Two former Refugio police officers file lawsuit against city

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

Oct. 12, 2010 at 5:12 a.m.

REFUGIO - Two former Refugio police officers have filed a lawsuit against the City of Refugio claiming they were wrongfully terminated in June.

Dean Ochoa and Fernando Garcia claim in the lawsuit that they were terminated after the two had assisted and gave information to state and federal investigators inquiring about former Police Chief Chris Brock, who was indicted in September 2009 on a charge of stealing and misusing between $20,000 - $100,000 from a police forfeiture account.

The city claims the two officers resigned.

Ochoa and Garcia filed the suit in Refugio County on Sept. 24.

The city filed its answer until last week, according to the lawsuit.

The termination of the officers falls under the Texas Whistleblower Act, said Daniel J. Barrera, the Houston attorney representing Ochoa and Garcia.

"We believe the city of Refugio directly or indirectly, through its agent, retaliated against the officers," Barrera said.

The agent Barrera refers to is City Attorney Deborah Bauer. The city council may have also collaborated in the alleged retaliation campaign, Barrera said.

Both officers conducted their own investigation after their termination and "after a conversation with the Texas Workforce Commission, it became clear they were targeted by the City of Refugio through its agent, the city attorney, for their cooperation into the chief investigation," according to the lawsuit.

The city's attorney, James F. McKibben Jr., of Corpus Christi, was unavailable for comments on the suit Tuesday but Refugio Mayor Ray Jaso said the two resigned after an interview where they were questioned about misusing patrol cars, he said.

Jaso did not go into specifics about the interview or the suit.

"They don't have a leg to stand on," he said. "Both of them resigned."

Garcia served as acting police chief after Brock was indicted but then resigned shortly after taking the position, the Advocate had previously reported.

Though Jaso is not specifically named in the suit, he feels like the middle man because he is mayor, he said.

Barrera insists his clients were wrongfully terminated.

"The resignations were not given willingly. They were forced resignations," he said. "We look forward to resolving these issues with the city."



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