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La Joya hired a new police chief last month — a former McDonald’s manager with fewer than five years of full-time law enforcement experience.
The City Commission promoted Adolfo Arriaga, 28, of La Joya from sergeant to police chief on Jan. 31.
Arriaga worked at McDonald’s while attending La Joya High School, according to city records. After graduation, McDonald’s promoted him to assistant manager.
Officers often stopped by during breaks.
“And he always had questions about police work,” said former Chief Ramon Gonzalez.
McDonald’s offered decent pay and opportunities for promotion. Arriaga, though, always wanted to join the police department.
“Ever since I was a kid, that’s what my dream has been,” Arriaga said.
While working at the restaurant, Arriaga attended the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council police academy. He graduated in January 2012.
Arriaga quickly joined the La Joya Police Department, which made him a reserve officer that February, according to Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Records. The unpaid, part-time position allowed Arriaga to ride along with other officers.
After he started volunteering, Arriaga left McDonald’s, according to city records. He took a job with an Irving-based construction company, waiting for La Joya to start hiring again.
In October 2013, a job opened in La Joya. Arriaga finally became a full-time policeman.
He worked hard, volunteered for extra shifts and developed a reputation for making drug busts. Arriaga routinely stopped smugglers on U.S. 83, seizing nearly 10,000 pounds of marijuana during 2014.
When the department needed a new sergeant, Gonzalez promoted Arriaga.
“At first, it was good,” Gonzalez said, but Arriaga quickly developed a bad reputation.
Officers started calling Arriaga “Happy Meal” and “McNugget” when he wasn’t around, according to five current and former coworkers, who spoke with the Progress Times on the condition of anonymity. They said Arriaga destroyed morale at the department and treated subordinates unfairly.
“Pretty much from the get-go, I noticed that he never got that respect,” Gonzalez said.
Arriaga punished officers for minor mistakes, placing write-ups in their personnel files. Gonzalez said he attempted to mentor Arriaga and encouraged him to adopt a less authoritarian management style.
“At times he did try it,” Gonzalez said. “But he would always revert back to his authoritarian-ness.”
Three people sent anonymous letters to La Joya, complaining about Arriaga’s lack of leadership and poor management skills. Gonzalez said he attempted to investigate the complaints, but nobody admitted to writing the letters.
Supervisors must sometimes make unpopular decisions, Arriaga said, adding that he treated everyone fairly.
“That’s part of management,” Arriaga said.
Gonzalez said he trusted Arriaga, but the complaints troubled him. He started keeping a closer eye on Arriaga.
“Later on, I did find out that the truth that he was saying was distorted or stretched out or was missing parts,” Gonzalez said.
He wasn’t the only person concerned about Arriaga’s integrity.
In July 2017, reserve Officer Jose Chapa filed a formal complaint against Arriaga.
Chapa alleged that Arriaga fabricated parts of a background check for a female police applicant, which cost her the job.
The complaint triggered a formal internal investigation, which uncovered allegations of sexism against Arriaga.
Officer Jennifer Garza and Officer Lorie Garcia accused Arriaga of treating them differently from male coworkers and targeting them for write-ups.
Sgt. Pablo Alegria, who conducted the investigation, submitted a three-page report documenting the allegations.
“I can assure you that I was fair and impartial to those individuals,” Arriaga said, adding that the allegations were without merit and La Joya didn’t take any disciplinary action against him.
Arriaga also had a run-in with the Peñitas Police Department.
Peñitas police Chief Roel Bermea filed an affidavit with La Joya during May 2017 after witnessing a La Joya police car “traveling at speeds close to 100 mph” without lights or sirens.
“I called our Dispatch and asked if La Joya PD had any emergency or anything going on,” Bermea wrote. “And our Dispatcher stated that she had just called La Joya PD because one of our patrol officers had called out on the radio with the same question.”
Bermea contacted Gonzalez, who determined Arriaga had been driving the La Joya police car.
“At first, I was going to give him a three-day suspension,” Gonzalez said.
City Administrator Mike Alaniz decided that Arriaga should receive a written reprimand because personnel records didn’t show any prior discipline, Gonzalez said.
Exactly how fast Arriaga went and why remain unclear.
“There were witnesses that saw him going well over 80 mph,” Gonzalez said, adding that he reviewed video from the incident. “He passed a unit from our neighboring city. No lights. No siren.”
Asked about the incident, Arriaga denied that he received a reprimand.
However, the Progress Times obtained a copy of the two-page document, which shows La Joya formally reprimanded Arriaga for violating city policies.
Alaniz and Gonzalez signed the reprimand. Arriaga refused to sign, according to a handwritten note where his signature would appear.
“This will not be tolerate (sic) and as a supervisor you must set the example to the department’s officers, as well as outside agencies,” according to the document. “Let this reprimand serve as a reminder that if another incident like this occurs, disciplinary action will be taken against you.”
La Joya fired Gonzalez without an explanation in December. The city also fired Alegria, the sergeant who investigated the complaint against Arriaga, during January or February.
Arriaga declined to comment on why the city fired Alegria, who didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Concerns about Arriaga apparently never reached the City Commission, which holds him in high esteem.
“He comes from a very respectable family here in La Joya,” said Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas. “And all I’ve heard from the community, and even the officers and the dispatchers, is nothing but positive things about him.”