Two high-ranking Houston police commanders have received notice that they are facing investigation amid allegations of a coverup in the handling of an officer's drunken driving arrest, Local 2 Investigates reported Friday.
HPD sources who have been briefed on the investigation told Local 2 Investigates that the department is trying to determine whether either supervisor lied to cover for the officer, or whether they lied to cover their own tracks in the investigation.
On April 13, Sgt. Ruben Trejo, 46, crashed his pickup truck into a school bus as he was driving to work at the Eastside Patrol station. Despite being minutes away from climbing into a police car and patrolling Houston streets, prosecutors said his blood alcohol content (BAC) was tested at 0.20, while the legal limit is 0.08 for driving in Texas.
Rescuers cut him from the wreckage and rushed him to the hospital, and prosecutors said unopened bottles of alcohol were found in his truck.
HPD did not pursue criminal charges against him, and his captain, Robert Manzo, told reporters at the scene that there were no indications that Trejo was under the influence of anything.
Prosecutors filed DWI charges against Trejo when hospital blood tests came back with the 0.20 BAC ruling.
On Friday, HPD headquarters confirmed that Assistant Police Chief Danny Pereles has been removed from his oversight of the Eastside Patrol station, where Trejo and Manzo are both assigned.
A department spokesman called it a temporary change in command that will be re-evaluated when the Internal Affairs Division investigation is completed.
Numerous sources who were briefed on this investigation told Local 2 Investigates that both Pereles and Manzo are being investigated to see whether there was any coverup in the aftermath of the accident.
Those sources said Manzo has reported to Internal Affairs investigators that he was given the exact questions being asked of Pereles during the investigation into any possible coverup.
Sources said Manzo even provided verbatim transcripts of the questions that were asked of Pereles by Internal Affairs investigators, which is a major violation of departmental policy. The questions asked of any officer are intended to remain secret and officers are warned that they cannot discuss those questions with anyone during an investigation.
One high-ranking officer who was briefed on the investigation said that verbatim transcript makes it clear that someone informed Manzo of what exactly was being investigated by Internal Affairs officers. That ranking officer said it fuels suspicions that the high-ranking officers may have been trying to get their stories straight to avoid getting into trouble.
Reached at his office on Friday, Manzo declined to comment.
Also reached on Friday, Pereles said he could not discuss details of the investigation against him. He did say that there is, "No truth to this."
Pereles said, "There wasn't any effort by me to get our stories straight."
The Internal Affairs Division investigation has not yet concluded, so the chief of police has yet to determine what punishment his two managers could face.
Historically, officers found by the department to have been "untruthful" have faced suspensions or demotions in rank.
In the separate investigation into Trejo's crash, the 28-year veteran was relieved of duty when the DWI charges were filed. HPD sources familiar with his investigation said proceedings are under way to fire him due to the crash.
Trejo is scheduled to appear before a county court-at-law judge on the criminal charges later this month.
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