Texas Rangers, troopers, sheriffs, deputies, police chiefs and officers stood around the room. Family, friends, officials and citizens filled the chairs while the overflow crowd meandered in the hallway just outside the chamber.
Mayor Rey Jaso issued the oath and presented Lopez with a badge and a patch.
“I’ve got ties to Refugio,” Lopez told the crowd. “My parents brought me to this town when I was a kid and I swam in the public pool.”
“I’m taking on a new career,” he said. “I’ve pretty much been a field soldier; now I’ll have more of an administrative role.”
In a tumultuous year for the police department, the town’s former police chief was indicted on three felony counts last September and is now awaiting trial early next year. The interim police chief was asked to resign.
But Lopez said he does not see the past as a black cloud hanging over the department so he will not make judgments or look back but concentrate on moving the department forward.
“As we move forward in the right direction, our actions will speak for themselves,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement, no matter where you go. And there is no such thing as knowing too much.
“I think it’s important for the community to have a sense of security and confidence and we hope to re-instill that for the town of Refugio if there was that perception (of a black cloud). They deserve that.”
The new chief said that the immediate changes will be more procedural and may not be so evident to the community right away.
“I want to have an open door policy and I want people to be comfortable coming here,” he said. “This is their police department so they deserve for things to be done in a professional, genuine, ethical manner.”
Ranger Tony DeLuna of Sinton said he’ll miss Lopez.
“I believe that Refugio is a winner in this,” DeLuna added. “He’s a very thorough investigator. He doesn’t let emotions get in the way of an investigation. I have his number so I’ll still bounce things off him.”
Lopez’s former supervisor, Lt. Victor Escalon of Laredo, said Lopez will “take care of business.”
“He’s a man of integrity and professionalism with a strong work ethic,” Escalon said. “He treats everybody with respect and it’s been an honor to work with him and know him. He’ll bring professionalism to the job.”
Retired Corpus Christi Police Detective Paul Rivera also stated high regard for Lopez.
“He’s a man of integrity,” Rivera said.
Rivera, the lead detective in the Selena homicide, retired from the CCPD, and was the Taft police chief before retiring from that position.
“This is the place I want to stay,” Lopez said. “I like Refugio. This town has the heart of a champion... that’s a winner all the way around.”
Ranger Robert Garza of Corpus Christi said he estimated several hundred years of law enforcement experience was in the room.
Lopez comes to the department as a former Army military policeman and dog handler for five years, a Houston Police Department officer for two years before becoming a DPS trooper and finally, a Texas Ranger.
A shootout between Lopez and a drug dealer that occurred on Sept. 21, 1991, on U.S. 77 south of Refugio, remains a significant teaching tool for young troopers entering the academy. In textbook fashion, Lopez dodged bullets by running in a zigzag pattern.
“There’s no telling how many young officers have seen that video,” DeLuna said.