On June 30, 2020, several community activists called for the resignation of El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen. The latest call for Allen’s removal comes after police abuse protests across the nation erupted in recent months. In 2015, an El Paso police officer shot and killed Erik Salas-Sanchez, a mentally ill individual. Border Network of Human Rights Executive Director, Fernando Garcia, argues that Greg Allen “did absolutely nothing” with the police officer that killed Salas-Sanchez.
A lawsuit filed by the family of Erik Salas-Sanchez alleges that the El Paso Police Department has an extensive record of excessive force use. U.S. District Judge Philip Martinez ruled on March 3 that there is enough evidence to proceed with the lawsuit alleging that the El Paso Police Department has failed to implement proper procedures as well as for not provided proper training to officers.
Judge Martinez also found that there is enough evidence that a jury could make a ruling that Greg Allen is “deliberately indifferent to the risk that EPPD officers may use excessive force.” The judge added in his ruling that “a reasonable jury could consider the evidence and decide that Chief Allen has a history of unwarranted leniency for EPPD officers involved in the use of deadly force.”
In 1992, Allen, then a police sergeant was involved in an incident at Hanks High School where several have alleged that several minors were arrested and beaten in retaliation for filing a police report alleging abuse by a police officer. Greg Allen was one of two officers that organized the arrests.
The 1992 Abuse Incident
In 1992, an altercation with an El Paso police detective at an Arby’s restaurant escalated to the arrest of various minors the following day. By the time the incident was over, at least one minor had been taken to the hospital with injuries and several other minors were complaining of police abuse.
The El Paso Police Department initiated an internal investigation into several police officers because of the incident. One of them was then-Sergeant Greg Allen. Allen was appointed the Chief on March 31, 2008 by then-city Manager Joyce Wilson.
A few days after the incident, The Gang Task Force commander, Al Martinez, was transferred out of the unit.
The following narrative is pieced together from over 600 pages of witness statements, police reports, police records and sworn statements gathered by the El Paso Police Department during their investigation into the Hanks High School arrests.
The Arby’s Incident
On November 12, 1992, El Paso Police Detective John Eoff was “involved in an altercation with several subjects at the Arby’s Restaurant” on Montwood drive. The following day, three “Tactical Division squads, including officers under your [Greg Allen] command” went to Hanks High School to locate the individuals involved in the altercation with John Eoff. Several juveniles and one adult were taken into custody.
Although the Juvenile Court had previously ordered that juveniles that are arrested were to be transported “to an officially designated location,” the investigation found that Greg Allen transported one individual and “allowed his subordinates” to take the juveniles to the Tactical Division office, instead of the designated location for juveniles. At the TAC office, Greg Allen “used language that incited one of the juveniles,” according to the internal investigations report findings.
On November 12, 1992 then-16-year old Gabriel Lujan and Adam Zamarripa, then-17, filed a report with the El Paso Police Department alleging that they were harassed by El Paso Detective Johnny Eoff at an Arby’s parking lot. The following day, Lujan and other minors were arrested by El Paso police officers at Hank’s High School. Lujan was taken to the hospital later that day where he was diagnosed with ruptured ear drums and a hairline fracture to his jaw.
According to the various reports and witness statements, at the Arby’s parking lot on November 12, John Eoff, wearing a SWAT t-shirt and fatigues pulled into the parking lot with his children, in an unmarked police unit. An altercation soon ensued between Eoff and at least two minors.
At the Arby’s restaurant, witness reports state that the police officer was asked for his name by one of the minors. The officer provided his name to the juveniles. Some witness statements say that Eoff was verbally abusive while other witness statement deny this. There was also an allegation made that Eoff slammed a car door on one juvenile as the juvenile reentered the car after the officer ordered him to do so.
According to one of Gabriel Lujan’s parents, in the complaint filed by them, “an officer approached Gabriel and struck him, then threw him against the wall of Arby’s, hitting his head.”
One of the findings made by the investigators is that John Eoff was using his City vehicle for personal business in violation of city rules. The investigators also found that after Eoff found out that the juveniles had filed a police complaint against him, he called Greg Allen and “informed him of the incident”. The following day, Allen and two other sergeants “proceeded to the area of Hanks High School” with the members of all three TAC Squads”. Six juveniles and one adult were arrested by the TAC Squad.
The Hanks Incident
On November 13, the next day, the El Paso Police Department Gang Task Unit went to Hanks High School and arrested several minors and one adult. One of the minors, Gabriel Lujan was taken to the hospital later that night. This was the day after the two minors had filed police reports alleging abuse by Eoff.
Although the police officers argued that the reason the minors were taken to the TAC offices, instead of the designated place for minors, was because the minors were not yet under arrest and some witnesses may be mixed in with those they intended to charge. However, the investigators found that the juveniles were “placed in handcuffs at Hanks High School,” indicating that police were aware that they were under arrest.
Why The Hanks Incident?
It was about retaliating against Gabriel Lujan and Adam Zamarripa for filing an abuse complaint against Johnny Eoff say several witnesses in their statements to investigators.
In his statement to internal investigations, then police Lt. Avelino A. Martinez admits that the police department had adopted a policy “that any Gang becoming violent against any police Officer [sic] in the Department would be targeted and an approach of complete Zero Tolerance would be taken.”
“This operation was the brainchild of [Greg] Allen and Johnson” stated the arbitrator, Bruce Ponder, in his January 19, 1994 report. The “operation” was arresting the minors and taking them to the police TAC offices, in violation of a judge’s order that all minors are to be taken to another location.
At the TAC office, the juveniles, as young as 16 years old, allege that they were “punched,” “slapped” with one juvenile stating that a gun was placed on their head and told by the officer that they could kill him and leave them in the desert, according to the witness statements.
Greg Allen Strikes 16-Year-Old Gabriel Lujan
In his statement to investigators, Greg Allen says that it was him who struck Gabriel Lujan. Allen states that he was attacked by the juvenile, twice. Allen states that he “pushed him back” Lujan’s attacks. As the juvenile attempted to strike Allen a second time, Greg Allen states that he “struck the Subj. -redacted- in the face twice with an open hand.” The juvenile was taken to the hospital. He was diagnosed “as having two ruptured ear drum and a hairline fracture of the jaw.”
In another internal investigation report by Detective Mike Grijalva, he reported that a female juvenile reported being “physically abused” by Greg Allen. This was not charged in the disciplinary hearings.
The Disciplinary Board Findings
The El Paso Police Department held a disciplinary hearing on March 25 and 26, 1993. The board members were Deputy Chief Gregory Drollinger, Deputy Chief Edward Ortega, Kevin Channon and Nick Reyes. Each board member decided on their own the merits to the following charges against Greg Allen.
Did Allen “physically abuse” the minor, “while in his custody?”
Did Allen “verbally abuse” the minor and Samuel Lujan, the father of Gabriel “while in his custody?”
Did Allen, “transport juveniles in custody to a location not designated by the Juvenile Court, i.e. TAC Office?
Ballot number one sustained the three allegations against Allen. That board member recommended a four-day suspension without pay.
The second ballot did not sustain the physical abuse for the minor nor the verbal abuse of the adult and the minor. However, this ballot sustained the allegation of transporting the juveniles to the TAC office instead of the designated Juvenile Court.
In addition, the second ballot added a “supervisory dereliction” charge to the charges and sustained it. This board member recommended three days suspension.
The fourth ballot did not sustain the physical abuse against the minor charge. However, it did sustain the charges of verbal abuse against the minor and Samuel Lujan as well as transporting the minors to the TAC office. This board member recommended two days suspension, one for “each infraction”. This board member also added that Allen “is a fine officer who should not be unduly punished.”
Greg Allen Suspended
A May 20, 1993 inter-office memorandum to Captain Louis Mier stated that Allen was to serve a five-day suspension for the Hanks incident. A June 3, 1993 “Notice of Suspension” states that Allen was to serve his five days of suspension from June 17 and June 23, 1993. Allen was to return to work on June 24.
However, Greg Allen chose to take vacation time from June 15 to June 19, 1993, in lieu of the suspension, as allowed by the collective agreement between the police union and the department.
Greg Allen’s Disciplinary Record
In addition to the Hanks incident, Greg Allen has other disciplinary events on his police record.
Prior to the 1992 incident, Greg Allen had been suspended three days for an incident on February 5, 1987 for the “careless discharge of a firearm which resulted in damage to City property”. Allen was also found to have failed to report the incident to a supervisor.
Allen “was counselled” for violating the rules of having too many units at one eating establishment on September 19, 1991.
Subsequently, Allen received a written reprimand for again violating the rules of having too many units at one restaurant on July 8, 1992.
On June 14, 2004, Greg Allen was suspended for five hours by Richard Wiles, then the police chief, because Allen used an “inappropriate word” in an email.
Several cases of police abuse against the El Paso Police Department have been documented over the years. In 2004 several rarely used Courts of Inquiry were convened to investigate police abuse. Several El Paso police officers have been implicated on charges ranging from petty theft, to sexual abuse on to police abuse in recent years.
In 2005, the City of El Paso agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit by paying $25,000 to have a consultant review the department’s training and procedures. The City also paid $190,000 for medical attorney fees. The settlement was in the result of the Montwood Riots on January 28, 2013. Several other City settlement have been documented.
A former police deputy chief has also alleged the infiltration of the El Paso Police Department by drug cartels.
In coming issues, the El Paso Politics will publish investigative reports into police misconduct over the years.