adult children, Aileen Luna and Noel Rodriguez, were taken into custody just before the mayor called the meeting to order.

Another woman, Dalia Peña, was taken into custody after delivering a public comment during which she called the police chief a drunk.

All four were charged with resisting arrest, a Class A misdemeanor. Garcia, Peña and Rodriguez were additionally charged with interference with public duties, a Class B misdemeanor.

Noel Rodriguez was also charged with one count of assaulting a public servant, a third-degree felony.

The Sept. 17 meeting had been standing room only after dozens of residents showed up to protest what they thought was going to be an attempt to remove one commissioner from his seat — Leonel Benavidez.

For months prior to that night, tensions had been mounting between residents and the majority on the commission, of which Benavidez and fellow Commissioner Jose Gomez are not a part.

After the initial four arrests, things appeared to quiet down. City meetings were still heavily attended by residents and the slate of public comments was always full — including several appearances by Coronado.

Coronado feels his arrest was a deliberate attempt to affect his campaign for mayor in the May 2 municipal election. That election got postponed to November as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But beyond that, he feels it’s a continuation of a pattern of intimidation perpetrated by Mercedes officials on their constituency. “That is the continued history of the city of Mercedes — to shut down the voice of the people, to scare them into falling in line or you get arrested,” Coronado said.

Whether or not the arrest was motivated by politics, the district attorney said his staff evaluated the case solely on the evidence provided by Mercedes police: a single video recording. “The crux of it was a video. With what they presented to us, again, we felt that we didn’t have enough to proceed forward to prosecute this case,” Ricardo Rodriguez said.

“Whether it was a political arrest of not, at this point, that’s not for us to look at,” he said a moment later, adding that his office would be willing to conduct another review of the case if police provide additional evidence.

“If they continue the investigation, then of course we will look into again and make a decision at that point,” Rodriguez said.

Mercedes Police Chief Dagoberto “Dago” Chavez did not return multiple messages seeking comment on the case Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the court cases against the other four residents continue.

A judge dismissed the resisting arrest charge against Luna on May 7 in exchange for her guilty plea to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct, court records show.

Additional hearings in the cases against Noel Rodriguez are slated for later this month, while Peña and Garcia are slated to appear in their cases in June.