Harlingen police academy staff placed on unpaid leave

HARLINGEN — A Harlingen police training academy being investigated for allegedly allowing instructors to use excessive force on cadets has put training staff on unpaid leave.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley Academy is one of two training schools involved in separate incidents.

The second academy, run by the Hidalgo County sheriff’s office, has been cleared to resume training, state officials said Thursday.

A statement issued this week by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, which operates the Harlingen academy, announced the suspensions.

“Effective June 15, 2016, LRGVDC has placed the Harlingen Police Academy staff members under administrative unpaid leave pending the outcome of inquiry and investigation by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE),” the council said in a statement.

“LRGVDC remains committed to full cooperation with ongoing investigations and maintains the safety of the academy cadets and quality of instruction as a top priority,” the statement said.

The Harlingen academy, which provides training for would-be officers, is being probed for an incident in which an Instagram video was posted online showing a certified academy instructor violently slapping down several class participants.

The defensive tactics course in which the slapping occurred was May 17.

“That one is still an ongoing investigation,” said Gretchen Grigsby, a spokesperson for TCOLE. “We have actually taken over the current class of cadets.

“Working with the local agencies in the area, we’ve gotten tremendous response from them to make sure we have the resources, the instructors and the facilities to finish out that class under our direction,” Grigsby added.

The second academy in Hidalgo County was investigated for an April incident that involved a pellet gun reportedly being fired at jailer cadets when they made mistakes in training.

The pellet-gun wounds caused bruising and bleeding and, in one case, sent a cadet to the hospital for treatment when instructors couldn’t determine if a pellet shot at the cadet was still under the skin, according to investigators.

Both academies were suspended from performing any training, but the Hidalgo County academy was reinstated Thursday, Grigsby said.

“Our staff met with the sheriff this morning, and they have been approved to resume training operations,” Grigsby said.

“We worked on an action plan alongside them to make sure none of the events that transpired happen again,” she added.

A call to the office of Hidalgo County sheriff’s office seeking comment was not returned.

Texas has several dozen such police training academies, which offer training for current officers who must complete 40 hours of professional development every two years.

The academies also serve to provide required instructional training for candidates seeking to become law enforcement officers in Texas. It is believed both incidents under investigation were of the latter category of trainee.

The Lower Rio Grande academy is run by the Lower Rio Grande Development Council, an economic development organization, and holds classes at Texas State Technical College.

For more on the story read Friday’s Valley Morning Star.

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