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In wake of KHOU 11 Investigates reports, Coffee City fires police chief, deactivates police department

Coffee City leaders voted unanimously to fire Chief of Police JohnJay Portillo and to deactivate the entire department until a new chief could be hired.

COFFEE CITY, Texas — City Council members in Coffee City unanimously voted Monday to fire Chief of Police JohnJay Portillo and to deactivate the entire department until a new chief can be hired.

A series of reports done by KHOU 11 Investigative Reporter Jeremy Rogalski led to a deeper look into the Coffee City Police Department and Portillo himself.

The City Council took less than 15 minutes to reach its decision. It means the town of 250 people that once had 50 police officers on the force now has none.

KHOU 11 Investigates discovered that in a city of almost 250 people, there were 50 police officers. That's five times the number of cops than any town its size, according to Texas Commission on Law Enforcement records. More than half of the department’s 50 officers had been suspended, demoted, terminated or dishonorably discharged from their previous law enforcement jobs, according to personnel files obtained through open records requests to other law enforcement agencies. Most of the officers were hired by Portillo.

KHOU 11 Investigates also uncovered Portillo did not disclose an unresolved DWI charge out of Florida on his Coffee City job application. Portillo also launched a questionable warrant division, in which full-time Coffee City officers were not even required to work in Coffee City at all.

"There were things that we weren’t aware of and that really just opened our eyes, you know, there’s major changes that have got to be made and made quickly," Coffee City Mayor Jeff Blackstone said after Monday’s council vote.

Portillo had tried to email his resignation before the meeting, but council members refused to accept the unsigned notice and instead outright fired the police chief.

"We just felt it was best to basically terminate the program, that way we’re able to go out and find a new chief, let him do the proper evaluations and determine if he wants to re-hire anybody or start from scratch," Blackstone said.

The decision was welcome news for some who attended the meeting. They said they have put up with over-aggressive police for too long.

"Ever since we moved here, it was every day a cop pulling in for one reason or another," resident Roseanna Billings said.

"Something needed to happen, that’s for sure," resident David Busch said.

The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office will respond to calls for service for the time being, according to Blackstone.

As for the 50 full-time and reserve officers, Blackstone said they will not be allowed to perform police officer duties unless they are picked up by another department.

Portillo did not return a request for comment after the council vote.

When asked last month why he would hire so many people with red flags, Portillo defended the practice.

"There’s more to just what’s on paper," Portillo said at the time. "And that's where I rely on my captain and my background investigators to go in and dig and say, ‘Hey, what's that? What's the truth behind this?'"

RELATED: Coffee City mayor ‘shocked’ by KHOU 11 Investigates findings over police hiring practices

Portillo said in some cases, the criminal charges officers faced were dismissed or expunged, and the dishonorable discharges overturned after officers appealed them through the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Portillo claimed most of the applicants he’s hired got on the wrong side of agency politics.

Where is Coffee City?

Coffee City is a town in northeast Texas southwest of Tyler.

Watch all of Rogalski's stories on Coffee City below

This is the original three-part series from Jeremy Rogalski on the Coffee City Police Department.

After our investigation, Portillo was suspended.

Coffee City's mayor said he was shocked by the allegations.


Jeremy Rogalski on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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