CBS 4 Investigates: Concerns about police academy director surfaced in background check

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WESLACO, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — In 2022, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council hired a new administrator for the regional police academy.

Gilberto Luna, a police officer who taught classes on criminal justice at Sharyland Pioneer High School, seemed perfect for the job.

“He was uniquely qualified for the position,” Manuel Cruz, the executive director of the development council, told CBS 4 Investigates. “He did well in his interview and his background check.”

The background check, though, revealed Luna had been fired by two different police departments in the Valley.

Cruz said the development council knew about Luna’s history — and offered him the job anyway.

“We didn’t find any criminal intent,” Cruz said. “Or nothing of that nature.”

Gilberto Luna, center, waits to be arraigned on Jan. 17 at the Hidalgo County Courthouse in Edinburg.

Luna’s clean record didn’t last.

Less than a year after he accepted the job, Luna was charged with assault, stalking and possession of child pornography.

The development council fired Luna in August 2023.

“We sincerely wish you the best in your future endeavors and hope that you find a role that aligns more closely with your strengths and career aspirations,” according to a letter the development council sent to Luna on Aug. 14, 2023. “Thank you for your efforts during your time at The Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. We appreciate your understanding of this difficult decision.”

Luna, who remains in jail, couldn’t be reached for comment. He pleaded not guilty to all three charges.

“Obviously, situations such as these — it’s a black eye,” Cruz said.

EDINBURG

Luna graduated from Edinburg High School and enrolled at the University of Texas-Pan American, where he studied criminal justice.

In 2012, while Luna was still working on his degree, the Edinburg Police Department offered him a job as a patrol officer.

Luna accepted.

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After completing his probationary period, Luna worked the graveyard shift.

On Aug. 24, 2014, other police officers became suspicious after Luna left his sector and parked outside the Chili’s restaurant on West University Drive, according to Edinburg Police Department personnel records, which summarize the incident.

Luna’s police car left the Chili’s parking lot with a gray Ford Mustang.

A police officer asked Luna if the driver of the Mustang was intoxicated. Luna didn’t respond.

The officer stopped the Mustang. When the officer approached the driver, she told him: “Gilbert following me.”

Luna admitted that he’d been in a “physical relationship” with the woman.

“I sincerely regret my conduct that night/early morning,” Luna said, according to an order of indefinite suspension signed by then-police Chief Rolando Castaneda. “I am truly sorry for what I did and said, and not because I got caught. I did not make a mistake, I made a series of terrible choices.”

WESLACO

After losing his job, Luna started over in Weslaco.

He lasted just two years. In December 2016, a man accused Luna of threatening him.

The man said Luna showed up at a woman’s house and refused to leave, according to Weslaco Police Department personnel records, which summarize the incident. Luna, who arrived wearing his police uniform, allegedly made threatening comments.

After investigating the incident, Weslaco fired Luna. He appealed the decision.

As part of a settlement, Weslaco agreed to allow Luna to return as a reserve officer and “resign” after six months.

SHARYLAND

Luna didn’t return to Weslaco because he’d already landed a new job: Teaching criminal justice classes at Sharyland Pioneer High School.

He also coached mock trial, according to a video posted on the school district website.

In 2018, less than two years after he started teaching, Luna had an inappropriate relationship with a student, according to affidavits obtained by CBS 4 Investigates.

Investigators assigned the student a pseudonym — Ms. Garcia — to preserve her anonymity.

“Ms. Garcia stated when she began her senior year (2018) Mr. Luna boldly pursued her after learning she was then seventeen years old,” according to an affidavit filed with the McAllen Municipal Court.

They had sex in September 2018, according to the affidavit, and “became a couple” that October.

“Ms. Garcia stated several of their sexual encounters were on school campus, causing fellow students to spread rumors of their involvement,” according to the affidavit. “Ms. Garcia stated she and her friends were coached by Mr. Luna in the event that school personnel were to question the nature of their relationship.”

According to the student, she broke up with Luna in March 2020.

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Luna’s wife apparently discovered the relationship when she found voice recordings on his phone.

“On or about a week later, I found an email about an engagement ring that he had purchased for the child,” according to an affidavit filed in December 2023, when Luna’s wife requested a protective order against him.

When she confronted Luna, he threatened to kill himself, according to the affidavit.

The relationship remained a closely held secret until 2023, when the former student contacted the McAllen Police Department.

Someone using the name “Aubry” had sent her messages on Instagram. The messages “made comments referring to her whereabouts, causing her to believe she is being followed,” according to an affidavit filed with the McAllen Municipal Court.

While she couldn’t prove it, the former student believed Luna had sent the messages.

Investigators searched Luna’s phone, which showed Luna still had access to the former student’s social media accounts, iCloud account and email accounts, according to the affidavit. It also showed that Luna had created “Aubry,” the mysterious Instagram account.

Cruz, the executive director, said the development council had conducted a thorough background check before Luna was hired.

“These things happen,” Cruz said. “I don’t think anybody’s immune to these type of things.”

THE CHARGES

The McAllen Police Department arrested Luna in August 2023, when he was charged with improper relationship between educator and student, a second-degree felony.

When investigators searched his phone, they found photos of Luna and the former student “engaging in sexual conduct,” according to an affidavit filed with the McAllen Municipal Court.

Luna was charged with possession of child pornography, a third-degree felony.

The phone also linked Luna to “Aubry,” the Instagram account that had sent a series of messages to the former student.

Luna was charged with stalking, a third-degree felony.

The Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office, however, decided not to accept the improper relationship charge because the statute of limitations had expired.

As a result, Luna’s attorney, Lennard K. Whittaker of McAllen, said he plans to challenge the search of Luna’s phone.

Luna also had problems at home.

His wife accused Luna of infidelity and requested a divorce.

While the divorce was pending, she accused Luna of assaulting her during an argument and requested a protective order.

Luna was charged with assault, a third-degree felony.

Hidalgo County Court-at-Law Judge Albert Garcia signed the protective order on Dec. 4. It prohibits Luna from going near his wife’s home or place of employment.

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