A Mercedes, Texas city commission meeting devolved into chaos Tuesday when police arrested several residents who attempted to speak out against an effort to remove a freshman councilman.
A melee erupted in the legislative chamber of the Mercedes City Commission before the 6 p.m. meeting even started, with local residents who support commissioner Leonel Benavidez yelling at members attempting to remove him from office, The Monitor reports.
Madness in Mercedes is what some residents and even a commissioner I spoke to said about tonight’s city council meeting. You won’t want to miss my live reporting coming up at 10 on @kgbt. #mercedes pic.twitter.com/J5miIciBLe
— Sydney Hernandez (@SydneyKGBT) September 18, 2019
Uniformed and plain clothed officers locked down the three entrances to the building and physically blocked residents and the media from entering the meeting, as other officers removed one man and two woman, including some with bright orange shirts that read “Voice for Mercedes.”
The pandemonium involved screaming, ripped clothes, choke holds, handcuffs and lawmakers like Commissioner Jose Gomez fleeing the chamber.
City officials told KGBT police blocked the entrances because the fire marshal said the meeting room exceeded capacity, but several folks who attended pointed to a much different motivation.
“It’s not right, because we can not withhold people from attending a public hearing,” Gomez said. “Chaos broke out – that was uncalled for and if you notice the people that were arrested, it’s the same group that has been vocal, very vocal and only they were arrested.”
Sandra Galan, one of the residents removed from the meeting, said she and others showed up in force to support freshman commissioner Leonel Benavidez, who faces accusations of mistreating a city employee. Two agenda items for Tuesday’s meeting focused on possibly censoring or removing Benavidez from office.
“That was really messed up of them,” Galan said of the arrests. “They need to let the city hear what’s going on, they’re here because of us.”
Benavidez is “doing a great job helping the City of Mercedes, ever since he got here,” Galan, a city resident for over four decades, told KGBT.
Another woman removed from the meeting, Velda Garcia, was previously removed by police from a Sept. 3 meeting as she “sat quietly video recording,” according to The Monitor.
Much of the friction involves the local police chief, Dargoberto Chavez, whom Benavidez is accused of calling a “rookie.” The chief submitted a sworn affidavit against Benavidez, and local police had little sympathy for his supporters Tuesday.
Resident Dalia Pena offered her thoughts about Chavez before storming out of the meeting, only to forget her purse, The Monitor reports.
“Pena briefly left the chamber after completing her comment, then tried to return to retrieve her purse. It was at that point the police officers attempted to restrict her from re-entering the chamber,” the news site reports. “Police Chief … Chavez, himself, stood at the glass double doors that lead into the commission chamber.
“Pena could be heard saying repeatedly that she was just trying to retrieve her purse before leaving. Regardless of her entreaties, two officers restrained her physically, holding her up against a hallway wall while applying handcuffs.”
Benavidez presented the city commission with a temporary restraining order at the meeting that prevented his fellow commissioners from taking action against him, and the commission tabled the discussion on his situation for now, The Monitor reports.
With Benavidez’s supporters out of the way, the commission pressed forward with other business as folks locked outside continued to protest.
Galan and other residents are now circulating a petition to remove several city commissioners from office. Community members told KGBT they plan to deliver to the petition to the city secretary soon.
“These people aren’t doing anything for Mercedes, the streets are broken, there’s no stores, we only have a HEB and a Bealls,” Galan said.