Former officer, community volunteer dies at 56: Outspoken Rubio always loved police work

HARLINGEN — Friends remembered retired police Lt. Jose Rubio Jr. as a community leader who tirelessly worked to improve the lives of his fellow police officers and fought to better the city.

Rubio died Tuesday at Solera Hospital after a long illness. He was 56.

After his career with the Harlingen Police Department, Rubio worked as a private investigator.

For the last 15 years, Rubio was involved in the community, serving on city boards including the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Harlingen Community Improvement Board.

From 2001 through last May, he made several unsuccessful bids for political office.

Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio remembers when Rubio returned from the Army to take a job with the Harlingen Police Department.

“Joe was a good officer,” said Lucio, a former police captain. “He was a smart guy and I saw him climb the ranks.”

As president of the Harlingen Police Officers Association, Rubio fought for higher salaries for the department, Lucio said.

“He worked real hard. He tried to get better pay and better working conditions,” Lucio said. “He was outspoken and spoke his mind. He felt things could be better.”

Ramon Vela, a pastor who retired as a Harlingen police captain, remembered Rubio as a young patrolman in 1981.

“Joe was passionate about law enforcement. He bled blue. He liked serving and he liked the brotherhood in the police department,” Vela said. “Joe was a good guy. He had a good heart.”

Rubio climbed to the rank of lieutenant before his retirement in 2001.

“Joe loved law enforcement, and when he was no longer working in law enforcement it affected him. But the passion was still there. He loved the community. He loved Harlingen,” Vela said. “In his last season, he wanted to learn more about Jesus Christ and was longing for the word of God.”

In September 2000, a grand jury indicted the Harlingen Police Officers Association for illegal contributions to former mayoral candidate Humberto Zamora and former Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox in 1998.

As part of a plea bargain on the behalf of the police union, Rubio resigned from his job.

Two months later, Rubio filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, arguing the city of Harlingen pressured the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office to force him to resign because he exposed an alleged police department cover-up of a 1998 incident in which a detective’s son used a police-issued assault rifle to kill two U.S. Border Patrol agents.

In 2001, the court dismissed the lawsuit.