Mission mayor asked police chief to ‘expedite’ Sullivan City commissioner’s arraignment
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At 9:08 a.m. on Sept. 21, the mayor of Mission sent a text message to police Chief Robert Dominguez.
It was a sunny Saturday morning at Nikki Rowe High School in McAllen, where Dominguez had arrived to watch Joaquin Espericueta — the son of police Cpl. Jose Luis “Speedy” Espericueta, who died in the line of duty three months earlier — play football.
Roughly six miles away in Mission, police had arrested Sullivan City Commissioner Gabriel Salinas after a domestic disturbance.
Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña asked Dominguez if he could intervene.
“Is it possible to expedite his arraignment this morning and process him out…” O’caña wrote, according to a copy of the text message released under the Texas Public Information Act. “Only if it is possible…when you can..”
Dominguez said he read the message but didn’t respond.
“I got it and, basically, put the phone back on my side there and really didn’t pay much attention to it,” Dominguez said. “And, of course, I didn’t want to be making phone calls to the station: ‘Who was this Gabriel Salinas?’ And so forth.”
Officers from across the Rio Grande Valley and a contingent from the city of Mission, including the mayor, had arrived to support Joaquin Espericueta. Dominguez had prepared a speech for halftime. He needed to rehearse.
“That morning, my main concentration was that football game for Joaquin Espericueta,” Dominguez said. “Not that I didn’t pay any attention to it, but my focus was on something else that morning.”
Dominguez also received calls from Mission Civil Service Director Jesse Lerma, who is a municipal judge in Sullivan City.
“And I’m thinking it was after Dr. O’caña because when he mentioned the name, I figured ‘Oh, it’s the same guy that Dr. O’caña texted me about,’” Dominguez said, recalling the conversation.
Lerma called again that afternoon.
“The second time Jesse called me was late in the day,” Dominguez said, adding that he couldn’t remember when, exactly, they talked. “And he called me: ‘Hey, the family is calling me. Is this guy going to get arraigned today?’ And I told him: ‘Yeah, he’s about to get arraigned or going to get arraigned in a little while.’”
The calls and text message, though, apparently didn’t help. Salinas spent 10 hours in jail before the arraignment.
“In your world, based on the text, based on the phone calls, to you it might seem out of the ordinary,” Dominguez said. “To me, it’s a constant. Especially in my position.”
At about 7:39 a.m. on Sept. 21, the Mission Police Department dispatched officers to the 1400 block of Viejo Lane.
Officers found Gabriel Salinas drunk and shirtless, according to body camera video released under the Public Information Act. His wife said Salinas had slapped her across the face during an argument.
Salinas denied any wrongdoing.
“I’m going to tell you this, bro,” Salinas told the police officers, according to body camera video. “I’m a councilman. I know exactly what goes on. What you guys do. And you guys have already failed to take pictures.”
After he complained about the lack of photographs, an officer suggested that Salinas speak with his lieutenant.
“Where are you a councilman at?” the lieutenant asked.
“I represent Sullivan City,” Salinas said. “I’ve been a school board member. I’ve been around.”
Salinas attempted to explain what happened, telling officers he picked up a friend who had been drinking.
“She called me. I went to go pick her up. She couldn’t drive,” Salinas said. “I went to go pick her up because I was fine.”
The lieutenant interrupted.
“Well, I mean, let me tell you something,” the lieutenant said. “You’re not fine. You’re intoxicated.”
The lieutenant told Salinas that officers simply responded to a domestic disturbance and wanted to know what happened.
“Now, obviously, there’s history here,” the lieutenant said. “We checked that. There’s been a history of domestic abuse here.”
Officers arrested Salinas on suspicion of assault causing bodily injury to a family member, a Class A misdemeanor.
‘Expedite His Arraignment’
About 90 minutes later, O’caña sent a text message to Dominguez, asking whether or not he could expedite the arraignment.
“I did not know the details,” O’caña said. “I just wanted the arraignment to be done in a timely manner.”
O’caña said he didn’t remember who contacted him about Salinas.
People frequently call him when a friend or family member is arrested, O’caña said, adding that he passes along the messages as appropriate.
“I want for arraignments to be done in a timely manner,” O’caña said, adding that everyone deserved an expedited arraignment.
O’caña said he wasn’t attempting to pressure the police chief. Dominguez said he didn’t think the message was inappropriate.
“As you can tell by what he wrote, he’s not telling me: ‘Hey, get him out of jail,’” Dominguez said. “He’s saying: ‘Can you expedite his arraignment?’”
Calls and text messages about people arrested by police aren’t anything unusual, Dominguez said.
“Just this weekend at 3 o’clock in the morning this lady calls me: ‘Hey, my son is in jail.’ And so forth. I’m half asleep and trying to decipher who the lady is. She gives me her name. And I kind of remember the name,” Dominguez said. “And I tell her: ‘Look, ma’am. I don’t know exactly why your son is in jail but I’m not going to do anything or check into it until the morning. Call me at about 9 o’clock.’”
Dominguez said he doesn’t interfere in police investigations.
“If you need to get arraigned, you’re going to get arraigned,” Dominguez said. “Now, I might expedite it a little bit more for you to make sure that we get you to the county jail as soon as possible, but other than that you’re still going to go to the county jail.”
Lerma, the civil service director, said he didn’t remember who contacted him about Salinas.
When that person called, Lerma said he asked Dominguez for information but didn’t request any special treatment.
“As far as to tell him what to do?” Lerma said. “Nothing like that.”
Officers booked Salinas at 8:35 a.m., according to police department records. He wasn’t arraigned until after 6 p.m.
“Bottom line: he needed to sober up,” Dominguez said. “And that’s why he was taken before the judge so late.”
By that point, his wife had signed a “Drop Charges” form, according to police department records.
Municipal Judge Mauro Reyna III reviewed the criminal complaint against Salinas and decided the allegation didn’t support a Class A misdemeanor charge.
Reyna allowed Salinas to plead no contest to a Class C misdemeanor, the equivalent of a traffic ticket.
If he isn’t arrested within 90 days and pays a $271 fine, the charge will be dismissed.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Oct. 18, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.