Sgt. Enrique Saenz will be returning to the Alice Police Department after Honorable Lori LaConta ruled that the City of Alice did not meet the burden of proof in Saenz's termination.
Saenz, who had been with the Alice PD since 2007, was fired from his position at the Alice PD in September 2019 after a third party internal investigation concluded that Saenz misused his position at the Alice PD and that he received pay for call outs/call back. Call outs/call back are used by officers who work or answer phone calls while they are “on call.”
In March of 2019, the City of Alice was alerted by FBI that the department's system was part of a breach that began in the Eastern part of the nation that led them to the Alice PD. FBI also told City officials that Saenz had used his law enforcement access of LexisNexis Accurint to illegally search individuals that had no connection to a law enforcement case. The Lexis-Nexis Accurint system helps officers make background checks on individuals involved in a law enforcement cases.
When Saenz was terminated, he and his Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas
(CLEAT) attorney Celeste Robertson filed a grievance against the city. Saenz was granted a hearing in December of 2019. During the hearing, Robertson and City Attorney Ric Navarro questioned witnesses on the protocols at the police department, the FBI investigation as well as the internal investigation made by a third party investigator hired by the department.
On Wednesday, April 8, Saenz and Robertson received Honorable LaConta's award letter. The City of Alice also received a copy of the letter.
In the award letter, LaConta states that “'The City (of Alice) has failed to demonstrate that Saenz violated any specific department policy or rule, and it has not met its burden of proof in showing that it had just and sufficient cause to terminate Saenz. The City failed to conduct a thorough and adequate investigation into Saenz’ alleged misconduct, and the results of the investigation should not have been used as a basis for terminating him.”
LaConta also stated that “long-term, dedicated officers like Sgt. Saenz deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness, which would have included 1) open communication at all times, 2) a fair and impartial Internal Affairs investigation, and 3) a reasonable amount of discipline, if any, in accordance with Chapter 143 of the Texas Local Government Code. It is the judgment of this Hearing Examiner that the Appeal of Enrique Saenz is granted, and he shall be made whole accordingly.”
LaConta's award is that Saenz's grievance is “sustained” and that Saenz should be reinstated, the suspension should be removed from Saenz's personnel file, and that Saenz should receive “full back pay plus benefits including time in service and seniority from the date of discharge.”
LaConta “retains jurisdiction over this case for 30 days to ensure appropriate remedial action is taken in accordance with the award.
When Saenz will be reinstated and how much his back pay is still in question. Calls made to City Manager Michael Esparza were not returned by press time Thursday.
Saenz “is just anxious to get back to work,” Robertson said.