City of Bangs left without police force after council votes unanimously to fire police chief

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
John Lee Blagg, the attorney for Jorge Camarillo, speaks to the Bangs City Council Monday night before the council voted to fire Camarillo as the city's police chief.

BANGS — Bangs City Council members voted unanimously Monday night to fire Jorge Camarillo as the city's police chief, culminating 3 months of issues the council had with Camarillo’s job performance.

On Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, city council-members adjourned into executive session to consult privately with Bangs City Attorney Mark Bessent. When the council returned into open session, Mayor Rick Phelps made an announcement.

“When we’re talking about personnel, one of the most important things for any city council and for the mayor is the security of the town, and that means making sure that we have the right people in the right places," Phelps said.

“I want to thank Chief Camarillo for his years of service, but we have made a decision that we all feel comfortable with and we feel is in the best interest of the city,” he said. 

Jorge Camarillo

A few minutes later, council members unanimously voted on a motion made by councilman Greg Cassaday to fire Camarillo, who was not present at the meeting.

Council members gave the following reasons:

  • Council members said Camarillo did not wear a city-issued bulletproof vest and body camera.
  • Council members said Camarillo falsely told a dispatcher the mayor had told him not to respond to calls at an Allsup’s store.
  • Council members said Guns belonging to the Bangs Police Department were stored in a safe that could not be locked.
  • Council members said Camarillo and another officer, who no longer is employed, did not log evidence into an evidence locker at the Bangs City Hall.

John Lee Blagg, Camarillo's attorney, declined to comment after the council's vote.

Related:Bangs mayor gives police chief letter of complaints

Bangs City Council decides to fire police chief of 7 years

Since July, the council's agenda has included items pertaining to the disciplining of Camarillo. In August, Phelps presented Camarillo with a letter, written by Bessent, with complaints against Camarillo.

"The police department in Bangs has been a source of contention for many years, and I want to fix that," Phelps said — who became mayor in May.

“The problems within the police department have been prevalent during Jorge's tenure as chief, and before that as well," Phelps said. "A change will need to be made. A culture will be created that not only proves that we care about our residents, but we are willing to earn their trust."

At Monday’s council meeting, Phelps reiterated the specific complaints against Camarillo.

Bulletproof vest and body cam

Phelps said he asked Camarillo why he wasn’t wearing a bulletproof vest. Camarillo replied that he “had a medical reason not to."

“He said if something were to happen, he had a vest he liked better in his truck that he could just throw on, and my response was, ‘you won’t have time to put a vest on if somebody starts shooting at you’” Phelps said.

Phelps also said Camarillo wrote a note freeing the city from liability. “I explained to him, that wasn’t going to work.”

Blagg replied, “The chief has told me that is at his discretion and that there is something in the policy manual which he showed me, which apparently does say that that’s at the chief’s discretion.”

Phelps said he asked Camarillo why his body camera looked different from the ones worn by other officers.

“He said ‘I meant to get Officer Blankenship to take care of that and I just haven’t had time,’” Phelps said. “He let me know that that body cam only recorded for one hour before it looped over and recorded over itself.”

City Council questions security of guns in safe  

“This is something that is very concerning to me,” Phelps said. “I let him know that there were guns in a safe that was not locking, and his response was ‘I don’t take care of that.’ My response to that is, he is the chief of police. Every single piece of law enforcement equipment in this building is under his control, even if he delegates it to someone else.”

Blagg replied, “He told me that that’s absolutely not true, they are under lock and key. The dispute here perhaps has to be with the word ‘stored in a safe.’ I believe he told me that even though the guns may not be in a safe, they are secured and locked into a room that is secured and locked.”

Council questions evidence logged

“He disputes that,” Blagg said. “He tells me he has good records to show me he has been logging in evidence. I do not have those records tonight.”

Phelps replied, “he may have his own personal records, but it also says in the police manual that everything is supposed to be logged in on the evidence log posted outside of the evidence locker.”

Blagg reiterated, “He says that he has logged lots of evidence into the evidence locker and I would have to ask him to come here personally and show you that he has done that.”

Camarillo's attorney details difficultly with police force, mayor responds

Camarillo, who became chief in December 2014, has been on medical leave since Aug. 14, the same day two officers quit the department. This left Bangs without police, causing Brown County Sheriff’s Office and Brownwood Police Department to patrol the city.

Blagg said Camarillo's leave is for high blood pressure attributed to stress from the job. If the council hadn't fired him, Camarillo would have returned to work on Oct. 8.

“(Camarillo) takes his job seriously, and there were quite a few situations recently with the other two officers that made the job very difficult to do," Blagg said previously. "But he stuck with it until a resolution could be worked out, and of course the other officers resigned."

Camarillo’s blood pressure “shot up very dangerously high about one month ago, and we have provided to the mayor and to the city attorney the work excused that he got from his doctor," Blagg said. His pressure remains high, despite medication.

Blagg said Camarillo had been put in a difficult spot because the two officers, prior to their resignations, had been told they were to report to Phelps rather than Camarillo.

“He is under a lot of pressure knowing that his job is on the line,” Blagg said. Camarillo was feeling stressed because the two officers “looked to the mayor as supervisor… he was in a very hostile, difficult work environment.”

Phelps said Camarillo told him he 'feared for his life around the officers' and didn't want to be in the same building with them. Blagg said he’d never previously heard that Camarillo had feared for his life because of the other two officers.

"None of us here wish ill will upon him," Phelps said. "We hope he gets better. I want to make that abundantly clear, but my problem is, you just said that he was not able to supervise those two officers.

“(Camarillo) made it clear that he didn’t want to, because they were not listening to him. My concern is…we have a police chief that cannot run a two-man department,” Phelps said.

Blagg said Camarillo had previously shown he could handle the department. 

“He hadn’t had any problems with supervising a three-man department until things kind of went haywire this summer,” Blagg said previously. “He’s got experience supervising a police department here in Bangs since 2014. He’s run a three-man department for 7 years that he’s been here and he knows he can do it again. The fact that he’s never had a job review makes him think that his performance has been okay."

Bangs Mayor hopes to hire officers, chief soon

Mayor Rick Phelps said the city is looking to hire new officers — and now, a new chief. An officer from north Texas is coming to Bangs for an interview next week, Phelps said.

In a Tuesday morning text, Phelps replied that the best candidate for police chief will fit his “right people in the right places mentality, be willing to establish roots in the community and efficiently work with other agencies in the county.”