A letter of no confidence against Alice Police Chief Ancieto "Cheto Perez was hand delivered to the Alice City Manager Michael Esparza Wednesday morning along with copies of the letter for the city council members.
"It is what it is. It's a letter of no confidence I read through it (Wednesday)," Esparza said. "It looks like some of the police officer have a problem with our police chief. I happen to think he's done a very good job, but I still take a letter like this seriously. I'm going to look into it."
The letter was delivered by Alice police officers about 9 a.m. and contains 14 signatures that include officers from the patrol division and criminal investigations division.
According to sources, several officers who did not sign the letter did so for fear of retaliation.
"We, the Alice Police Department, to include members of the Alice Police Department Patrol Division and the Alice Police Department Criminal Investigations Division that proudly serve the Citizenry of Alice, respectfully submit this letter as our official notice regarding the letter of no confidence in the City of Alice Police Chief Aniceto Perez. We wish to let our signatures indicate that we have lost all trust, faith, and confidence in the current Chief of Police Aniceto Perez...," the letter states.
"We hesitate because we fully believe and understand that if this letter does not have the desired result, and we continue to operate under the current Alice Police Department Police Chief Aniceto Perez that there will certainly be retaliation against us leading to and continuing with the hostile work environment that has been created by this police administration. At this time several Alice Officers have advised they are afraid to sign this letter because they fear of retaliation that has been practiced by Chief Perez...Officers have been asked to refrain from letting the public know how shorthanded we are, and other negative issues created by Chief Perez within the Alice Police Department. We have tried to reach out to City Manager Michael Esparza about these issues, but he has failed to consult with members of the Alice Police Department."
According to Esparza, he hasn't received anything from the officers and the letter of no confidence presented Wednesday was the first time he had got anything.
"It looks like there's some opinions about our police chief...See if there's anything specifically I need to look at based on this letter. The one thing that we've been doing, that might address some issues, is we have started looking at the departments internally, as far as best practices and things of that sort," Esparza said.
Chief Perez was appointed as interim chief in September 2018 after Chief Rex Ramon retired. He was then appointed as chief in June 2019. Since Perez took office as interim "there has been a total of 14 police officers that have left the Alice Police Department."
"Needless to say, this has left the Alice Police Department Patrol Division, who are assigned the task of protecting and serving our neighborhoods amongst many other duties, with a skeleton crew of two to three total officers at times. This is not only a safety issue for Alice police officers, but it is unfair to the Citizenry of Alice since there is a lack of man power to effectively cover the entire City of Alice. This has crippled the Criminal Investigations Division with only three investigators with the task of investigating an impossible amount of incoming cases. Since the appointment of Chief of Police Aniceto Perez he has fostered an atmosphere of hostility, division, retaliation, and unethical behavior...," letter states.
"My interpretation (of the letter) is that we have concerned officer. I feel that with the count of officers that have signed (the letter) that was turned in...," said Alice Councilman Pete Crisp. "A large percentage of people have signed it and pushed it out. You can't ignore it. You can't just say it's one fashion or another. We seriously need to investigate. The police department is above most importance to the community," Crisp said. "It's one of the highest level of protect and serve. The security of our citizenship...Public safety is most important whether through the police department or the fire department."
According to Esparza, the department is losing officers but they have gained officers as well. However, in the last two months the department as only hired two officers.
"In essence, we have lost more officers than we are gaining. In fact, the mere attitude the Alice Police Department Administration was exhibiting when officers were planning to leave was 'let them leave, we don't need them anyway, they were bad apples'...The case is that we were losing valuable, highly trained officers in which the City of Alice has invested much time and money into," the letter states.
Many of the officers who have left have done so solely on the morale of the department, according to sources. They have chosen to work at the Jim Wells County Sheriff's Department and with the Kingsville Police Department, just to name a few.
"Under the leadership of Alice Police Chief Aniceto Perez morale has plummeted to a level never seen before at this police department. We call in question the leadership of Chief Aniceto Perez. During his tenure as Chief of Police, we have seen numerous instances where Chief Perez has been informed of important issues regarding the Alice Police Department such as meeting with its officers as a whole to receive opinions and concerns," letter states.
While this is an official letter, this is not the first time that Chief Perez has heard about the lack of confidence from his department. He received a text message from an officer that explained how the "patrol officers and (himself were) deeply disturbed by the decisions that administration has been (implementing)" and how the officers are "trying to convince officers to stay in this department."
According to sources, this Chief Perez is the second Alice Police Chief to receive a letter of no confidence in the last 50 years. The other letter was against Chief Jack Compton.
The police officers acknowledge that what has happened within the department has to do with politics and the relationship between the Alice City Mayor Jolene Vanover and her cousin Interim Lieutenant Roland Lerma.
"Another instance where Chief Perez bestowed his thoughtless actions was by the appointment of Interim Lieutenant of Patrol Roland Lerma. Interim Patrol Lieutenant Roland Lerma has received several complaints by Alice Police Officers under the ex-Chief of Police Rex Ramon. Roland Lerma is family members with the current Mayor of City of Alice Jolene Vanover. It is because of this Conflict of Interest that Chief of Police Aniceto Perez has placed Roland Lerma in a position where he is now in charge of Patrol Division, and has been awarded with a pay increase by acting as a Lieutenant," the letter stated. "While Rex Ramon was Chief of Police for the City of Alice Roland Lerma had to be resigned as a Warrants Officer so he could be away from patrol officers who felt the hostile work environment created by him. Interim Lieutenant Roland Lerma has complimented Chief Perez's actions by lacking supervisory skills, leadership skills and profession work ethics. Roland Lerma has made a mockery of this police department by doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants without any input and under the Chief of Police Aniceto Perez. Roland Lerma has weakened our relationship with the Jim Wells County Sheriff's Office by constantly calling its proud employees 'County Trash.' Alice officers consider the employees of the Jim Wells County Sheriff's Office our family, and this has weakened our relationship with them."
According to a letter the City of Alice Attorney John Lemon sent to the Attorney General, "there have been no complaints made against Officer Lerma which have resulted in disciplinary action. Nor does the City of Alice have a numbered listing of the complaints which have been filed against Officer Lerma."
However, the Alice Echo News-Journal was able to obtain at least one complaint against Lerma from August of 2017 from a fellow officer that states "I am filing a formal written complaint against City of Alice employee Sgt. Roland Lerma...for harassment and discrimination (female)."
According to sources, there are several other complaints against Lerma from officers including some for assault.
The letter expresses the officers concerns about "Chief Aniceto Perez has shown that he is untrustworthy after he filed false complaints against Sergeant Enrique Saenz' especially when Perez, under oath, claimed he was unaware of a call out/call back time "even though several officers practice this (Chief Perez) only went after Sergeant Saenz."
"We, the Alice police Department Police Department Police Officers will consider it retaliation if we or our family begin to get treated in a negative manner because of the signing of this letter, and we will take appropriate actions if need be. As police officers who proudly serve the City of Alice we ask the City of Alice council members for help in creating an environment where Alice officers are happy to come in to work without fear of retaliation and a hostile work environment," the letter states. "We plea that the City of Alice Mayor Jolene Vanover respectfully not be involved in evaluation of City of Alice Police Chief Perez because of the conflict of interest she holds with Roland Lerma. We also plea that the City Manager Michael Esparza, who appointed Chief Aniceto Perez, let our council members act freely and contribute to the betterment of the City of Alice Police Department."
After the city council members received their letters several of them began to brainstorm about what they could do to address the issue.
"As a city council member I am obviously greatly concerned with reports related to our Alice Police Department personnel. I have expectation and confidence that these important issues will be fully and properly reviewed by city with a complete and appropriate inquiry process in place to be followed. Public and employee confidence in our dept and process must be maintained through accountability," Alice Councilman Ron Burke.
Esparza wants to visit with "staff to make sure that they are happy but also to make sure the employees are doing the right thing."