Fired Texas police chief denies accusation that he failed to act on school shooting threat

Some residents are rallying behind Donna Police Chief Gilbert Guerrero, who they say was wrongfully fired


Dina Arévalo
The Monitor, McAllen, Texas

DONNA, Texas — A small group of residents here staged a demonstration on the steps of Donna City Hall in protest of the firing of Police Chief Gilbert Guerrero over allegations he refused to act on a mass shooting threat made against Donna High School.

And now, probable cause affidavits filed in support of the arrests of two of the men suspected of planning the mass shooting appear to contradict the dereliction of duty allegations launched against Guerrero by interim City Manager Frank Perez.

THE ALLEGATIONS

On Monday, Perez released a statement saying he had fired Guerrero for failing to appropriately respond when one of his officers notified him of a potential shooting threat to Donna High School on the same day that 19 children and two teachers were massacred at a Uvalde school.

Perez has claimed that Guerrero ignored the information one of his investigators shared with him and "ordered his officers not to pursue the anonymous caller's tip(s)" during a morning meeting of the department's ranked officers, according to a memo Perez wrote. But that meeting happened the morning after the Uvalde massacre — not the day of, as Perez alleged in his memo.

Further, the probable cause affidavits for the arrests of Barbarito Pantoja and Nathaniel Seth Montelongo, both 17 years old, show that the investigator — Sgt. Adrian Hooks — received the tip on Tuesday, May 24, the day of the Uvalde massacre.

 

"On May 24, 2022, Detective Sergeant Adrian Hooks received an anonymous tip regarding two male subjects who were allegedly planning a school shooting at the Donna High School in Donna, Texas," the probable cause affidavits said.

However, written accounts from several people who attended the police department meeting the following day — May 25 — appear to indicate that Guerrero was first informed of the mass shooting threat during that meeting.

Perez also alleges that Guerrero ordered Hooks not to investigate the matter since it fell under the purview of school district police in what eyewitnesses characterized as "ISD Traffic."

At least two of the witnesses agree that Guerrero referred to the matter as "ISD traffic," though none of the three statements obtained by The Monitor indicate that Guerrero dissuaded Hooks from investigating.

"I didn't stop the investigation. It still continued. I never said to stop," Guerrero said emphatically during an interview on Monday.

Indeed, two of the statements appear to show that it was school district police, not Guerrero, who were slow to respond to the situation.

"I heard Sgt. Hooks say that he had made contact with Donna ISD PD regarding the threat and he was told that they were busy with a hurricane preparedness meeting and would look into it later," reads a statement signed by Lt. Reynaldo Ramirez.

"Hooks then said he had reached out to Donna ISD Police and ISD PD told him they were dealing with a Hurricane Preparedness meeting and would address it later," reads a separate statement signed by Capt. Juan Garcia Jr.

Garcia further stated that Hooks — a father himself — had approached him near the end of the meeting to share his concerns "that ISD PD did not take his threat with urgency," at which point Garcia told the investigator to pursue the tip regardless of whether it would step "on anyone's toes."

Whether or not he had Guerrero's blessing to conduct the investigation, Det. Hooks paid a visit to Donna High School that morning, where he conducted a "non-custodial" interview with Montelongo and found the threat to be credible.

Both Montelongo and Pantoja were later transported to the Donna police department for further interrogation. They, along with two other juveniles, were later charged for threatening to carry out a mass shooting on June 3, the last day of classes.

COMMUNITY RESPONDS

In response to Guerrero's termination, a handful of residents showed up to Donna City Hall on Tuesday morning to ask for their police chief to be reinstated.

"We all know it's because of politics. The community is pretty upset. Obviously, we have signatures — written signatures and through Change.org," said resident Linda Muñoz.

"The community is fighting back to get our chief back and to stop this political corruption," she said as a handful of residents behind her held signs in support of Guerrero.

Guerrero, who was also at the protest Tuesday morning, said he was humbled by the show of support.

"They know who I am. They know that I would never do what the city manager claims," Guerrero said.

Those residents promised to be there again for Guerrero when the city council holds a special meeting on Thursday.

"We're gonna back him up 100%," Muñoz said.

The first item on the agenda involves potentially reinstating Guerrero as police chief.

But Perez, who said he didn't try to get Guerrero's side of the story before firing him, said that's unlikely to happen.

"I didn't have to talk to him, ma'am, the evidence was overwhelming and more than I needed," Perez said in an interview Monday. The interim city manager declined to return a request for follow-up comments on Tuesday.

"I'm probably the only one who can hire and fire and reinstate. So, I don't think that item will go anywhere," Perez said about Thursday's meeting.

(c)2022 The Monitor (McAllen, Texas)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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