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City releases audio at center of complaint against official

January 15, 2019

The City of Brownsville has released a 21-minute-long phone call between Brownsville Police Department Lt. David Dale and District 2 City Commissioner Jessica Tetreau Kalifa that is the subject of a complaint the police official filed against the commissioner in early November.

The phone call, which Tetreau Kalifa said was recorded without her knowledge, is the center of allegations Dale, who has applied for the position of Brownsville police chief, levied against Tetreau Kalifa, accusing the elected official of using her position on behalf of a friend to end a schedule change for the Brownsville PD’s downtown bicycle unit that would have kept some of those officers patrolling on the streets after 5 p.m.

"I ask for an immediate and independent inquiry into the aforementioned points," Dale wrote in the complaint. "Our elected officials can not [sic] inject themselves into police operations in the manner of inappropriate actions which can hinder efficiency and effectiveness."

Dale submitted the complaint to the now-abolished Audit & Oversight Committee, which was set to be considered by city commissioners on Dec. 4, along with an independent review of an internal audit about the fire department’s use of a non-permitted private ambulance company connected to former fire chief Carlos Elizondo, who is facing two criminal indictments -- one for theft from the firefighters union and another for computer security breach. Elizondo has maintained his innocence.

However, instead, Tetreau Kalifa, District 1 Commissioner Ricardo Longoria Jr., District 3 Commissioner Joel Munguia and Commissioner-at-Large "A" Cesar De Leon voted to abolish the committee. Mayor Tony Martinez, Commissioner-at-Large "B" Rose Gowen and District 4 Commissioner Ben Neece voted against the dissolution.

On Monday, in an interview with The Brownsville Herald, Tetreau Kalifa pushed back against Dale’s allegations, saying she never used her office to influence police operations.

"In no way whatsoever did I tell him, you have to do this," said Tetreau Kalifa.

During the recording, Tetreau Kalifa never tells Dale explicitly that if he changed the bicycle unit’s schedule she would not support his bid to be the next police chief for the City of Brownsville. She does however, advise him to poll commissioners regarding "downtown changes."

"My advice to you is to polling like the actual commissioner numbers. Like especially the district commissioners to see, like, that way you get an idea of where the majority of the commission is going with these opinions like the downtown changes and things like that," Tetreau Kalifa says toward the end of the conversation. "Because I don’t know, it’s not just me. Everybody is very, I don’t know, we all, it’s a very limited resource."

When asked about that comment, Tetreau Kalifa said Dale had sought advice from her during the course of a friendship that had developed and said that’s what she was providing him.

"I was just advising him. Ultimately, I don’t care who becomes police chief," Tetreau Kalifa said Monday. "I care that whoever becomes chief serves the community, not myself. I didn’t say, when you become chief, you owe me this. I specifically told him: figure out the needs of the community, that’s my advice."

In his complaint, Dale said Tetreau Kalifa inferred that since "she sits with the majority on the commission and she gets what she wants, and since the selection of the new police chief is coming up it is a good idea to keep the commissioners happy."

In the interview, Tetreau Kalifa complained that she thought it was unfair of Dale to drag her friend, Diana Martinez, into politics. Dale alleged that Martinez didn’t want to have her hours on the bike patrol adjusted and told Tetreau Kalifa about the changes.

"I hope to end this kind of response to where an officer can reach out to a commissioner and change operations that have been forethought with detail in regards to safety and downtown community needs as well as interrupting another commissioner’s district," Dale wrote.

Martinez is never mentioned in the recording and Tetreau Kalifa and Dale do not discuss the officer at all.

The two do discuss officer safety because Tetreau Kalifa said she believes that having the bicycle unit patrol at night would endanger their safety. The complaint Dale filed includes a copy of an email Tetreau Kalifa sent him requesting a meeting. That email also included then-Interim City Manager Michael Lopez and Assistant City Manager Art Rodriguez.

"This email serves as documentation of concern that decisions that your management have made are now endangering the safety of some of our city employees," Tetreau Kalifa wrote.

According to Dale, Tetreau Kalifa sent that email on Aug. 31 within an hour after Dale instructed bike patrol supervisor Sgt. Fernando Flores to adjust the schedule so two officers would patrol until 8 p.m. during the week, and about an hour after Tetreau Kalifa sent the email to Dale, Lopez and Rodriguez, Lopez called Dale and told him "to cancel the changes due to a commissioner getting involved."

City Spokeswoman Christina Garza said the City Charter dictates that dealings by commissioners with administrative services should go through the city manager.

"Article V Section 20 of the City Charter dictates that all dealings by the Commission with the administrative services of the City should be conducted solely through the City Manager," Garza said in an emailed stated.

On Monday, Tetreau Kalifa reiterated her stance that she believed having bicycle patrol officers downtown during the night would endanger their safety. And in the recording, Tetreau Kalifa also tells Dale she is concerned about having officers on bicycles at night is unsafe. She also expressed anger and frustration because she tells Dale in the recording that she had requested bike patrol help in her district because of illegal dumping.

"It just super super angered me that I had requested their presence to help with trash dumping in my area, and they always tell me no because they are so busy downtown and then to find out they are going to be cycling at night too," Tetreau Kalifa tells Dale.

In the recording, Tetreau Kalifa emphasized her frustration with city resources.

"There’s like very bad dumping in my area. We clean it up. The next day it’s there all over again and I don’t have any bicycle officers in my area or any resources at all to help with it and it just sucks for me," Tetreau Kalifa said.

She also complained to Dale in the recording that she thought the downtown area, which is Neece’s district, received an unfair share of city resources that was shortchanging other Brownsville residents, including those who live in her district.

Tetreau Kalifa also tells Dale in the recording that her frustration has nothing to do with him.

"That’s my frustration. It has nothing to do with you, it wasn’t that, it’s just, you know, here we go again with another ridiculous request and somebody’s going to get run over and then whose fault and like, as chief, you don’t want your first press conference to be ’OK, so we had an officer get hit by a drunk driver, you know," Tetreau Kalifa says in the recording.

In Dale’s complaint, he also accuses Tetreau Kalifa of "interrupting another commissioner’s district."

During the recording, Tetreau Kalifa does criticize Neece, calling him a problem child and, like Dale complained, does say since she sits on the commission’s majority, she can do whatever she wants.

"Well, luckily, right now, thank God, right now I sit on the majority side of the commission. It hasn’t always been that way, but I’m able to do like whatever I want, and just really cool stuff coming up because I have, like, I have Rick, I have Joel, I have Cesar. They are agreeing with me. At the moment the problem child is ... Ben because if I, you don’t do what he wants, he destroys you, like perjury this, it’s just like, drives me nuts, honestly [unintelligible] do not smoke weed," Tetreau Kalifa says in the recording. "It’s just hard for me to work with somebody who is so erratic. I don’t understand where he comes from. But anyways you’re doing a great job. I just recommend that, like, because the decision is coming up very soon make sure you keep all of your commissioners very happy."

Right before the Dec. 4 vote to abolish the Audit & Oversight Committee, Neece read a blistering statement where he speculated that abolishing the committee was an attempt to quash an investigation into Dale’s complaint.

Neece has previously said the Audit & Oversight Committee’s intention to address the Dale complaint did not stem from a personal dislike for Tetreau Kalifa.

"I’m not going to be taking a black eye because I’m trying to expose a wrongdoing here," he said.

During that heated Dec. 4 meeting, Tetreau Kalifa said she felt Neece was extorting her over her vote and asked the police department to investigate Neece. The next day, she filed a complaint against Neece with the Brownsville Police Department alleging Neece abused his official capacity by trying to threaten her "into not voting on particular items on the agenda."

On Monday, Brownsville Police Department Spokeswoman Melissa Gonzalez said the case is still an ongoing investigation.

For his part, Dale told Tetreau Kalifa he would never jeopardize officer safety and said scheduling challenges make it difficult to keep bicycle officers in pairs while suggesting he could find a few officers to catch the illegal dumpers though the activity comes in waves and is hard to completely get rid of. Dale also told Tetreau Kalifa that the police department also has limited resources.

He also spends much of the conversation touting what he believes to be his successes, which are similar to the pitch he made in a letter to the Brownsville Police Officers Association seeking their support for him to be the next chief.

As for Dale recording Tetreau Kalifa without her knowledge, the city commissioner said she felt violated.

"I just felt that he abused my trust," Tetreau Kalifa said Monday. "He abused my friendship. And I feel like he took advantage of my position at the city to make this false claim."

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

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