Judge dismisses criminal case against Elsa city manager

2 months ago 60

EDINBURG, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — A judge dismissed two misdemeanor charges against Elsa City Manager J.J. Ybarra on Wednesday after the death of a key witness.

Hidalgo County Court-at-Law Judge Federico “Fred” Garza Jr. dismissed the charges against Ybarra on Wednesday morning.

“Honestly, I’m just glad it’s over,” Ybarra said. “It’s been taxing on me and my family.”

Juan Jose "J.J." Ybarra. (Photo courtesy of Edcouch-Elsa ISD.)

Juan Jose “J.J.” Ybarra works for the city of Elsa and serves on the Edcouch-Elsa school board.

In 2018, when Ybarra ran for re-election, a former Edcouch-Elsa Independent School District administrator challenged him.

The former administrator, Esiquiel “Zeke” Avila Jr., had been arrested in 2014.

All charges against Avila, though, had been dismissed — and he’d started the process required for the case to be expunged.

“Avila stated he began receiving threats encouraging him to back out of the election or they would release photos of his confidential arrest file,” according to an affidavit signed by Texas Ranger B.J. Hill, who handled the investigation.

Avila didn’t back down.

On Aug. 20, 2018, his wife received text messages from a friend. The text messages contained photos of someone holding documents related to Avila’s arrest.

“Avila showed me the pictures and believed the person holding the police report was Ybarra,” according to the affidavit signed by Hill, the Texas Ranger. “Avila pointed at tattoos that matched the description of Ybarra’s tattoos. Avila also pointed at the shoes of the person holding the file. These shoes matched shoes Ybarra was seen wearing in another Facebook picture.”

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Hill questioned Elsa police Chief Primitivo Rodriguez about the photos.

Ybarra had requested the documents on Aug. 20, Rodriguez said, and he’d provided them.

“Rodriguez stated he was not aware of the nature of the request,” according to the affidavit, “or why Ybarra would express interest in this case report.”

The Texas Rangers also questioned the friend who sent the photos to Avila’s wife.

The friend said that she attended a party at Ybarra’s house on Aug. 20.

“Ybarra was explaining to persons present at the party that he was going to release the information from the report to the public,” the friend said, according to the affidavit.

The friend said Ybarra showed her the documents.

She allowed Hill, the Texas Ranger, to download the photos from her phone.

“I also was able to determine the photos were GPS marked and had been taken at 11:08 p.m. in Ybarra’s back yard on 08-20-2018,” Hill wrote, according to the affidavit.

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Ybarra was charged with two counts of misuse of official information, a third-degree felony, and two counts of abuse of official capacity, a Class A misdemeanor.

He pleaded not guilty.

“I thought it was just a regular open records request,” Ybarra said, adding that the city attorney cleared the records for release.

The pandemic delayed the case against Ybarra for years.

Prosecutors also lost a key witness in August 2021, when Rodriguez died. Without him, they couldn’t prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, said Hidalgo County District Attorney Toribio “Terry” Palacios.

State District Judge Israel Ramon Jr. dismissed the felony charges in June 2023. Garza, the court-at-law judge, dismissed the misdemeanor charges Wednesday morning.

“For them to say that there was insufficient evidence was just mind-boggling to me,” Avila said. “So I was very disappointed with the outcome.”

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