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Coffee City councilmembers vote to deactivate police force, fire police chief

"We just felt it was in the best interest of us to deactivate the department until we are able to get new leadership," Coffee City Mayor Jeff Blackstone said.

COFFEE CITY, Texas — After significant information about policing in Coffee City came out recently, the city councilmembers voted during a Monday night meeting to fire Police Chief JohnJay Portillo and deactivate the police department. 

Portillo was suspended by city council during a meeting Sept. 1 after allegations against him and his police department came to light. 

An investigation led by our sister station in Houston, KHOU 11, showed Portillo grew the department size by four times and routinely hired officers who had been suspended, demoted, terminated, or dishonorably discharged from previous law enforcement jobs. KHOU 11 Investigates also learned that Portillo failed to disclose an active DWI charge out of Florida in 2021 when he was applying to be Coffee City’s police chief.

In a meeting Monday, the city council voted in favor of deactivating the police force and firing Portillo after meeting with the city attorney during an execution session. 

"We just felt it was in the best interest of us to deactivate the department until we are able to get new leadership," Coffee City Mayor Jeff Blackstone said.

Coffee City residents like Rosenna Billings agree with the decision.

"I was very satisfied with that. It definitely needed to happen,” Billings said.

This decision to fire the chief came after an independent investigation conducted by the city confirmed the DWI allegation against Portillo. The former chief did not disclose that charge on his job application.

Coffee City is a town with a population of 250 people with a police department of 50 officers on staff -- five times the number of officers than any other Texas town of its size. 

Blackstone said the council decided to deactivate the entire police force instead of pursuing individual investigations.

"The active-duty officers will either look for new employment or they will reapply whenever we do assign a new chief. The reserve officers, they just will have to find a new office," Blackstone said.

The series of reports also revealed Coffee City hauled in $1 million in court fines last year. Blackstone said making money is not what the city is trying to do.

"We're not trying to make money off of speeding tickets. We're just trying to get people to be safe, slow down, you know, and try to keep drugs out of our area," Blackstone said.

City officials said Henderson County Sheriff Botie Hillhouse will assist with policing in Coffee City. 

"We're going to answer the calls in order priority. The most severe is going to be the quickest," said Henderson County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Kevin Halbert. 

Billings said they’re ready for a trustworthy police force to take care of their residents.

"The Texas proud officers that are going to do what they need to do, instead of trying to make the money for the city," Billings said.

Blackstone added with the decisions made Monday, there is no need to continue investigating the police department. The focus is now on rebuilding the reputation of small-town Coffee City.

"We're going to have a new police department that everybody in the community can trust and that is going to be working towards serving our community," Blackstone said.

There is no timeline on when a new chief or the police department will be reinstated.

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