Mission police Chief Cesar Torres attempted to stop officers from speaking with the Mission City Council, a flagrant violation of their First Amendment rights, according to a letter from the Texas Municipal Police Association.
Torres told officers they couldn’t speak with City Manager Randy Perez or members of the City Council about “Police Department operations” without permission.
“It’s a violation of just about a half a dozen different laws,” said TMPA Executive Director Kevin Lawrence.
Torres didn’t respond to requests for comment on July 1 and July 4.
The controversy started on June 23, according to TMPA, when Torres sent an email to all police officers.
“As per the Mission Police Department General Order, Code of Conduct Section Three Chapter 3.03-F-7 Employees shall not engage in acts which are subversive to the good order and discipline of the Department, or acts which tend to bring discredit to the Department, even though such conduct is not specifically set forth in these rules,” Torres wrote. “No employee shall attempt to influence members of the City Council, City Manager, or Deputy City Manager or any other persons outside of the Mission Police Department for the purpose of obtaining any transfers, assignments, promotions, benefits or favors. Officers of the department will not be allowed to contact any City Council member or City Manager / Deputy City Manager on any matter involving Police Department operations without first advising the Chief of Police or the next in rank under the Chief. Contact must be approved by the Chief of Police.”
TMPA responded on June 30.
“This order violates officers’ rights to freedom of association and freedom of speech,” according to a letter from TMPA to Mayor Norie Gonzalez Garza, “as well as the Texas Labor Code and Texas Government Code.”
The three-page letter cited nearly 30 cases where judges upheld the right of law enforcement officers to discuss police department operations, criticize supervisors and talk about safety issues.
Torres and TMPA also clashed in Edinburg, where he served as police chief from January 2018 to April 2021.
An independent arbitrator determined Torres had retaliated against officers who opposed his management decisions. Edinburg fired Torres less than a month after the arbitrator made his ruling.
Torres responded by filing a lawsuit against Edinburg. The case remains pending in federal court.
Lawrence said Torres is making the same mistakes in Mission.
“So now the department is in turmoil,” Lawrence said.
Gonzalez Garza asked City Attorney Gus Martinez to review the letter from TMPA.
“I don’t necessarily agree with banning and possibly there being some sort of — I don’t want to say punishment, but backlash of some sort — if someone feels the need to come and talk with us for whatever reason,” Gonzalez Garza said.
Members of the City Council should be able to meet with the association to discuss issues, Gonzalez Garza said.
“I think that’s what they’re there for,” Gonzalez Garza said. “To advocate for their members.”