Resident brings complaint against officer

Published 9:49 am Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A citizen brought a complaint against a Luverne police officer at the Aug. 10 Luverne City Council meeting, leading to the officer admitting that he had made a mistake.

Hillary Godwin Lester told the Council that she had been pulled over by Officer Mario J. Mendiola after she had just turned onto Hwy. 331 South after leaving Southern Quick Lube.

“Officer Mendiola came up behind me in the vicinity of Jones Towing and turned on his lights,” she told the Council. “He began yelling at me and asking me why I was going 56 miles per hour on the bridge.”

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Lester explained that she had just left Tommy’s Quick Lube and had not been on the bridge.

“I kept telling him that my husband was still at the Quick Lube, and that if I could call him, he’d bring the receipt and show him,” she said. “But he began screaming louder and telling me that I could not call anyone.”

Lester explained that Mendiola finally called the Quick Lube and verified that she had, in fact, been there; therefore, she had been telling the truth.

“I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else,” she said. “I don’t think he represents what a police officer should be.”

At Monday night’s meeting, the incident was brought back before the Council.

Mayor Joe Rex Sport said that he discussed the incident with Luverne Police Chief Paul Allen.

“Chief Allen talked to him (Mendiola), and he admitted that he made a mistake—he was running radar while meeting traffic, then turned around to pursue and got the wrong car,” Sport said. “He did say that he raised his voice at her though.”

But when it came to Lester wanting to use her cell phone, most of the council members agreed that it could become a safety issue for officers.

“Someone may ask to use the cell phone and reach down and draw a gun on the officer—that becomes a big safety concern,” Councilmember Charlie Johnson said.

Sport agreed.

“Calling on a cell phone could turn out to be a dangerous situation—who are they calling?” Sport said. “The officer might offer to call for the person, but then they could have a pistol drawn on them….That’s a judgment call on the part of the officer.”

Chief Paul Allen said later this week that all disciplinary actions in the police department were handled in-house and would not be disclosed to the public; furthermore, Allen said that this incident with Mendiola “had been handled.”