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Texas Rangers investigate Socorro ISD board member, wife

Ricardo Castellano, a Socorro Independent School District trustee, is under investigation by the Texas Rangers for allegations of official oppression, according to an investigation report.

Castellano’s wife, Gabriela, is also under investigation for allegations of stalking, according to the report, which the Texas Department of Public Safety released to El Paso Matters via an open records request. The Texas Rangers are the investigative arm of the DPS.

Ricardo Castellano said he and his wife could not comment on the investigation.

“I do want to be transparent and I do want to tell you everything that’s going on, but there’s a lot more than what’s on that piece of paper,” he said in reference to the Texas Rangers report. “And when the investigations are completed, I’d be happy to sit down and talk with you.”

The heavily redacted report notes that the El Paso District Attorney’s Office assigned Ranger Juan Torrez to open an investigation into the Castellanos on March 8. However, DA spokesperson Paul Ferris said the office “never requested or assigned” Torrez to conduct an investigation into either Ricardo or Gabriela Castellano. Ferris said the County Attorney’s Office was assigned the matter.

The County Attorney’s Office, in a statement, said it “does not comment on matters that may or may not be under investigation by law enforcement.”

Details surrounding the allegations are redacted in the report.

Mary Stillinger, Ricardo Castellano’s attorney, said the report, which El Paso Matters provided her, was the “first confirmation that there is an investigation of Mr. and Mrs. Castellano.” Stillinger noted that the redacted document includes no specifics of the allegations.

“Mr. and Mrs. Castellano are both fine members of the community who work hard to serve the students of SISD. They look forward to clearing their names,” Stillinger wrote in a statement.

A public servant, such as a school board trustee, could face charges of official oppression if he or she “intentionally subjects another to mistreatment or to arrest, detention, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment or lien that he knows is unlawful; intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power, or immunity, knowing his conduct is unlawful; or intentionally subjects another to sexual harassment,” according to the Texas Penal Code.

Official oppression is generally a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in county jail and up to a $4,000 fine.

Gabriela and Ricardo Castellano, center, watch as Nate Carman speaks after being named the sole superintendent finalist for the Socorro Independent School District on Feb. 21. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

A retired El Paso Police Department lieutenant, Ricardo Castellano was narrowly elected to the District 3 seat in May 2021, unseating longtime Trustee Angelica Rodriguez by 23 votes. District 3 includes the neighborhoods and schools just north of Montwood Middle School between George Dieter Drive and Loop 375.

His win helped shift the balance of power on the school board to a new majority -- comprising Castellano, Pablo Barrera, David Morales and Eduardo Mena -- and led to the ouster of then-Superintendent José Espinoza, who resigned days after the election.

Gabriela Castellano has been a teacher in Socorro ISD for more than 15 years, according to a candidate questionnaire her husband submitted to the El Paso Times in March 2021.

She was placed on administrative leave on March 9 from her teaching job at Bill Sybert K-8 School, a district spokesperson said. That was the day after the Texas Rangers investigation started, though Socorro ISD didn’t provide El Paso Matters with the reason for the leave.

“The district is unable to speak on personnel matters,” spokesperson Daniel Escobar wrote in an emailed response when asked why she was put on leave.

Gabriela Castellano is no longer on administrative leave and is assigned to James P. Butler Elementary School, according to Escobar, who did not say when her leave was lifted. 

The Sybert campus is in the school board district represented by Ricardo Castellano; Butler is in a different school board district.

According to the Texas Penal Code, stalking occurs when a person, “on more than one occasion,” knowingly threatens someone such that a “reasonable person” would feel fearful of bodily injury or death, or an offense being committed against their property; or feel “harassed, annoyed, alarmed, abused, tormented, embarrassed, or offended.” It is a felony charge that can result in two to 10 years in state jail.

Superintendent Nate Carman, who the board hired on March 14, said he could not comment about the investigation.

“I can tell you that I have been contacted by the Texas Rangers and that I cannot comment on anything,” Carman said.

When asked whether other trustees are under investigation, Carman said he could not comment. As to whether he himself is under investigation by the Rangers, Carman said: “no, not to my knowledge.”

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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