By HEATHER CATHLEEN COX
RIO HONDO – City of Rio Hondo officials, police and legal counsel remain mum with regard to specific details on a July 7 incident involving former Cameron County District Attorney’s Office investigator and long-time Place 5 City Commissioner Joseph “Joe” Lopez, who faces domestic violence allegations.
Specifically, Lopez is accused of using his arm to choke and/or hold down his wife. Although Rio Hondo Police Department officers were called to the scene, Rio Hondo Public Safety Director and Police Chief Weldon Matlock said, “Lopez was never placed under arrest.” Albeit written and verbal requests for the RHPD police report and official press release were requested days ago, as of press time no such information has been received.
As previously reported via a web exclusive Tuesday on sbnewspaper.com, RHPD forwarded the case to the DA’s office, where Lopez worked as an investigator. District Attorney Luis V. Saenz issued the following statement: “In the morning of July 7, the D.A.’s Office was informed by the Rio Hondo Police Department that it was investigating a domestic violence case against D.A. Investigator Joe Lopez. In the afternoon of July 7, Investigator Lopez was fired. The RHPD submitted the case to the D.A.’s Office today (Tuesday), and we have already requested that a district judge appoint an attorney pro-tem.”
Rio Hondo City Administrator Ben Medina Jr., said “The City of Rio Hondo does not have a city charter,” which would normally dictate precise measures a municipality can take in the event that a Commissioner is arrested or faces criminal charges. Because Rio Hondo is a general law city—typically depicted as a city with fewer than 5,000 residents which is governed by general state laws, rather than a specific charter—a specifiable procedure for how this case will be handled remains unclear.
In the most general sense, a city charter establishes the boundaries that a city’s people have imposed upon their city government. It is the source of the city’s system of checks and balances, prescribing the relationship between the mayor and the city council—as well as the interaction of the city attorney with both. The mayor’s authority to recommend policies, the council’s power to enact policy subject to mayoral veto, and the mayor’s control over the implementation of city policy are all established by the charter as the city’s basic law.
According to Medina, Rio Hondo is “a general law city.” He added, “The city functions just like any other city.” Yet, as of Friday—nearly a week after Lopez was accused of domestic violence—Rio Hondo City officials, employees, City Attorney and State Representative Eddie Lucio III and RHPD have either been unavailable or unwilling to provide comments and documentation involving details of the incident and how the charges affect Lopez’ seat on the Commission.
Repeated attempts to reach Lopez for comment have been unsuccessful.
Chief Matlock declined comment regarding specific details of the July 7 incident involving Lopez.
Regarding the allegations against Lopez, Lucio declined comment, saying only: “I am unable to comment on my client in the Rio Hondo City Commission.”
With regard to how the City of Rio Hondo would respond to the charges against Lopez, Mayor Gus Olivarez declined comment.