Crystal City mayor arrested in first council meeting since indictments

Mayor Ricardo Lopez leaves meeting in handcuffs Tuesday night

CRYSTAL CITY, Texas – Crystal City Mayor Ricardo Lopez remained in the Zavala County jail Wednesday morning on three pending charges: hindering proceedings by disorderly conduct; resisting arrest, search and transport; and possession of a prohibited controlled substance in a penal facility. 

Lopez was arrested at a City Council meeting last night in Crystal City after leaving for a second time during a dispute over when he and other recalled officials would have to step down.

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(Original Story)

The first council meeting since the FBI arrested most of Crystal City’s officials on conspiracy and bribery charges ended with the mayor in handcuffs again.

Crystal City Police arrested Mayor Ricardo Lopez shortly after he left the city council meeting for the second time Tueday night. Witnesses said he told police to arrest a woman who had touched him earlier. They say he argued with police and left the building.

Natalia Sena, a former Crystal City resident who was at the meeting, said that’s when Lopez pushed her. Police then arrested him.

“Only in Crystal  City, ladies and gentlemen,” Lopez said as officers led him away in handcuffs.

The meeting was recessed until Wednesday night.

Following the meeting, Crystal City Police said Lopez was charged with resisting arrest and they were investigating whether to charge him with assault and hindering proceedings by disorderly conduct.

The bizarre turn of events was the latest in a series of scandals for the small city.

Lopez, Mayor Pro-Tem Rogelio Mata and Councilman Roel Mata were indicted on conspiracy and bribery charges earlier this month. Councilman Marco Rodriguez was indicted on unrelated, federal charges in January for allegedly smuggling undocumented immigrants. Only Councilman Joel Barajas is not under indictment.

Additionally, the City Clerk certified a petition last week that sought Lopez, Rogelio Mata and Rodriguez’s recall. The petition predates any of their arrests by several months.

One member, Roel Mata, has already resigned amidst all of this.

Given all of the trouble officials were facing, it wasn’t clear until the moment Lopez and Rodriguez walked in if there would even be enough members to hold a meeting. But with Barajas, who had arrived earlier to applause, they made the three members needed for a quorum.

For most of the night, the meeting went well. The three council members all voted to suspend City Manager/Attorney/Lobbyist James Jonas without pay, which brought loud cheers from the crowd.

Jonas was also arrested on conspiracy and bribery charges earlier this month, and the size of his contract was one of the reasons petitioners listed for recalling Lopez, Rogelio Mata and Rodriguez.

But the meeting took a turn for the bizarre when the council began talking about the recall proceedings.

City Clerk Selina Ramos certified the petition to recall Lopez, Rodriguez and Rogelio Mata on Thursday. According to her, that meant the men needed to have resigned by Tuesday or face a recall election.

Lopez, maintained that the five-day window for the men to resign only began after the clerk presented her certification of assurance to the council. When the crowd backed her up, shouting, Lopez said he was going home to get his city charter.

Lopez left the meeting, with a police vehicle following. It was after he returned a short while later that he was arrested.

Joel Barajas said the city could go forward with the recall proceedings without the courts getting involved – but only if they acted when the meeting is scheduled to resume Wednesday night.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.