The Calexico Police Department was facing serious scrutiny in 2014, including an FBI raid that October as part of a criminal investigation.
That same month, Calexico police officer Brian Porras pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor DUI.
Despite the harsh spotlight on the department in Imperial County, Porras kept his job.
While he was still on probation in 2016, Porras was named Calexico police’s “Officer of the Year” at the recommendation of the interim police chief.
Then in spring 2017, Porras was able to end his probation early and successfully get his conviction dismissed, an effort that got strong support from high-ranking law enforcement officials – including the man now serving as Calexico’s police chief.
The 40-year-old Porras showed up on a statewide list of current and former law enforcement officials with criminal histories, prompting a Voice of San Diego review of how his criminal case was handled by the Calexico Police Department and the court system.
A statewide investigation of the officers’ criminal cases found that DUI and other serious driving offenses were the most common charges filed against them.
Porras was arrested by a California Highway Patrol officer after midnight on May 1, 2014, in Imperial County for driving under the influence.
CHP no longer has the police report from the incident because it only retains DUI records for three years, a CHP spokeswoman said.
The Imperial County District Attorney’s Office charged Porras in late May 2014 with one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and one misdemeanor count of driving while having a 0.08 percent or higher blood alcohol concentration.
The second count also alleged that Porras had a blood alcohol concentration of .15 percent or more, which, when proven, can be used to enhance the sentence of a defendant convicted of a DUI.
Porras ultimately pleaded no contest on Oct. 20, 2014, to the count of having a .08 percent or higher blood alcohol concentration. The first count and the alleged enhancement in the second count were dismissed.
Porras was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to enroll in an alcohol safety class. He had already completed the safety class by the time of his sentencing.
Porras did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo, who became interim chief in the spring of 2018 before later assuming his current post, said Porras was disciplined for the DUI. But the chief said he could not divulge the extent of the discipline, which was implemented under a prior chief.
Asked what would happen to an officer who committed a DUI under his watch, Gerardo said, “Most likely he would be gone. Nowadays, it is zero tolerance when it comes to stuff like that, and the officers know it.”
The department’s disciplinary policy says behavior that can result in discipline includes “criminal, dishonest, infamous, or disgraceful conduct adversely affecting the employee/employer relationship, whether on or off duty.”
Gerardo said this summer that the department hoped to have an updated disciplinary policy in place by Oct. 1, but now the goal is by the end of 2019.
The department’s Law Enforcement Code of Ethics also requires officers to recognize their badges as a symbol of public faith.
“I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all and will behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to me or my agency,” the ethics code states.
Michael Braun, a lecturer in criminal justice and sociology at San Diego State University, said he was not troubled by Porras keeping his job.
“In terms of lowering recidivism, providing pathways for people to rehabilitate themselves after incidents of poor judgement is good public policy,” said Braun.
Maria Haberfield, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said police departments typically do not fire an officer for a first DUI offense. But Haberfield said she would like to see that change.
“For me, police officers should be held to a slightly different standard on this type of violation,” she said.
Officer of the Year
Less than two years into his probation, Porras was given the Calexico Police Department’s Officer of the Year Award by the Elks Lodge No. 1325 in El Centro.
The honor was bestowed in spring 2016 at the recommendation of then-interim Police Chief Reggie Gomez, according to the Imperial Valley Press.
Gomez told the paper, which didn’t note the DUI arrest, that “Porras takes a very proactive approach to law enforcement and is something of a role model.”
Daniel Orth, a program officer at the University of San Diego’s Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, questioned the message the award may have sent to the community.
“At a time when there are people who question police legitimacy, and there is tension between the community and law enforcement, it potentially sends the wrong signal to give an Officer of the Year award to someone on probation,” Orth said.
“I don’t agree with the police chief that officers who drive while under the influence of alcohol represent ‘everything’ to be ‘hoped for in police officers,’” he said. “I think it’s important to the community that officers be held to a high standard of excellence.”
But Gerardo said Porras being on probation for a DUI was no reason to prevent an “officer that does an excellent job” from winning Officer of the Year.
“You are not going to hang that over his head and not give him what he deserves,” Gerardo said.
The Elks Lodge in El Centro did not respond to requests for comment.
Federal Scrutiny of Calexico Police
During the time period covering Porras’s DUI and Officer of the Year Award, the Calexico Police Department was in turmoil.
The same month of Porras’ plea, October 2014, the police chief was fired and a former assistant police chief in Los Angeles was hired as the interim leader.
Later that month, FBI agents raided the Calexico Police Department to investigate allegations of criminal misconduct involving several officers.
The new chief, Michael Bostic, took disciplinary action against multiple officers for their alleged use of seized assets to buy surveillance equipment to extort the City Council.
In the spring of 2015, Bostic and then-City Manager Richard Warne requested the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the police department to help it improve.
The DOJ-commissioned report conducted by Hillard Heintze, and released in May 2016, was scathing. It included 169 recommendations for improvements.
“The CPD has not yet embraced a guardian culture and mindset to build public trust and legitimacy,” the report concluded.
The department’s handling of internal affairs and discipline matters were among the criticized activities in need of reform.
“CPD does not have a formal process to ensure disciplinary sanctions are applied consistently,” the report said.
Petitioning for Dismissal
Nearly a year after the federal report’s release, Porras submitted a motion in Imperial County Superior Court seeking to have his probation for the DUI terminated several months early and his conviction dismissed.
The March 2017 filing said that Porras had “lived and an honest and upright life” since his conviction and made significant efforts to better his community.
“Mr. Porras has suffered embarrassment to the point where he contemplated resigning as a police officer,” the motion said. “However, Mr. Porras took this conviction as an opportunity to better himself and advance his life in a positive direction.”
Porras’ filing also said that “fellow law enforcement officers have rushed to support” his motion for relief.
One of those who wrote a letter to the court on Porras’ behalf was Gerardo, who was then a lieutenant in the Calexico Police Department.
“Brian and I spoke many times regarding this incident and he realized what he had done not only was a violation of the law, but of the oath that he took when he became a police officer,” Gerardo wrote. “A day does not go by that Brian thinks of the mistake that he made and he wishes that he could take that day back and not drive in that impaired state.”
Gerardo wrote that Porras had abstained from alcohol since the incident and dedicated his life to his family. He also noted that Porras received the Officer of the Year award.
“I am hoping that you consider giving Brian a chance at a new start and grant his petition,” Gerardo wrote.
Eddie Silva Madueño, the El Centro police chief at the time, also wrote a February 2017 letter in support of Porras. He called Porras’ character “beyond reproach.”
Albert Llanas, Porras’ former colleague in Calexico who had become an investigator with the Imperial County DA’s office, also submitted a letter vouching for Porras’ character.
In seeking dismissal of the conviction, Porras noted that the DUI “severely hindered” his career prospects. He said that was a concern because the future of the Calexico Police Department was uncertain.
“Mr. Porras would like to keep the doors of employment to other police agencies open in case the Calexico Police Department is deactivated,” the motion said.
Gerardo confirmed the department was in danger of closing, which he said was a result of the city’s financial struggles. The city considered contracting with the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office to provide policing services in hopes of cutting costs, but ultimately decided against the move, Gerardo said.
As for Porras, he successfully convinced an Imperial County Superior Court judge to end his probation early and wipe his conviction away in April 2017.
Braun said he was troubled that Porras was not required to complete his probation and questioned whether an average citizen would have secured the same result.
“When members of law enforcement appear to receive special treatment from prosecutors and courts, it can send a signal to the community that we have a two-tiered justice system: a lenient one for well-connected people and a more punitive one for everyone else,” Braun said. “That, in turn, can raise questions of legitimacy of the system itself and its authority over people’s behavior.”
Meanwhile, the Calexico Police Department remains operational, and Porras still works for the department.