Edcouch police chief candid on career amid departure

Without knowing which department he might lead next, Edcouch Police Chief Eloy Cardenas submitted his resignation last month.

Cardenas led the Edcouch Police Department for two stints lasting about 16 years — most recently for 12 years.

It had been two months since he testified in state district court about how his former boss, then City Administrator Eddy Gonzalez, handled apparent residency complaints against recently elected Alderman Joel Segura. Gonzalez directed the police chief to file a complaint against Segura with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, Cardenas testified in court.

Segura subsequently took the city to court. A judge ruled in November that Segura resided in Edcouch and ordered administration to allow him to serve on the board of aldermen alongside his two other slatemates, who secured seats during the November election.

The slate’s victory changed the majority on the board, resulting in the firing of Gonzalez and the city attorney.

The chief’s departure is the latest exit by a city leader in recent months.

Cardenas, now under the direction of a new city administrator, decided it was time to move on, but said the change in the board’s majority did not lead him to resign.

“I’ve been through a lot of elections. After 26 years, that’s 13 elections,” he said. “The only difference here … is I’m just wanting to bring my services to another community — bottom line.”

Cardenas applied for the police chief position in neighboring Elsa, where he previously worked during part of his 26 years in law enforcement.

“Retirement is not a word that I’m considering now or in the near or far future,” the 50-year-old police chief said, noting he will only retire when he “cannot bring anything to the table.”

Cardenas’ career hit a roadblock when he was arrested in 2008.

Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested him that year after he shot a beanbag round at his wife’s ex-husband as he drove by Cardenas’ home, The Monitor previously reported. The ex-husband was not injured and Cardenas maintained he was acting in self-defense, reacting to the man’s threat to kill the chief.

“I was acting as a human being, trying to defend my family. I wasn’t trying to hurt anybody,” he said. “Yet, I went to jail for using a non-lethal bean bag … that doesn’t make sense. Something is broken there.”

In 2010, then-state District Judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado, who has since resigned amid unrelated federal bribery charges, declared a mistrial when jurors could not decide a verdict in Cardenas’ case.

The death of his attorney following the mistrial also complicated it, Cardenas said, noting proper documentation was not filed to dispose of the charges.

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement requested information from the court about the chief’s criminal case, but it remained in limbo until former KGBT-TV executive producer Dave Hendricks, a former Monitor reporter, inquired about its status six years after the mistrial.

The Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office then reopened the file, and Delgado dismissed the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and tampering with physical evidence charges in 2017 — based on a request by prosecutors.

“It’s unfortunate that mishaps happen in our lives. None of us are above the law,” Cardenas said. “Some injustices, I believe, have occurred to me in my personal and private life, unfortunately.”

The chief continued working as Edcouch police chief as his case moved through the criminal justice system.

“I never gave up, and I never surrendered nor succumbed to what other people wanted, as far as for me to plead guilty … because I never was in (the) wrong,” Cardenas said.

The circumstances surrounding the case have influenced his outlook as a peace officer.

“So, if those things can occur to a police chief, what are we to expect (for) citizens,” he said.

Cardenas, a 1986 graduate of Weslaco High School, was born in Michigan where he worked in the fields with his family.

He had always wanted to be a police officer and after high school graduated from the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council’s police academy and began his law enforcement career in the late 1980s.

“There’s two kinds of cops that I like to call — one is a human cop, and one is a robocop,” Cardenas said. “I’ve never appreciated a robocop because a robocop will not give that citizen any chance of equality.”

A “robocop,” Cardenas said, believes “every person that is stopped” by officers should be ticketed and contends suspects are guilty “without hearing their story.”

“In the State of Texas, I’ve met hundreds of police chiefs who are not willing to bring humanity into the workforce,” he said, adding, “I have made sure that nobody was unheard; that everybody got a chance to be heard, so that nobody could be wrongfully accused by a robocop. I gave people humanity.”

Edcouch will soon begin searching for another chief to replace Cardenas, whose last day is Wednesday.

“I do wish them well, and I surely hope that they hire somebody with some kind of humanity,” he said.