The El Paso County Republican Party posted a photo of new state party Chairman Allen West with El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen and other law-enforcement officials gathered close together and without face coverings on Friday.
“Guess who was sighted in town. Chairman of the Texas GOP LTC ALLEN WEST visited with local law enforcement,” El Paso Republicans said in a Facebook post. Thee state party’s Facebook page shared the El Paso GOP post, saying: “With our brave first responders in El Paso! #WeAreTheStorm.”
The picture with the post shows West, Allen and 11 other people huddled close together, with none of them wearing face coverings. One person in the photo is holding a mask between his legs.
The group is standing and sitting in front of a banner promoting the El Paso County Republican Party that welcomes West, who was elected chairman of the state GOP earlier this month.
An El Paso public health order in effect since June 12 prohibits social gatherings of more than 10 people in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. An amendment to that order effective July 2 requires people to wear face coverings “when inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public, or in an outdoor public space, whenever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household …”
Violation of the public health orders is a Class C misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $100. West has expressed opposition to mask mandates.
Allen and another El Paso police officer are in uniform in the photo. State law prohibits police and firefighters from appearing in uniform or on duty for political activity on behalf of a candidate. The photo doesn’t show activity promoting a specific candidate.
The photo appears to have been taken at the El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association hall at 3601 E. Rutherglen, according to multiple people familiar with the facility.
City officials said Allen’s appearance was appropriate and said the event — where he was photographed in front of the Republican Party logo and next to the state GOP chairman — wasn’t political.
“The chief of police and other law enforcement officials were invited to speak about law enforcement concerns from their perspective with a state official. Neither the chief or the police officer in the photo were invited in support of a political event, but as mentioned, to speak on their perspective as law enforcement officials,” city spokeswoman Laura Cruz-Acosta said.
West is not a state official; he is state chairman of a political party.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, responded to Cruz-Acosta’s assertion that the chief wasn’t acting in a political capacity. In a tweet thread, Escobar said El Paso police refused a request from U.S. Capitol Police to assist with security when then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi visited El Paso in 2018 to meet with immigrant-rights advocates and attorneys.
Escobar, who was critical of Allen while she was El Paso County judge, also said she has asked El Paso police for security support since she took office in 2019.
Cruz-Acosta hasn’t responded to questions about police support for Pelosi and Escobar.
She didn’t respond to a question on whether the photo complied with local face-covering requirements, which officials have said is crucial to reducing the spread of COVID-19. She said attendees wore masks earlier but took them off for the photo. When asked if the meeting violated the health order limiting social gatherings, she said that under state directives from Gov. Greg Abbott, indoor facilities are allowed to hold up to 50 percent of their posted fire capacity.
The El Paso Republican Party posted another photo of West meeting with a large group at party headquarters. The picture shows more than the 10 people allowed at public gatherings under local health orders; the image shows little if any social distancing and only a few people wearing required face coverings.
The Texas Republican Party has not responded to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party said West’s actions put others at risk.
“What West doesn’t realize is that his actions affect others. As El Paso is trying to bust through the coronavirus crisis and remains a hotspot, West’s actions put our entire community and our entire state at risk,” Democratic spokesman Abhi Rahman said.
Carlos Gallinar and Veronica Carbajal, two of several candidates running for mayor in the November election, criticized El Paso’s police chief on Twitter.
West was a Republican Florida congressman from 2011-13. He unseated James Dickey to become the new state Republican chairman on July 20.
The photo was taken on a day when El Paso reported 337 new COVID-19 cases and announced seven new deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.
On Thursday, West paid tribute to Herman Cain, the former Republican presidential candidate who died of COVID-19. Cain had opposed mask mandates to slow COVID-19 and posted pictures of himself without a face covering at President Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, nine days before announcing he had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.