Pharr officials mum on employee’s DWI

PHARR — A Pharr city employee’s DWI arrest this spring and subsequent arraignment Thursday morning have left city officials tightlipped about any administrative action that’s since been taken.

Juan Fernando Martinez, 31, was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Pharr on the evening of April 9. The criminal complaint against him states Martinez “faile(d) to drive in a single lane.”

At the time of his arrest, Martinez — who bonded out of jail on April 11 — was employed with the Pharr Fire Department as an engineer.

On June 27, more than two months later, Fire Chief Leonardo Perez suspended Martinez without pay for 30 days, as per the terms of Section 143.056 of the Texas Local Government Code. This allows the department head to temporarily suspend firefighters or police officers “indicted for a felony or officially charged with the commission of a Class A or B misdemeanor.”

Perez declined to comment on Thursday about why the department waited more than two months since the official charge to suspend Martinez, and instead directed all questions to the city’s human resources department.

The suspension, which “was served” at 4:30 p.m. on June 27, also came just a few hours after The Monitor emailed City Clerk Hilda Pedraza requesting his personnel file. Alan Ozuna, the Pharr city attorney, then sought an opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s Office on whether that information was subject to disclosure under the Public Information Act.

Assistant Attorney General James L. Coggeshall sent Ozuna a letter on Sept. 13 informing that the information must be released “immediately.”

The letter to Ozuna read: “We note the city only submitted law enforcement records pertaining to a particular arrest and a related notice of suspension, but no other portion of the requested personnel file… We assume, to the extent any additional responsive information existed when the city made the request for information, the city has released it. If not, then the city must do so immediately.”

As of press time, The Monitor has not received any additional portions of Martinez’s personnel file and has submitted a second public information request to the city Thursday, which now questions Martinez’s current employment status, position and title since the Texas Department of Public Safety suspended his driver’s license from May 20 to Nov. 11 for refusing to provide “a breath specimen” during his arrest.

Pedraza responded via email, which read: “The Texas Public Information Act does not require the city to answer to questions or to do legal research.” But it was a clerk from the city’s human resources department who informed The Monitor that a public information request could be submitted in the form of questions.

“If you ask something in the form of questions, if the (governmental) body has documents related to that, then they should release those,” said Jesse Harvey, assistant attorney general. “There may be people in governmental bodies that are under the impression that if something comes in the form of a question, they don’t have to answer at all — they are mistaken of course …”

Without the documents, it remains unknown how this suspension impacts Martinez’s duties with the department.

His next court date is Nov. 14.

Staff writer Lorenzo Zazueta-Castro contributed to this report