Daniel Rodriguez-Cuenca

Daniel Rodriguez-Cuenca

A Sahuarita police officer was fired in June after an internal affairs investigation showed he lied about $200 seized from a border crosser.

Following his firing, the Sahuarita Police Department also forwarded their case against Daniel Rodriguez-Cuenca to the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which could strip him of his peace officer certification.

Internal affairs records obtained last week by the Green Valley News through an Arizona Open Records request indicate that a Puebla, Mexico, man filed a complaint against Rodriguez on April 19. 

The man, Ron Eli Mejia-Medina, said Rodriguez found 10 twenty-dollar bills in the tongues of his shoes when he was apprehended near Arivaca on April 19, and never returned them.

On that day, Rodriguez and three other Sahuarita officers were working with U.S. Border Patrol agents as part of Operation Stonegarden, a federally funded program to find illegal border crossers. According to internal affairs reports, the officers were in the desert near Arivaca when two of them came across two men wearing camouflage clothing. The two men ran away and the officers gave chase. While searching the area, they came across six undocumented immigrants and detained them, according to reports. Two officers handed the people over to U.S. Border Patrol agents and joined the others in searching for the first two men who fled.

A short time later, Rodriguez informed the other officers via radio that he'd found another undocumented man. All of the officers ended up meeting back at their patrol vehicles.

Mejia-Medina said it was at this point that Rodriguez found $200 in his shoes. He said he asked Rodriguez if the officer could go back and retrieve a backpack that had been left behind where he'd been caught and Rodriguez complied.

Later that day, while in federal custody, Mejia-Medina said he realized his Mexican currency, clothing, passport and wallet were in the backpack but the $200 was not.

After filing his complaint, Rodriguez and the other three officers were questioned by the Sahuarita Police Department's Office of Professional Standards Division. One officer told investigators that Rodriguez told him he'd found $200 on Mejia-Medina, but didn't know what happened to it. Another officer said Rodriguez also told him he had seized money from Mejia-Medina and that he saw Rodriguez with several U.S. bills. The third officer said he never saw or heard anything about Rodriguez seizing money from Mejia-Medina.

Rodriguez was questioned for nearly two hours and told investigators that he forgot to turn on his body-worn camera during his interactions with Mejia-Medina. He also denied finding money on Mejia-Medina on at least eight occasions, according to the report. An hour and 37 minutes into the questioning, records indicate Rodriguez confessed that he found at least one $20 bill on Mejia-Medina, but he lost it while searching for the backpack.

Rodriguez apologized, said he was disappointed in himself and admitted he didn't tell anyone he lost the money because he "felt like a dumb---," the report stated.

The Office of Professional Standards Division was asked to determine if Rodriguez was guilty of theft, lying about it, neglectful conduct and lying during an official administrative investigation. The division "sustained" three of the allegations, but could not reach a conclusion as to whether Rodriguez stole the money.

Commander Kaleb Allred recommended Rodriguez be dismissed and Chief John Noland concurred. According to AZPOST, the case against Rodriguez is pending. It's unclear if Rodriguez, who joined the force in December 2017, has an attorney.

Kim Smith | 520-547-9740

Assistant Editor Kim Smith moved to Arizona from Michigan when she was 16. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in journalism in 1989. She has worked at seven newspapers of varying size in Arizona, Texas and Nevada.