Contradicts previous statement made by deputy

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Jim Wells County Sheriff's Department Attorney Myra Morris confirmed this week that JWC Sheriff's Deputy Johnny Perez did not receive a written reprimand for leaving an inmate unattended last month at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Alice, despite Perez's statement to the contrary.

Perez said on Oct. 18 that he had received a written reprimand after he left an inmate unattended at the hospital, due to extenuating circumstances. Perez left the inmate to go to his second job, after repeated attempts to contact the department and have another deputy relieve him. Perez was not the officer on duty for that shift, and was filling in for a fellow deputy at the time of the incident.

Perez said that the matter was taken care of internally following an investigation and that he had received a written reprimand. The Alice Echo News Journal requested a copy of the written reprimand from Morris under the Freedom of Information Act. Morris stated in her response that "there are no documents responsive to your request."

Sheriff's department administrative Ricardo Palacios confirmed on Wednesday that Perez was given an oral reprimand and that no record of the incident was placed in his personnel file.

Palacios said at the time of the incident that leaving an inmate unattended could be a reason for suspension or termination depending on the circumstances.

The inmate at the hospital was left unattended for 15 to 20 minutes, department officials said, before another officer could arrive at the hospital. Palacios said the decision was the discretion of Sheriff Oscar Lopez' and that the decision for an oral reprimand instead of a written one was based on the "totality of the circumstances" surrounding the incident.

Palacios and Lopez said that the personnel file of each individual is usually swiped clean if a new sheriff were to take office.

"He can hire who he wants, and normally asks his own people to come into place," Lopez said of a new sheriff. Lopez said every sheriff runs his department differently.

"County by county, agency by agency, every one of us has a different system," Lopez said. "We go by the law, and the policy we have in place tells us whether we can file on a person or not. Each department has a different policy." Lopez and Palacios said that the Sheriff's Department is currently working on updating their policy.

When asked about the policies already in place, Lopez would not go into detail.

"Ask the county judge about county policy," he said.