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

Mayor Jeff Blackstone pledged to overhaul police hiring practices.

COFFEE CITY, Texas — The mayor of Coffee City said he was unaware of many of the issues KHOU Investigates uncovered about the small-town police department’s hiring practices and the police chief’s own history of legal trouble.

“My first reaction was kind of shocked,” Mayor Jeff Blackstone said.

Blackstone said he had no idea more than half of the 50 officers in the department had been suspended, demoted, terminated, or dishonorably charged from previous law enforcement jobs for a wide range of misconduct that in some cases included criminal charges.

The mayor and all current city council members took office after JohnJay Portillo had been hired as police chief, so they never reviewed his job application.  KHOU 11 Investigates discovered Portillo failed to disclose an unresolved DWI charge out of Florida.

“I was not pleased whenever I heard the allegations because if they are true, then that looks really bad,” Blackstone said. “So we just have to make sure that we get to the bottom of all of this.”

The Coffee City Council placed Chief Portillo on a 30-day paid suspension and the mayor said the city will investigate the issues internally as well as seek guidance from an outside, independent investigation firm. The scope of that probe will include the department’s warrant division, which KHOU 11 Investigates reported didn’t even work in Coffee City. Instead, warrant officers were allowed to work from home in Houston while they spent time on the phone trying to collect outstanding traffic fines.

“We weren't really fully aware of how (the warrant division) was operating, and that was all kind of brought to light as well through this story,” Blackstone said.

Going forward, the Mayor said all police applications will be reviewed by the entire city council before any officer is hired. Blackstone said his goal is to rebuild the reputation of the town’s police force and the public trust.

“These are allegations that we just can’t turn a blind eye to,” Blackstone said. “This is a problem that we’re taking very seriously.”

The mayor also said Coffee City is asking the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, or TCOLE, for assistance with information. That agency already has an open investigation in the department.

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