EL PASO, Texas -- Both the El Paso Republican Party and the Texas GOP have publicly posted a photograph on social media showing the city's police chief, in uniform, posing sans face mask or social distancing alongside the state party chairman in a group setting during what may be considered a political event.
The image that included Chief Greg Allen, which first surfaced Friday evening, also shows a second uniformed ranking El Paso police officer in it. El Paso Matters reported the gathering occurred at the El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association - a union that operates a political action committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The photo was taken during an appearance in El Paso by new Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West in what the local GOP described as a "meet and greet." West has repeatedly voiced opposition to mask mandates - and has not been seen publicly wearing one to date.
Another photo from a separate event that same day during West's visit shows a room full of people - described as a "packed house" - listening to him speaking with a microphone. Few in the crowd were wearing masks - in seeming violation of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's face mask mandate - and audience seats did not appear to be have at least six feet of space between them.
In the photo in which Allen appears, West is pictured standing next to him amidst a group of 13 people in all. The photo caption posted online describes the individuals shown as "local law enforcement" that West met with during his trip.
The county Republican party did not return a phone message left on its voicemail Saturday inquiring about the event.
Mayor Dee Margo's chief of staff declined to let him field questions about the photo following a Saturday news conference he attended to discuss an upcoming interfaith community healing service.
ABC-7 also formally requested comment from both the mayor and the chief through the city's communications director.
In a statement later released by the city, it said the chief was "invited to speak about law enforcement concerns... with a state official," although West holds no position in Texas state government. The Texas Republican Party's bylaws say his job is to "coordinate the political activities of the Party."
The city's statement maintained the appearance of the chief and the other officer in the photo with West that was distributed by the local GOP did not constitute "support of a political event."
A city spokeswoman said Allen and the other uniformed officer "were wearing masks during the event; however, masks were removed when taking photos."
The statement also cited Gov. Abbott's allowance of indoor events at limited capacity, but didn't address the separate "packed house" photo which seemed to go against state directives. The governor in recent times has chided local officials across the state for failure to enforce his orders.
In addition, City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza has implored El Pasoans on almost a daily basis to follow state and local health directives that require use of face masks in public along with proper social distancing, and the limiting of group gatherings. He didn't respond to a request made through the city spokeswoman for comment.
ABC-7 also asked the city to outline its policies, if any exist, on the wearing of official police uniforms, to which it had yet to respond. State law specifically prohibits police from appearing in uniform for political activity on behalf of a candidate, but it doesn't speak to non-candidate political events.
The GOP photos generated swift reaction on social media - much, but not all, of it from Democrats.
El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar questioned the city's claim that the chief wasn’t acting in a political capacity. On Twitter, Democrat Escobar said El Paso police rejected a request for security assistance when then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, now Speaker, visited El Paso in 2018 for an immigration forum; Escobar said U.S. Capitol police were told by EPPD leadership that Pelosi's event was "too political."
Meantime, Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said the behavior shown during West's El Paso visit "put our entire community at risk," and Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody asked on Twitter: "Does @ElPasoTXGov approve of this? Just curious."
Perhaps the harshest criticism came from one of Margo's non-partisan mayoral opponents in the upcoming November election. Carlos Gallinar tweeted that "Chief Allen's actions send a message of complete disregard for the public health crisis we're facing and that he's above the law - he isn't."
Capitol Police requested support from EPPD for that event, which drew some aggressive protestors including a border militia member who is a convicted felon. PD never showed up. Capitol Police later told us that EPPD refused to help, telling them the event was “too political.“ 2/— Veronica Escobar (@vgescobar) August 1, 2020