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Dilley city councilors have agreed to hire a new police chief, replacing Anthony Zertuche, who is the presumptive sheriff-elect of La Salle County and who was recently quizzed by the mayor on his department’s practices.
Milton Rivera was approved for the job by a unanimous council vote on Wednesday, June 24.
The council had agreed on May 12 to begin the process of hiring a new police chief, two weeks after Zertuche was called upon to answer complaints alleging inadequate patrolling in the community.
Zertuche had taken over as police chief in January, having previously served as an officer in the department. His promotion came at a time when he was campaigning for election as La Salle County sheriff in the Democratic Party primaries. He defeated incumbent La Salle County Sheriff Miguel Rodriguez for the nomination by a narrow margin and is unopposed in his bid in the November general election. As presumptive sheriff-elect, he is scheduled to take office at the beginning of January.
When Zertuche took the reins at the Dilley PD, the department had lost its last two chiefs in less than a year. Jerry Reyna had resigned in June 2019, and interim Chief Armando Romo had been shown the door in December.
Romo had been offered the position shortly after Reyna’s departure but was confronted by complainants before the end of the year regarding alleged violation of several city policies. Councilors cast a split vote on his employment, choosing eventually not to offer him an extension.
Zertuche was picked as interim police chief in December and, after the primary elections in March, had been expected to hold the office until his scheduled departure for La Salle County in the new year.
Chief Zertuche was questioned at the April council meeting by Mayor Mary Ann Obregon over allegations that the police department was failing to enforce curfew requirements.
“Maybe you are not patrolling like you should,” Mayor Obregon said in reference to a call she said she had received regarding boys playing basketball at a local church late on a Sunday night.
“Do you have facts to support that?” Chief Zertuche asked the mayor, “Or is it just opinions from people who are calling you?”
“Yes, it is,” the mayor said. “My opinion is you are not patrolling enough. You know what? When people talk to me about traffic late at night, I believe them.”
The police chief said he believes that complaints not directly submitted to the police department or dispatch office are difficult to address because their credibility is in doubt.
“It is kind of hard to believe if they are not calling the PD,” Zertuche said. “A police department is run on credibility, evidence, information that we can rely on. If it is not getting relayed through us, as the people should be doing, but a third party like you, that is not the way a police department works. They need to call us so it is logged in. We do not go on peoples’ opinions or what people think is right; we go on what we can prove is right.”
The police chief also addressed a comment made by councilors regarding a police unit following a car during the hours of curfew.
Zertuche said he sought clarification from the district attorney’s office seeking direction on enforcing the curfew.
“As police officers, we still have to develop probable cause,” the chief said. “We cannot just stop people ‘just because.’ I got a letter from the district attorney’s office.”
Zertuche said he had forwarded that letter to City Administrator Juan Estrada.
“I disagree with that opinion from the DA regarding the curfew because the curfew gives you probable cause to stop someone on the road after 10 p.m.,” city legal counsel Molly Solis said.
Zertuche asked for a joint meeting between the city administration, the district attorney and himself.
“We all need to be on the same page,” the chief said. “It puts me in a position, where I abide by the city ordinance or abide by the advice from the district attorney.”
“Actually, Chief, I am also the city prosecutor,” Solis said, adding that she believes District Attorney Audrey Louis “has no jurisdiction over a Class C misdemeanor.”
The city’s new police chief is expected to take office this month as the fourth head of the department in a year.