By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
Another San Benito educator is under investigation for inappropriate behavior with a student.
San Benito Police Department Assistant Operations Chief Michael Galvan confirmed Thursday that Landrum Elementary School fine arts teacher Joe Mendez was arrested by deputies with the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office on Monday for failing to appear in court on previous charges.
CCSO Chief Deputy Gus Reyna Jr. said the failure to appear arrest stems from five assault charges filed against Mendez by the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District Police Department. No bond has been set for Mendez, who as of 2:40 p.m. Thursday was not listed on the Cameron County inmate list website.
According to an arrest warrant issued by Precinct 3, Place 2 Justice of the Peace David Garza’s office and filed by San Benito CISD police, Mendez, 57, faces an assault by contact charge, a class “C” misdemeanor, for allegedly kissing a student last year.
An affidavit for arrest states that on May 23, 2012, the parent of a female student—then 5 years old—attending Frank Roberts Elementary School filed charges against Mendez, who at that time was teaching at Frank Roberts, for allegedly kissing the girl on the cheek during class.
“[The parent] stated that the teacher should have not made any physical contact with her daughter and felt that the kiss was offensive,” the affidavit reads, further stating that it was Gilbert Galvan—the principal at Frank Roberts in 2012—who instructed the parent to report the incident.
The affidavit further states that Mendez allegedly remarked “se me fue la onda” when Galvan questioned him about the incident.
The San Benito News has filed a public information request with San Benito CISD for the parent’s original complaint.
In the meantime, San Benito CISD Community Relations Director Celia Longoria issued a statement confirming that Mendez was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation, “which is currently being conducted by members of the San Benito CISD Police Department.”
When asked about the case, San Benito CISD Police Chief Santiago R. Garcia said, “It’s under investigation is all I can say. It’s a personnel issue.”
“During the course of an ongoing investigation,” Longoria continued in the statement, “San Benito CISD police officers discovered that the teacher in question had outstanding warrants from the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department. District police officers notified the sheriff’s department, who in turn, arrested the teacher without incident. The San Benito CISD Police Department continues to conduct their own investigation into the matter. In the meantime, the teacher will remain on paid administrative leave until the investigation is complete.”
In response to a public information request filed with the JP’s office, Garza released a letter signed by Garcia requesting that the justice recall the warrant of arrest for Mendez.
“At this time I am respectfully asking you to please consider recalling the warrant of arrest for Mr. Mendez,” Garcia wrote in the letter, which was dated June 12, 2012. “We are prepared to issue him a citation for the class ‘C’ misdemeanor. The case will be filed with the City Municipal Court.”
According to Galvan, Mendez was cited on June 11, 2012 by school police and entered a “not guilty” plea on June 20 of the same year. A trial date, according to Galvan, has yet to be set in the case.
This isn’t the first time that Mendez has been accused of assaulting a student. In 2011, KGBT Action 4 News reported a story about another Frank Roberts parent who complained that Mendez had pulled the ear of her 8-year-old son and another student.
The following is a statement the district issued in response to the allegations, as reported by Action 4 News: “A teacher from Frank Roberts Elementary returned to work after being placed on administrative leave with pay after school officials conducted an internal investigation. The investigation was launched after allegations surfaced against the teacher in question. The incident involves a personnel matter; therefore, the district cannot disclose any other details at this time.”
Attempts by the News to reach Mendez for comment were unsuccessful as of 2:40 p.m. Thursday.
This is the second case of a San Benito CISD teacher reportedly accused of inappropriate behavior with a student in a year’s time. In October 2012, then-Berta Cabaza Middle School choir director Alfredo Hernandez Jr. was arrested by the Harlingen Police Department for online solicitation of a minor. Recent charges filed by the Brownsville Independent School District and San Benito CISD indicate that Hernandez has also been accused of similar crimes involving students attending campuses within said districts.
In San Benito, Hernandez is accused of requesting nude photos and attempting to meet with three students and having phone sex with at least one of the alleged victims—all of whom attended Berta Cabaza or Miller Jordan Middle School at the time, 2012, and range in age from 11 to 12.
Days following his HPD arrest, Hernandez was apologetic in a resignation letter emailed to then-Berta Cabaza Principal William Snavely.
Antonio G. Limón has been on paid administrative leave as San Benito CISD Superintendent of Schools since May 23 for what he said were allegations that he attempted to block HPD’s investigation into Hernandez. Making the accusations, Limón has said, were the majority four members of the San Benito CISD Board of Trustees—Board President Yliana González, Vice President Julian Huerta, Secretary June Aguilera and trustee Fatima Huerta.
Limón has since denied the claim and is currently under investigation by El Paso-based law firm Guerra & Farah, as per the request of the board. His future as superintendent in San Benito is pending the outcome of the probe.
For more on this story, pick up a copy of the Sept. 29 edition of the San Benito News, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.