Editor’s Note: This report contains profanity and sexually explicit language that may disturb some readers.
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By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
A Port Isabel police officer who was given a 7-day suspension in late June has since been demoted from the rank of sergeant to patrol officer.
“It is a personnel issue and we really don’t discuss personnel issues, but, to answer your question, I guess we can just confirm that he’s been demoted to patrol,” confirmed Chief of Police Robert Lopez during an interview last week.
Rene Camacho was given the 7-day suspension in response to a complaint that had been filed with the police department against the then-sergeant. Both Chief Lopez and Port Isabel City Manager Jared Hockema declined to speak in detail as to the nature of the complaint against Camacho at the time.
As a result, the PRESS hand delivered an open records request to Chief Lopez seeking information under the Texas Public Information Act on June 27. The PRESS requested information regarding any complaints filed against Camacho and any records of disciplinary action he may have been subjected to because of those complaints.
The City responded to the request on Aug. 2.* The documents reveal that three women filed statements about Camacho — one from a civilian, and two from fellow officers. In the statements, the women, whose names were redacted from the documents, allege Camacho engaged in improper behavior and helped to create a hostile work environment by making numerous sexually charged statements.
The first complaint was made on Tuesday, June 12. In it, a civilian woman alleges that Camacho acted improperly after taking her into custody.
According to the woman, Camacho and another officer, Jerry Lopez, arrived at her home on Saturday, June 9 to arrest her on a charge of simple assault. The woman writes that Camacho failed to handcuff her when he placed her in his patrol unit.
She also claims Camacho purposefully turned off his body camera in order to have private conversations with her while she was detained. “I observed the red light no longer blinking and Camacho also confirmed his body cam was now off by saying, ‘There my camera is off, now I can talk to you,’” the woman wrote in her statement.
Camacho then proceeded to speak about the woman’s romantic partner, asking if he had ever struck her. “Camacho asked if (redacted) had ever struck me and that I was too beautiful and smart to be getting in this type of situation,” the woman wrote.
Later, at the City Jail, Camacho declined the offer of a female police officer to pat the woman down before placing her in a cell, as is department policy.
A short time later, Camacho removed the woman from the cell and took her to an interrogation room where he again disabled his body camera, the woman wrote. Camacho again began to make personal remarks about the woman and her boyfriend, including offering her dating advice.
Later that evening, as the woman was preparing to be released from custody, she called an acquaintance to give her a ride home. She informed Camacho of this, but Camacho told her he would drive her home, she wrote.
In addition to his comments to her while she was in custody, the woman claims that Camacho sent her messages via the social media app, Snapchat. He asked the woman why she had blocked him on the app. He continued sending her messages until the morning she filed the complaint, she said.
It was this complaint that spurred the chief to suspend Camacho. But, afterwards, two fellow officers came forward to make statements, as well. After investigating those statements, the chief and city manager decided to demote Camacho.
Part 2 – Online Only
Editor’s Note: This report contains profanity and sexually explicit language that may disturb some readers.
According to a disciplinary action form, which was signed by both Camacho and Chief Lopez on June 22, Camacho was suspended for several violations of the “Port Isabel Policy and Procedures.”
Not handcuffing the woman when she was taken into custody was the first violation. According to the disciplinary action form, Camacho’s written statement from the day of the arrest indicated that he had handcuffed the woman. But later, when Chief Lopez and an investigator spoke to Camacho after the woman filed her complaint, Camacho admitted he had not handcuffed her. “Sgt. Camacho clearly lied to the Chief about handcuffing the female,” the form reads.
The second violation came as a result of Camacho’s failure to ensure the woman was searched before being placed in a cell, despite a female officer who happened to be booking another woman into custody offering to conduct the search.
The third, and final, procedural violation listed in the disciplinary action form is “unbecoming conduct.” This, the form details, was due to Camacho remaining with the woman after he drove her back home, staying with her outside her home until her acquaintance arrived. Too, his sending her messages via Snapchat, “clearly defines a violation of police department policy and procedures,” the form reads.
But, conspicuously absent from the disciplinary action form is any mention of Camacho disabling his body camera during his interactions with the woman.
In total, the woman claims Camacho disabled his camera three times — first, when he placed her into his patrol vehicle, and again when he took her to an interrogation room to discuss the charge she was facing. It was during this interaction that she was also advised of her Miranda rights.
The woman said Camacho disabled his body camera a third time at approximately 1 a.m., after releasing her from the holding cell and taking her to a separate room to speak to her alone. It was during this third interaction that Camacho made additional personal comments regarding the woman’s relationship.
“He said again I was too beautiful and smart to be in jail and I could look him in the eyes,” the woman wrote. A moment later, Camacho asked if she was going to break up with her boyfriend.
The woman ended her statement by writing that she felt Camacho was holding a personal vendetta against her for denying him dates and blocking him on social media.
Camacho was disciplined a second time on June 28. “Sgt. Rene Camacho will be demoted to patrol officer effective immediately,” reads the second disciplinary action form.
The disciplinary action came after two fellow officers came forward to file complaints around the same time as the civilian woman. The statements from the two female officers, whose names were also redacted, allege sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.
The first officer, “Jane,” came forward on Monday, June 11, one day before the civilian woman filed her complaint. In her statement, Jane alleges that Camacho had made sexually explicit comments to her the previous day, after calling her to meet him at Washington Park.
Jane drove to the park in her patrol unit, where she found Camacho sitting in his own department-issued vehicle. Camacho proceeded to ask her if she and her fiancé had gone socializing the night before. Then he asked her if she was okay. Jane replied she was suffering a painful medical issue with her eye and that she was planning to see a doctor about it.
The officer said Camacho replied by saying, “You should tell them to stop throwing it on your face!”
“I was shocked by what he said and felt very uncomfortable and also upset,” Jane wrote in her statement. She said he laughed and said “nothing” when she asked him what he had just said.
She went on to write she interpreted Camacho’s comment to be in reference to ejaculation.
Upset by the encounter, Jane called her fiancé, whom she said knows Camacho, and told him what happened. Next, she called a supervisor to report the incident. “Sgt. R. Camacho has no filter in the things he says and sometimes is very unprofessional with women,” Jane wrote in her statement.
The second officer, “Sarah,” came forward on Tuesday, June 26.
Sarah outlined a series of allegations in her statement, including that Camacho would lie to dispatch about his position while on patrol, that he would make lewd comments and that he would intimidate other officers through the use of foul language. Sarah also alleged that Camacho would attempt to pressure officers to arrest people on criminal charges not supported by the facts at hand.
Camacho had been one of several ranked officers responsible for overseeing Sarah’s field training when she was a new officer. During one such training patrol, Sarah wrote that Camacho littered, throwing a cookie wrapper out of the car window, while telling her, “This is what you’re not supposed to do.”
Later in the statement, Sarah wrote that Camacho would lie to dispatchers about his whereabouts while on duty. “When riding with Sgt. Camacho he would call out to dispatch that he patrolled a certain zone but in actuality he had not even been in that zone at all,” Sarah wrote.
In another incident at the police station, Sarah was in the room when Camacho was speaking to another officer “about watching Porn (sic) on his phone and masturbating to it,” she wrote in her statement.
Sarah alleged Camacho also routinely used foul language to refer to fellow officers, including calling them “bitch” and a Spanish-language slur for gay people, all while demanding officers refer to him by his rank, she wrote.
“Sgt. Camacho makes me feel uncomfortable with his sexual comments,” Sarah wrote, adding that officers often exchanged glances with each other when the former sergeant would make such comments.
Finally, Sarah wrote that she and other officers often felt pressured by Camacho to arrest people on unwarranted charges. “Sgt. Camacho showed up to a call and stood by and wanted to charge a male subject for cruelty to animals even when the elements for that charge were not there,” she wrote.
“I feel that if we do not follow his directive we could get in trouble,” she wrote.
She continued, saying she hesitated to write the statement out of fear of retaliation, but ultimately felt compelled to come forward to help put a stop to Camacho’s “unethical tactics.”
“All I want is to do what’s right and I hope this is the right thing,” Sarah wrote at the end of her statement.
Police department higher-ups investigated both Jane and Sarah’s allegations and ultimately concluded that further disciplinary action was necessary. Camacho was presented with the second disciplinary action form on June 28.
According to the form, the department found that Camacho had violated its policies against sexual harassment. “This type of activity could constitute and tends to create a hostile working environment that we don’t tolerate,” the form reads.
Police Chief Robert Lopez and City Manager Jared Hockema echoed that sentiment in comments they made to the PRESS.
“I think it’s obvious that we take complaints of that nature seriously, that we look into them and determine what they constitute,” Hockema said. “And even complaints that may not rise to, let’s say, the level of sexual harassment, or something of that nature — if there’s things that are of an unprofessional nature, or that could constitute that, then we don’t tolerate that. Without speaking to specifics, when we became aware of them, we looked into them and we took action,” he said.
Lopez said his department aims to treat all its officers equally, whether they are male or female. “I want to send a message that we are here to … protect them (female officers) and to make them feel comfortable in a profession that is predominantly male,” Lopez said.
He added that PIPD is somewhat of a rarity in that five of its 19 officers are women. “We do have five females on the force, which is really uncommon in a lot of departments our size,” he said.
To view the documents released by the City of Port Isabel, click one of the links below. A PDF will open in a new window. The first file contains the civilian complaint and disciplinary action that resulted in Officer Camacho’s suspension. The second contains the complaints from the two female officers, “Jane” and “Sarah,” as well as the disciplinary action form that resulted in Officer Camacho’s demotion.
*Correction: The City of Port Isabel, through City Attorney Gilberto Hinojosa, responded to the open records request on Thursday, Aug. 2, not last week, as was written in the print edition of the PRESS.
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