HOUSTON, Texas – The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Houston (“METRO“) has been sued by a decorated Master Peace Officer and immediate past statewide president of the Fraternal Order of Police (“FOP“). The officer has sued for harassment, racial discrimination, and retaliation. The officer told Breitbart Texas that he was demoted because of his support for FOP union activities, including his support for fellow METRO officers, and his support for the City of Houston Police Department and METRO merger. The lawsuit alleges that METRO officials have conceded that the retaliation was greatly influenced by the officer’s FOP activity. Lozano and the FOP actively supported Officer William Hernandez who had filed a discrimination and retaliation case against METRO. Hernandez won his suit in January after a federal jury found that METRO superiors retaliated when he challenged the hiring process.
Officer Robert Lozano is the founding member and current President of the Houston METRO branch of the FOP. Ninety-five percent of the officers at METRO are members of the FOP. Lozano served as state President from 2012-14.
In March of 2013, Officer Lozano was a Sergeant in the Tactical Unit when he was told by METRO officials that an anonymous complaint had been filed against him by one of his subordinates. He was told that an audio tape had been submitted. METRO officials admitted that the tapes were edited. Lozano was told that METRO had launched a full investigation into his supervision of his Unit.
On May 2, 2013, Lozano was interrogated for four hours by Joseph Collier, a lawyer hired by METRO. Lozano told Breitbart Texas that METRO has never hired an attorney, or anyone outside of the Department, to do an internal investigation. Collier told Lozano that he was a friend of Tom Lambert, the President and CEO of METRO.
The complaint alleged that Lozano used foul language while teaching a class about undercover tactics in prostitution cases. Lozano is a certified police instructor for the State of Texas.
Lozano sued complaining that METRO violated state law because they did not give him a copy of the alleged complaint. Section 614.023 of the Texas Government Code mandates that a peace officer is to be given a copy of a complaint, and may not be disciplined unless they receive a copy. It also provides that no complaint can be accepted anonymously, nor can an officer be indefinitely suspended or terminated unless a complaint is investigated and evidence proves the misconduct.
On March 3, 2013, Officer Lozano was relieved of duty pending the outcome of the investigation. METRO was asked many times to give Lozano a copy of the complaint but they refused.
In his lengthy examination of Lozano, Collier’s questions targeted state FOP activities and lobbying efforts, Lozano’s affiliation with city officials, and Houston Police Officer Union (“HPOU”) structure and pension financial strength. Lozano and the Union lawyer with him during the interrogation, told Collier that his questions violated federal law. Lozano was not allowed to take breaks, nor was he provided the opportunity to address any allegations against him.
On July 15, 2013, Lozano was demoted from Sergeant to Police Officer. The demotion resulted in a loss of rank, pay and responsibility. Lozano was told that he was demoted because of his failure to successfully complete a probationary period after his promotion to Sergeant. Lozano disputed the finding arguing that he had never been advised of a probationary period, nor warned that his job was in jeopardy.
Lozano alleged in his lawsuit that the direction and tone of the investigation indicated that the demotion was in retaliation for his union activities; in particular, for his support of William Hernandez and other officers at METRO, and for his support of the merger.
Merger talks began late last year. The Houston Police Department and METRO unions are both supportive of the merger. City officials, including Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker, want the merger. A merger is thought to be the most financially responsible thing to do because of the overlapping of services and costs.
Officials inside of METRO, including President and CEO Tom Lambert, are said to be stonewalling the deal. Lambert is allegedly refusing to turn over METRO statistics that are needed for discussions.
This summer, METRO Police Chief Victor Rodriquez was replaced by a long-time supporter of Lambert. The new Police Chief is Tim Kelly, Lambert’s old Assistant Chief when Lambert was Police Chief. Breitbart Texas has been told that Lambert did not like the way the Chief was handling the merger talks, and Rodriquez supported the merger.
Lozano is a METRO peace officer with over 20 years of experience. He has received several Unit Commendations, and has twice been nominated for Officer of the Year. Lozano has no disciplinary history.
The lawyer representing Officer Lozano, Alfonso Kennard, said that “We owe our public servants all of the protections afforded to them under the law. METRO’s treatment of Officer Lozano will have a chilling effect on officers who step forward to support their colleagues.”
Union board member Andre Hines said Lozano’s “pending litigation will bring to light the strong hand tactics that have been used over the years by METRO management to silence officers and organizations that stand up to them. METRO operates as though the law does not apply to them.”
Ray Hunt, President of the HPOU told Breitbart Texas that “I was extremely puzzled to hear that any of the questions Robert was asked dealt with the HPOU. We have nothing to do with METRO police officer representation. I have to assume METRO appears to be trying to silence the voice of the METRO officers who are trying to have anything to do with HPOU, including the former METRO Police Chief. The part that makes me angry is this is the fiscally responsible thing to do, it is right for the City, its citizens, and the officers. There is no reason to have two separate dispatches, two separate SWAT Divisions . . . all doing the same thing within inside the City of Houston.”
Union Vice President Roger Trevino said that “this is just another example of how METRO continues to break the law and refuse to provide a copy of the complaint to the officer as required in section 614 of the Texas Government Code.”
Officer Lozano told Breitbart Texas that “METRO has left me no choice but to go in this direction because they refuse to follow state and federal laws.” Lozano is asking for past and future lost wages and benefits.
METRO’s press release addressing the filing of Lozano’s suit denied even the existence of a METRO police union. Speaking as President of the Union, Lozano told Breitbart Texas that his fellow union members “are stunned and appalled to hear that METRO has suddenly stated that the police union does not exist, even though we have met for years with police chiefs to go over labor relations, including the current CEO Tom Lambert during his tenure as Police Chief.”
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She is a 22-year lawyer who has served as both a prosecutor and a judge. Follow her @LanaShadwick2.