Longtime employees fired by Sheriff Salazar continue legal fight for their jobs
SAN ANTONIO – Two longtime Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies are still fighting to get their jobs back three months after Sheriff Javier Salazar fired them. The two served the agency a combined four decades and were part of the former sheriff’s command team.
Salazar has argued that then-Sheriff Susan Pamerleau didn’t have the authority to demote Tammy Burr to her original rank of captain and Henry Reyes to his rank of lieutenant, a move meant to protect their jobs.
“I've been with the sheriff's office 23 years and 5 months,” Burr said. “I started in the basic entry-level detention officer and transferred later on to patrol, held every rank in law enforcement up to and including captain.”
Upon taking office, Pamerleau promoted Burr and Reyes to deputy chiefs. They were among 10 appointed positions and the only two who worked for the sheriff’s office when Pamerleau was elected.
Sheriff Salazar didn’t want them to continue working and has said all members of Pamerleau’s leadership team should lose their jobs, regardless of their history with the agency.
On Monday afternoon, Burr appealed her termination before the Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission, a three-member panel that develops and enforces rules regarding employment.
Overseeing the hearing was Chairman Ruben Alcantara, who was appointed by Sheriff Salazar. Alcantara also represents Salazar in a pending lawsuit on the same topic, and in December, he argued before a judge that Burr and Reyes should be terminated.
Wade Shelton, the attorney representing Burr, requested Alcantara recuse himself because now he was, in essence, a judge on a case in which he'd already picked sides.
Alcantara said based on “the fact that I am not the sole decision-maker in this case and there's also two other commissioners that are going to be voting on this case, the recusal motion is denied.”
The case was later dismissed because the commissioners did not believe Burr was protected under the civil service rules, and therefore, they did not have jurisdiction in the matter.
David Van Os, the attorney for Reyes, said his client made the right decision to withdraw his appeal, avoiding a hearing before the Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission.
“He (Alcantara) is not a neutral decision maker,” Van Os said. “By virtue of his participation, this hearing was unconstitutional.”
“He is directly advocating in favor of Javier Salazar's position,” he said.
Reyes has had trouble finding work at another law enforcement agency and remains unemployed, Van Os said.
Burr said she has filed for unemployment benefits. She hopes to retire with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s a long tedious process,” she said. “It's a little bit frustrating knowing I've been here 23 and a half years, and I have to go through this to fight these battles when I think it's totally unnecessary.”
Pamerleau has maintained the voluntary demotions were legal and proper, citing Texas law that states: “At the time a new sheriff takes office, an employee holding an exempt position may be transferred to the nonexempt position held by the employee immediately before being promoted to an exempt position.”
Salazar’s attorney said Pamerleau created an additional captain position for Burr because none existed at the time.
“The sheriff does not have that authority to simply sweep her hand and say, ‘You are now my captain,’” Salazar’s attorney said.
Van Os said there was an open lieutenant spot for Reyes in December.
“For my client Mr. Reyes, the fight has just begun,” he said.
Attorneys for both Reyes and Burr did not have a timeline for their next step. Van Os said he’s considering a federal lawsuit. Burr’s case may be filed in a state district court or a federal court.
Sheriff Salazar declined an interview request. He released a statement that said: “We believe that the Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission has made the right decision and protected the interest of the men and women of Bexar County Sheriff’s Office and the Tax Payers.”