By Darrell Todd Maurina
MULESHOE — Muleshoe City Councilman Juan Chavez is fed up with what he perceives as selected law enforcement by the city’s police department.
“I have lived here for 11 years, and for a number of years we have had issues with law enforcement,” Chavez said Tuesday during a regularly scheduled city council meeting.
Chavez said police acted improperly in a number of incidents including arrest procedures with Hispanic residents, over aggressively enforce speed limits near the community’s Roman Catholic church — whose congregation is predominantly Hispanic — and are not providing police reports to residents within state-mandated time limits.
“In the past for a while we had police at the Catholic church waiting for speeders. I brought it to their attention, I don’t know what happened, maybe they got tired of getting up so early in the morning, but it finally stopped,” Chavez said. “I don’t see them going to other churches.”
Muleshoe Mayor Victor Leal said police were just doing their job.
“The other side of that argument was city police personnel were enforcing the law with a new speed limit in that area,” Leal said. “If there is a new stop sign or a new speed limit there is an expectancy that the police will be there because people are in the habit of driving a certain speed.”
Leal said Muleshoe’s population of about 5,000 is an estimated 51 to 52 percent Hispanic.
Chavez said selective enforcement of laws occurs more broadly than speeding incidents.
“Who is allowed to break the law?” asked Chavez. “If you go to the country club, you’re allowed to break the law, but if you go to the VFW you’re not allowed to break the law.”
“What broke the camel’s back was when I heard that the police had roughed someone up again and nobody did anything about it,” Chavez said to the council. “None of my constituents have the money to hire lawyers. They come to me, I come to you.”
“Our only resource is the media,” said Chavez, pointing to an audience including several newspaper and television reporters.
“What do you want us to do?” asked Leal. “I don’t think there is anyone in this room, definitely not anyone on this council, who would approve such conduct going on. I know in the incidents I have reviewed, the police have acted professionally, courteously, and done a good job.”
Chavez said part of the problem is delayed response to complaints.
“The first time I saw the police at the Catholic church, I brought it up to you, I brought it up to (police chief) Don (Carter), and I did my part, but it took three months,” said Chavez. “When I bring these things up, nothing gets done. They just get old and blow away.”
Carter was out of town and unavailable for comment.
Council member Cliff Black raised a possible solution.
“Let me ask you a question — would you like us to have a special session where we meet in executive session and review the policies and procedures of the police department?” asked Black. “I appreciate all the people who are here today. We can argue all day long, but if we are going to truly ask questions about personnel, is that what we need to be doing?”
Leal agreed and announced that he would call a city council meeting to address the allegations. Under the Muleshoe city charter, mayors may call meetings without a formal council vote.
“We will continue to look into these any time any allegation is brought up, whether by a council member or a citizen,” said Leal, who noted that he is himself Hispanic. Leal said that his investigation following the meeting showed that in one of the instances of reported misconduct, the officer represented a different law enforcement agency, not the Muleshoe police.
“My own personal goal is to have a police department that acts courteously and professionally toward everyone,” said Leal.
The special session will be held May 28 at 5 p.m. (CDT).