SWEETWATER (CBSMiami/El Nuevo Herald) – The City of Sweetwater has a new police chief.
Thursday, city officials announced that Deputy Chief Jesus Menocal would serve as interim chief following the retirement of Chief Roberto Fulgueira.
“We have been advised that Chief Fulgueira wishes to spend more time with his family and has decided to officially retire. This retirement became effective October 22nd, 2013. The men and women of the Sweetwater Police Department wish Chief Roberto Fulgueira best wishes and many more years of good health and many thanks for all he did for the City and the Police Department,” according to a statement from the city.
Menocal, who began his law enforcement career with the Florida Department of Corrections in 1985, is a twenty-seven year veteran of the Sweetwater Police Department.
“Chief Menocal’s appointment becomes effective this date, where he will assume command of the Police Department and will respond daily to the direction of the Mayor and work closely with the City Commission and other Department Heads in order to continue and enhance the effective delivery of law enforcement services to the citizens of the City of Sweetwater,” according to a statement from the city.
While state and federal agencies pursue multiple investigations, CBS4’s Natalia Zea reported that Diaz made it clear, he plans to move the City forward in a different direction. That includes reinstating Menocal, a former police chief who was demoted years ago by the now indicted, ousted Mayor of Sweetwater.
“I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to once again move the department forward,” said Menocal.
Hours after longtime Chief, Roberto Fulgeira’s sudden retirement, new Chief Jessie Menocal appeared to be chomping at the bit to make changes.
“Our job is to move forward, and have a professional and ethical police department,” he announced.
He has a lot on his plate. The former deputy chief is inheriting a scandal-plagued department facing state and federal investigation of its officers for alleged credit card fraud and civil rights abuses, as well as an FBI investigation into a Sweetheart towing contract that former Chief Fulgeira awarded to a friend of former Mayor Manny Marono. Marono was recently kicked out of office, indicted on unrelated federal public corruption charges.
Chief Menocal said they are cooperating with investigators. “We’re working closely with all the authorities and everything will come to light.”
Brand new Mayor Jose Diaz handpicked Menocal who used to be the police chief for eight years, until former Mayor Marono demoted him after he reported a police brutality incident involving lower ranking officers to prosecutors.
“It was because I was doing my job and I gave the information to the State Attorney,” declared Menocal.
“Mayor Marono has his style. I have mine,” said Mayor Jose Diaz. “I think Chief Menocal will do an excellent job, he’s well trained and he’s a community leader.”
As the department struggles to find a new identity, even with a familiar face at the helm, Menocal’s command staff also believes change is coming. And they couldn’t be more pleased.
“We should tailor the police department to the community’s needs, not the community to the department. We’re here to protect and serve the community,” said Deputy Chief Roberto Ochoa.
Menocal will remain the interim chief at least until next June when the Council will approve the permanent chief.
The Mayor may have a battle ahead of him to keep Menocal in the top spot. Even he admits there are some leaders in this city still loyal to ousted Mayor Marono and may not want to see the department move in a different direction.
Fulgueira came under scrutiny in recent months because of his decision several years ago to give of a controversial, no bid, towing contract to a former business partner of then-Mayor Manny Marono. Fulgueira abruptly ended the agreement with the company, Southland Towing, in February. But as CBS4 News and El Nuevo Herald reported this month that oral agreement between Fulgueira and Southland’s owner, Robert Muriedas remains under investigation by the FBI.
Neither Fulgueira nor Muriedas have been accused of any wrongdoing. Mayor Marono was removed from office earlier this year after he was indicted on an unrelated public corruption case.
Fulgueira started with the Sweetwater Police Department in 1980 as an auxiliary officer and rose through the ranks before being named Chief by then-Mayor Marono in 2005.
As part of his retirement, Fulgueira, 54, reportedly worked out a deal with city officials to maintain his health insurance and other benefits for three years. Fulgueira’s retirement also comes just days after his mother passed away. She died over the weekend.