Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz defended his use of Bexar County reserve deputies to provide security at his campaign events, saying they do so voluntarily.
A months-long Defenders investigation called into question Ortiz’s use of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Reserve Association this election season.
Reserve deputies are a group of men and women who are licensed peace officers. They work for the sheriff’s office on a part-time basis, but don’t get paid.
They do the same things deputies do, like patrol county roads and serve criminal and civil warrants. But instead of a paycheck, they get credit with the state in the form of hours worked, allowing them to keep their peace officer licenses active.
KSAT first learned of the controversy in early June, after an email asking for 10 reserve deputies to staff the Sheriff’s May 21st primary election party was provided.
Reserve deputies also provided general security at the Sheriff’s runoff election party in July. They also worked a private fundraiser at a home in St. Hedwig last Friday evening.
“I don’t see anything wrong with it because they are volunteers,” said Ortiz.
Ortiz said each deputy is asked to work, not forced to.
“We never ordered them to work an event,” said Ortiz.
Multiple sources for this story told KSAT, however, that reserve deputies are regularly told to work campaign events, and that the events are not optional.
Ortiz said that's not the case.
“If they are assigned to work then that is not our policy and they should come forward and file a complaint,” Ortiz said.
Department policy prohibits employees from engaging in political activity while in uniform or on duty.
Despite these reserve deputies being on duty and in uniform at all the events, Ortiz said the rule doesn’t apply.
He said reserve deputies are not full-time employees and not subject to the same rules.
Another issue is raised, however, over the Bexar County Sheriff’s Reserve Association’s status as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
Associations like theirs are not allowed to contribute anything to a political campaign, monetarily or otherwise, per IRS tax code.
Ortiz denied the deputies are providing something of value by working security at his campaign events.
“I think you’re stretching it,” replied Ortiz. “They’re volunteers. They’re doing this out of the kindness of their hearts.”
The reserve deputies do provide security in their uniforms, however, acting as agents of their non-profit organization during each political event.
Republican challenger for Sheriff Susan Pamerleau said that even if the Sheriff can provide a legitimate reason for using the reserve deputies, it’s about whether it’s right or wrong.
"Whether there's anything that could say that that is okay, it's the perception that county resources are being used for personal and political gain,” Pamerleau said. “And I think if the people of Bexar County got a chance to weigh in, they would say it's inappropriate."
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