In a rare move, a state commission is seeking to suspend the peace officer’s license of Dallas County Constable Beth Villarreal after officials concluded she willfully failed to heed a judge’s order and then lied about it in a public meeting, according to agency records obtained by WFAA through an open records request.
If her license is suspended, Villarreal would either be removed from office or be forced to step down.
The executive director of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement filed a petition last year seeking to suspend her license for one year. A hearing is scheduled before an administrative law judge early next year.
“The [executive director’s] extreme disciplinary recommendation is based solely on the alleged rule violation of failing to timely fill out a single form,” her attorney, Jason Day, said in court filings.
Her attorney contended that she did not know that she was in violation of the judge’s order and once she became aware of it, she took steps to “correct the misunderstanding.”
The constable was not available for comment.
The constable’s issues began with the 2012 firing of deputy constable Leo Armendariz, an officer with a troubled disciplinary record. Villarreal fired him on his last day on the job after an internal investigation concluded he engaged in misconduct. He was leaving to take a job with another constable’s office.
Armendariz was later fired from the other constable’s office and more recently, he was fired from the county marshal’s office along with several others amid allegations of misconduct. He is appealing the latest firing.
Armendariz appealed the firing to the Dallas County Civil service board and won. Villarreal appealed. In January 2014, an administrative law judge sided with Armendariz, ordering his discharge be changed on what’s known as an “F-5” from “dishonorable” to “honorable.”
Twenty months later, Armendariz’ attorney filed a complaint because the F-5 change had not been made. The commission sent Villarreal a letter warning her that failure to make the change could result in disciplinary action. The change was made 10 days later.
TCOLE Executive Director Kim Vickers issued Villarreal a letter of reprimand in January 2016 over the failure to make the change. In response, Villarreal requested the reprimand be rescinded.
“The time frame reflects a period of approximately 20 months during which a judge’s order and the Occupations Code were disregarded,” Vickers replied in a February 2016 email. “It is for this reason you received a reprimand. …It is for these reasons that your request to have the reprimand rescinded is denied.”
Several months later in June 2016, Villarreal appeared before the commission to ask that they rescind the reprimand.
She told the commission that she had directed her former chief deputy to change Armendariz’s F-5 from dishonorable to honorable and submit it to the commission.
“I was convinced he had did it,” she said.
Villarreal said she did not know that it had not been done until she received the commission’s notice in October 2015.
“What I’m requesting from this commission is that it rescind it because I stand on my values,” she told commissioners. “I take my pride in my wearing my badge.”
The constable also told commissioners that the chief deputy’s failure to change the F-5 was one of the reasons he was no longer with her office.
Villarreal told commissioners that since receiving that notice that she handled any needed changes on all F-5s.
Before the commission, she reiterated that Armendariz was a problem officer. She said she believed politics had played a role in the civil service commission siding against her over his firing.
“The bottom line is it’s my fault. It’s my responsibility,” she said. “I’m not denying that but I’m also not admitting to the fact that this was deliberate. This was not a deliberate oversight on my part. I just had confidence in my deputy chief and he apparently didn’t do it.”
On a 5-4 vote, the commission voted to abate the reprimand and ordered commission’s staff to investigate further.
It’s that investigation that led to the effort to suspend her license.
In a statement to investigators, Villarreal’s former chief deputy Fred Collie said after the appeal was denied, he told her that the F-5 needed to be changed.
“Constable Villarreal specifically advised me not to change the F-5 and asserted that she was an elected official and TCOLE could not tell her what to do,” wrote Collie, who is now chief of Aledo ISD.
He says he was never told that the reason for his separation was because he failed to revise the F-5.
Jose Munoz, another former chief deputy, wrote in a statement that Villarreal “had expressed that she was not happy with the decision.”
He was chief deputy in October 2015 when the commission demanded the change to the F-5 be made. He said she ordered him to make the change but never explained why it had not occurred sooner.
In November 2016, Vickers filed a petition seeking to suspend her license for one year because she had failed to comply with the order to change the F-5 and because “she has made a false and untruthful report to the commission,” according to commission documents.
The documents seeking the suspension specifically cite the comments Villarreal made during that June 2016 commission meeting.
Those misrepresentations included:
• That she had been the one to amend the F-5. Munoz was the one who actually amended it.
• That part of the reason Collie was no longer with the office was because of the failure to change the F-5. She said she didn’t know it hadn’t been done until October 2015. However, Collie had left 10 months before she supposedly found out about the unchanged F-5.
• That since the issue with Armendariz’s F-5 that she handles all changes to F-5. Records showed otherwise.
“The evidence compiled by the Executive Director points inescapably to the conclusion that Villarreal deliberately instructed her subordinate Chief Deputy Fred Collie not to change the F-5 because she did not agree with the SOAH order,” the petition states. “Further when facing the prospect of a reprimand for her failure to timely comply with the ALJ’s order, Villareal obfuscated, misled and misrepresented the actual facts.”
If the administrative judge suspends her license, Villarreal can appeal to district court. However, district judges rarely overturn decisions in these types of cases.
“The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement has all the cards,” said Pete Schulte, a local attorney who has handled F-5 appeals. “If her license gets suspended, she’s ineffective as a constable.”
Schulte, a reserve police officer, cautioned anybody from making any judgements about the case prior to the hearing.
Villarreal, a Democrat, has been constable since 2010 when she defeated disgraced Constable Jaime Cortez in the primary. He later received probation for falsifying a campaign finance report to hide raffle ticket proceeds from his deputies. She is up for reelection next year.