SAN BENITO — After more than seven months, the San Benito police chief’s job still hangs in limbo.
Since late March, Assistant City Manager Fred Bell has served as interim chief, replacing former Chief Michael Galvan as city officials launched an investigation into police officers’ fatal shooting of 21-year-old Ricardo Treviño, who was unarmed when he was repeatedly shot Dec. 7, 2018.
Then last month, Bell “reassigned” Galvan to a lieutenant’s rank after a Texas Rangers criminal investigation found him and other officers justified in using deadly force to shoot Treviño.
Now, Mayor Ben Gomez and City Commissioners Tony Gonzales and Rick Guerra say they want a chief running the police department, questioning whether Bell wants the full-time job.
At City Hall, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa declined to comment on any plans to search for a new chief.
Yesterday, Bell, whose career has included work in law enforcement, didn’t respond to whether he would want to take the chief’s job.
“Most definitely we need a new chief,” Gomez said. “Mr. Bell is going a great job. I don’t know if he wants that task permanently.”
Guerra said De La Rosa would determine whether Bell takes the full-time job.
“He’s the one who’s going to decide if Mr. Bell stays as assistant city manager or moves over there,” Guerra said.
However, Gonzales questioned whether Bell wants the chief’s job.
“I don’t think he wants it permanently,” Gonzales said. “I think he’s happy where he is right now.”
For months, many residents questioned Galvan’s future with the police department following the Texas Rangers criminal investigation into his involvement in Treviño’s shooting.
In late March, city officials appointed Bell interim chief after reassigning Galvan to assistant chief as the city launched an internal affairs investigation to determine whether he and other officers involved in the shooting followed policy and procedures during events leading up to Treviño’s death.
After officials completed the internal affairs investigation in June, Bell reprimanded Galvan for discharging a firearm at Treviño’s car in an attempt to stop the vehicle during a 22-mile pursuit, said Alex Guajardo, Galvan’s attorney.
Then on Oct. 23, Bell reassigned Galvan to a lieutenant’s rank — the rank he held before he took the chief’s job about three years ago.
As a result of his reassignment, Galvan’s annual salary dropped from $73,296 to $55,025, city records show.
Guajardo said city officials have not indicated whether Galvan’s reprimand led to his reassignment.
“We have been given no specific reason as to why he’s been reassigned to lieutenant,” Guajardo said. “It’s still our position that the Texas Ranger investigation … found the actions by Chief Galvan were justified.”
Guajardo said Civil Service offers Galvan no recourse in contesting his reassignment to the lieutenant’s rank.
“The city wanted in some way to get rid of Chief Galvan … even though it was determined his actions were lawful,” Guajardo said.
Late last month, Galvan returned after spending about four months on paid administrative leave pending completion of the nine-month Texas Rangers investigation.
Based on the investigation’s findings, a Cameron County grand jury found Galvan, officer David Rebolledo and two Precinct 5 deputy constables were justified in using deadly force to shoot Treviño.
After the investigation’s completion, city officials were considering whether disciplinary action was warranted in the cases of Galvan and Rebolledo.
As part of the city’s collective bargaining agreement, any disciplinary process “shall remain privileged and confidential,” a city press release stated.
After grand jurors handed down their decision in September, District Attorney Luis Saenz said Treviño led officers on a car pursuit outside a San Benito church after his cousin called the police department because he had taken as much as half a bottle of Tylenol.
Saenz said speeds ranged from 40, 60 to 104 mph as Treviño recorded the 22-minute car chase along Interstate 69, FM 732 and U.S. 281.
Meanwhile, Galvan set up roadblocks to try to stop Treviño’s Nissan Sentra, even trying to fire at his tires.
During the pursuit, police Supervisor Art Flores, Treviño’s stepfather, was calling police dispatchers, telling them police were chasing his stepson’s car.
After Treviño led about 10 law enforcement units to a cul-de-sac off Ranch Park Road, he “collided” with Galvan’s car, Saenz said.
“He puts his car in forward and collides with Chief Galvan’s car, I mean forceful and he’s like trying to push it back, his tires are spinning and spinning. He can’t,” Saenz told reporters after the grand jury’s decision. “Then he puts it in reverse and goes all the way back and that’s where there are officers behind and that’s when the shooting breaks out.”
Flores said his stepson’s car shows only a dent.
Meanwhile, a photograph of the shooting scene shows Treviño’s red Sentra in a ditch.
Treviño’s video appears to show him parking his car.
Moments later, the video shows Treviño sitting in his car amid a barrage of gunfire at about 3:30 p.m.
Saenz said officers fired 31 rounds.