During an arbitration hearing on Tuesday, two police officers said they stopped former Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas for driving erratically but were afraid to arrest him — even though they could smell alcohol.
Inv. Juan Flores and Officer Javier Lara testified Tuesday at the Shary Municipal Golf Course, where the city held an arbitration hearing for Officer Veronica Cedillo.
The Mission Police Department fired Cedillo for spreading a rumor that Salinas had drunkenly crashed a truck on May 5.
Officers who conducted a cursory investigation of the crash said they didn’t observe any signs of intoxication when they spoke with Salinas.
Minutes after he left the scene, though, they found a cold beer. That fueled a rumor Salinas had been drinking and driving before the crash.
As part of her defense, Flores and Lara testified about old traffic stops involving Salinas.
“They’re lying,” Salinas said, adding that he stopped drinking alcohol about 10 years ago. “They know they’re lying and they should be ashamed of themselves.”
However, both Flores and Lara said they stopped Salinas for traffic offenses during the past decade and smelled alcohol on him.
Flores said he stopped a Ford truck for driving erratically in 2010 or 2011. When Flores approached the truck, he recognized Salinas behind the wheel.
“And I smelled alcohol,” Flores said.
Concerned about retaliation, Flores said he called a supervisor to handle the traffic stop.
“We’d been told the mayor was untouchable,” Flores said, adding that he didn’t know what happened after he left the scene.
Lara told a similar story.
About five years ago, Lara said he attempted to stop a truck, but the driver didn’t pull over.
Lara said he attempted to stop the truck on the 900 block of East Business 83 near the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. The truck ignored several stop signs, disregarded a traffic light and finally stopped at Salinas’ office.
“He had been drinking,” Lara said, adding that Salinas didn’t appear intoxicated.
At the time, Lara was a probationary employee without civil service protection. He decided not to write the mayor a traffic ticket.
Salinas said he remembered the traffic stop but categorically denied he’d been drinking.
“Don’t give me that BS that they were afraid of me,” Salinas said, peppering his comments with expletives. “Why can’t they be man enough to tell the truth?”
Asked why they would lie, Salinas said he didn’t know.
“What I can tell you is that two officers were lying,” Salinas said. “And they shouldn’t be working for the police department if they’re making those accusations under oath — and they’re not true.”
Flores also testified that police Chief Robert Dominguez pushed him to change the crash report from the May 5 incident involving the former mayor.
Officers who responded to the crash determined Salinas had veered off the road and struck a utility pole. After reviewing the crash report, Flores said he listed “Failed to Drive in Single Lane” as a contributing factor.
Dominguez said he removed the contributing factor because it wasn’t clear what caused the crash.
“Why do they insist that I drink?” Salinas mused when told about the testimony, clearly annoyed by the speculation. “They’re going to create a problem for me and I’m going to have to start drinking again.”