The city of La Joya improperly denied former police Chief Adolfo Arriaga an honorable discharge, according to an administrative judge who reviewed the decision.
When the city fired Arriaga last year, the La Joya Police Department gave him a general discharge — indicating that Arriaga had been terminated because of a performance problem or disciplinary investigation.
Arriaga, who denied he did anything wrong, asked the State Office of Administrative Hearings to review the decision.
“As an initial matter, there is insufficient evidence as to the purported reason Petitioner was terminated from the employ of the Department,” Administrative Law Judge Megan Johnson wrote in an order dated Oct. 19. “The Termination Notice fails to state any reason for termination.”
Neither police Chief Ramon Gonzalez nor former City Manager Jacqueline Bazan, who testified during a hearing in July, could provide the judge with concrete proof Arriaga had been fired because of a performance problem.
“The only evidence concerning a potential documented performance problem came in the form of testimony from Chief Gonzalez,” according to the order. “Chief Gonzalez indicated that he gave Petitioner a ‘dishonorable discharge’ designation because of existing ‘write-ups.’ But Chief Gonzalez only had a vague memory of what the ‘write-ups’ entailed, and he testified that he was not even employed with the Department at the time they occurred.”
City Attorney Roberto Jackson said La Joya plans to appeal the decision.
“As far as we’re concerned, we were more than generous in giving him a general discharge,” Jackson said.
Arriaga joined the La Joya Police Department in October 2013, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act. He worked hard and quickly won a promotion to sergeant.
Gonzalez and other police officers, though, said Arriaga gradually developed a bad reputation.
They accused him of treating officers unfairly, reprimanding them for minor infractions and destroying morale. Officers mocked Arriaga behind his back, calling him “McNugget” because he once worked at McDonald’s.
Arriaga, however, became friendly with then-Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas.
In December 2017, the city abruptly fired Gonzalez. La Joya selected Arriaga to replace him.
Arriaga gave Gonzalez a general discharge, according to documents released under the Public Information Act. Two months later, Arriaga changed the discharge from general to honorable.
In 2019, when Salinas ran for re-election, he recruited Arriaga’s wife, Dalia, to run for City Council. They lost.
After the election, the city brought Gonzalez back and fired Arriaga.
“Your services at the City of La Joya as Chief of Police Department are no longer necessary,” according to a memo signed by the city manager.
The memo didn’t explain why Arriaga had been fired.
When the city terminated Arriaga, the La Joya Police Department had to send the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement a “separation of licensee” form.
The form asked whether Arriaga had received an honorable, general or dishonorable discharge.
Officers who leave in good standing are supposed to receive honorable discharges. Arriaga received a general discharge, which indicated a “documented performance problem” or disciplinary investigation.
He asked the State Office of Administrative Hearings to review the decision.
La Joya argued that Arriaga had been fired because of performance problems.
To support that position, La Joya produced two reprimands dated April 22, 2020 — two months before the city fired Arriaga.
One reprimand accused Arriaga of organizing drive-by birthday celebrations for local children during the pandemic, which violated city policy. The other reprimand accused him of allowing officers to work excessive overtime.
During the hearing, La Joya also claimed Arriaga had made questionable purchases at Academy Sports + Outdoors and Victoria’s Secret; created a conflict of interest by allowing his wife to cater police department meals; and improperly purchased a vehicle.
The judge wasn’t convinced.
When the city fired Arriaga, it didn’t cite the reprimands or any other allegations of wrongdoing.
“In order to prevail, the Department must show by a preponderance of the evidence that Petitioner’s employment termination was related to a documented performance problem,” according to the order, which concluded: “the Department has not met this burden.”
Jackson, the city attorney, said La Joya disagreed with the decision.
“We presented everything that we had in his file,” Jackson said. “And I just don’t see where she saw that.”
The general discharge apparently didn’t hurt Arriaga’s career.
After he was fired, Arriaga became a state trooper. The Texas Department of Public Safety assigned him to Hebbronville in July.
Arriaga, who is focused on his new job, declined to comment.