10-20-05 - Firing was too harsh a punishment for a police officer who stole two 50-cent bags of snack chips by shaking a vending machine, city civil service commissioners said.
The commission on Wednesday overruled police Chief Danny Castillo's decision to fire Officer Randy Reyna, recommending he instead be suspended for 90 days.
During a hearing with the commission, police department attorney Mark Sossi showed a videotape of Reyna lifting and shaking the machine. Sossi said Reyna committed a crime of "moral turpitude."
"He's expected to know the law," Sossi said. "He's expected to set an example."
Reyna said there was never any criminal intent and that he "wasn't using all my senses and clear judgment." He said he had been ordered to work overtime that night after a 12-hour shift and was "sleepy" when he shook the machine and also crossed pictures of three officers who no longer worked at the department off of a poster.
"I feel that even if I made a mistake, I didn't intend to hurt anyone," he said, explaining that one bag of chips had fallen onto another inside the machine. "They were going to fall anyway. I didn't break (into the machine)."
Reyna in March was involved in a high-speed chase in which both the patrol car and suspects' sport utility vehicle crashed into a ditch. Robert Serrato, 22, died and his brother was paralyzed. Police department documents obtained by The Brownsville Herald indicate Reyna's superiors felt Reyna failed to maintain a safe distance during the pursuit.
Castillo said the firing had nothing to do with that chase.
"It's the issue of principle. ... I had a problem with his inability to accept responsibility," he said. "We're held to a (higher) standard of conduct."