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This article originally appeared in the Progress Times issue dated Friday, April 19, 2019.
After roughly three years of legal wrangling, the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office released documents last week that reveal why the department fired a deputy.
The Sheriff’s Office fired Deputy Rolando Rodriguez after he asked a 17-year-old girl to undress “so that he could check her for signs of physical abuse,” according to disciplinary records.
Her mother filed a complaint about the incident, which occurred on Dec. 7, 2015. The Sheriff’s Office conducted an internal investigation, fired Rodriguez in March 2016 and asked the FBI to review whether or not the incident warranted criminal charges.
“What the report states is he forced the 17-year-old to disrobe to check for any signs of physical abuse,” said Chief Deputy Mario Lopez.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services requested the welfare check.
“I think it was more of a custody deal between her dad and her mom. And she had stayed here. She didn’t report back to Brazoria County,” where her father lived, Lopez said. “They requested us to see if there was any physical abuse and drug abuse.”
When a male deputy is presented with a situation where he needs to search a woman, the male deputy is required to request assistance from a female deputy. Rodriguez conducted the search himself.
The Sheriff’s Office accused Rodriguez of poor job performance and unbecoming conduct.
“To me, it was unfair what happened,” said Rodriguez, who added: “I do not agree with the dismissal, to be honest with you.”
Why, exactly, the Sheriff’s Office fired Rodriguez remained a mystery for roughly three years.
A reporter for the Progress Times requested the documents in April 2016, but the Sheriff’s Office requested a decision from the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
Hidalgo County argued the documents contained “graphic information regarding the potential abuse of a child that, through deduction, may identify the minor victim,” according to a letter the District Attorney’s Office submitted to the Attorney General’s Office. The county also argued the documents were part of an “investigation of the possible abuse of a minor.”
When the Attorney General’s Office ruled the records must be released, the Sheriff’s Office filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General’s Office.
“The Sheriff’s Office would have been required to release the notice of complaint that was filed by the mother of the minor, along with the statement of the mother and the minor,” said Assistant District Attorney Josephine Ramirez Solis, who heads the civil division of the District Attorney’s Office.
Attorneys who reviewed the documents believed that releasing them would run afoul of the Texas Family Code, which protects records about child abuse from public disclosure.
“And so the concern was that if they had followed that ruling, they would have been in violation of the law,” Ramirez Solis said.
In an attempt to keep the records confidential, the District Attorney’s Office filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General’s Office.
After a brief back-and-forth between the District Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office in 2016, the lawsuit started collecting dust.
The District Attorney’s Office reached an agreement with the reporter last week and released Rodriguez’s disciplinary notice, which explained why the Sheriff’s Office fired him. Complaints filed by the mother and daughter will remain confidential.