By Gaige Davila
Robert Salinas, former administrator for the Port Isabel Economic Development Corporation, has responded to the City of Port Isabel’s partial motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Salinas, via his lawyer.
Salinas’ lawyer, Mark A. Sanchez, writes in the response that Salinas has given sufficient evidence that his due process rights had been violated, calling the reasons for Salinas’ firing “pure fabrications and patently false,” and that Salinas had a “liberty interest” in his continued employment within the city.
Port Isabel City Manager Jared Hockema fired Salinas on March 18, 2018, thirteen days after a fight outside city hall that involved Salinas’ father, Rogelio, who was running for City Commissioner Place 1, and Jose “Joe” Ochoa, who were both arrested and released on bond.
Hockema said Salinas was fired after the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office investigated the fight, charging six people, including Rogerio and Robert, with felony assault charges. The Cameron County Sheriff’s Office handled the investigation, due to Port Isabel Police Department (PIPD) Chief Robert Lopez’s involvement. Lopez, along with PIPD officer Hector Martinez, were assaulted in the fight, the investigation found.
Specifically, as outlined in a letter Hockema wrote to Salinas informing him of his firing, Salinas was fired for “fighting and inciting or engaging in a strikes or riot,” with Hockema citing the city’s personnel manual, Section 902.
Sanchez says the City of Port Isabel had wrongfully fired Salinas and did not give him an opportunity to defend himself.
Salinas was given a hearing on March 31, 2018, represented by Edmund Cyganiewicz, who is now South Padre Island’s City Attorney. Hockema told the PRESS that during the hearing, neither Cyganiewicz or Salinas presented evidence against the reasons for his firing, so the termination was upheld.
Sanchez says this hearing, because it was not done in front of a committee, was insufficient for his client.
“Our system of justice recognizes that everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence and that no one can be found guilty before he defends himself,” Sanchez said. “The City of Port Isabel did not give Mr. Salinas the opportunity to defend himself and tell his side of the story before it arbitrarily terminated him.”
Hockema said that because Salinas was not the department head of the PIEDC, which was then and is currently held by Hockema, he does not have the right to a hearing before a committee.
Hockema says he expects motions to go back and forth between the City of Port Isabel’s counsel and Salinas’ for the next few weeks.
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