Former police chief slaps Palmview with lawsuit
Former police Chief Chris Barrera filed a lawsuit against Palmview last month, claiming the city fired him for reporting sexual harassment.
Barrera accused then-Interim City Manager Leo Olivares of sexual harassment in March 2018. After an internal investigation cleared Olivares, the City Council fired Barrera.
“City Manager Olivares terminated me in retaliation for having reported his unlawful sexual harassment to the Mayor,” Barrera said in a statement to the Texas Workforce Commission.
The lawsuit requests $200,000 to $1 million to compensate Barrera for emotional pain, mental anguish and other types of distress.
Barrera joined the department in July 1994, according to Texas Commission on Law Enforcement records. The City Council promoted him to police chief in August 1998 — after just four years on the job.
During the next two decades, Barrera guided the department through a period of rapid growth. He eventually supervised three dozen employees, assigned investigators to federal task forces and created a regional dispatch center.
November 2016 marked the beginning of the end for Barrera, when a new majority took control of the City Council.
City Councilman Joel Garcia, City Councilwoman Linda Sarabia and City Councilman Javier Ramirez pushed for a top-to-bottom review of Palmview.
They found major problems at the police department. Olivarez, the interim city manager, confronted Barrera with a memo that summarized various problems.
Barrera accused Olivares of sending him inappropriate text messages, including an invitation to Splash, an annual LGBT weekend on South Padre Island.
The complaint also referenced an in-person incident that Barrera interpreted as sexual harassment.
“While I was in Mr. Olivares’ office, he walked out of the restroom in his office and was zippering up the zipper of his pants, saying ‘Yes Chief,’” according to the complaint Barrera filed with Palmview.
Olivares denied the allegations and City Attorney Gus Acevedo, who investigated the complaint, determined that no sexual harassment occurred.
“He only reported after Olivares raised questions about performance and disciplinary issues,” according to a report prepared for the City Council.
About a month after Barrera filed the sexual harassment complaint, however, he sent homophobic and profane text messages to Fire Chief Gerardo “Jerry” Alaniz.
The text messages, which included “Don’t be gay like Jerry” and “Don’t forget to go to splash,” prompted the City Council to terminate Barrera.
Barrera demanded that Palmview pay him the cash value of unused sick and vacation time. The City Council refused, which prompted the lawsuit.
“As this matter undergoes the litigation process, the City of Palmview will refrain from commenting on any details in regard to this matter,” according to a statement released by City Attorney Eric Flores. “The City of Palmview has always maintained the utmost faith in our judicial system and we will continue to do so throughout this process.”
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