The Rene Arce family planned a quiet, uneventful Labor Day holiday.
While his wife Tanya ran errands in town and picked up lunch, Arce, a seven-year veteran officer of the Laredo Police Department, drove around 1 p.m. to scout for land on which to build a home for his family.
Accompanied by his 13-year-old step-daughter and three year-old son, he drove his black Dodge Ram truck slowly down Jeffries Loop in Los Botines to look at land for sale.
Up ahead a hundred yards he could see that two vehicles blocked the road. Wary, he turned around and decided to find a route to double back onto Jeffries to make its full loop. He stopped briefly so that his children could look at the horses at the fence line of the Chamberlain Ranch.
“When my wife called to come home for lunch, we left the area,” he said.
Contemporaneous to Arce’s drive onto Jeffries and his stop at the fence, the occupants of the two vehicles blocking the road had likely taken in the horrific discovery of the lifeless body of a woman who had died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head. Perhaps it was they who theorized that the driver of the black truck that had stopped on Jeffries Road might have been a murderer twice re-visiting a crime scene.
Nothing in the big open skies above the ranch land of Los Botines or the pleasure Arce took in the company of his children excited about horses could have portended that a few hours later a heavily armed cadre of his law enforcement peers would surround him with rifles drawn, cuff him in his front yard in view of his children and neighbors, and take him away for interrogation regarding the body found hours earlier on Jeffries Road.
Shortly before the retinue of 20 armed officers of the Webb County Sheriff’s office and the Laredo Police Department descended in full on the Arce home in the tranquil North Laredo neighborhood where they live with Tanya Arce’s parents, the Arces received two disturbing phone calls.
The first call alerted them that Rene’s truck was being sought regarding the body found that morning on Jeffries Road.
Alarmed, Arce called his watch commander at the Laredo Police Department who advised him at 3:44 p.m. that he would get back to him and to “stand by.”
The second call came from a neighborhood friend of Arce’s step-daughter who wanted her friend to know that the street was full of armed police officers and that they were walking to the house where the Arces lived.
Unaware of the officers outside her home, Tanya Arce, holding her son on her hip, opened the garage door to wave down a Laredo Police Department Explorer on the street. “Before I opened the garage door, I was thinking that whatever the misunderstanding regarding Rene’s truck, that it could be explained easily.”
What she saw, she said, she will never forget.
Sheriff’s Deputies and Laredo PD officers in armored vests, rifles pointed at her and Rene, closed in on Rene and ordered him to kneel, hands on his head.
She handed her son to her daughter and watched as Rene was cuffed and advised that this matter pertained to a case being investigated by the FBI and the Texas Rangers. He was placed in a Sheriff’s vehicle for transportation to a substation for interrogation.
Rene Arce was not advised of an arrest warrant or a search warrant — neither existed — or for what charges he was being interrogated. Neither was he read his Miranda rights.
Tanya Arce was transported to the same substation, though questioned in a room apart from Rene.
Rene Arce said the interrogation first followed establishing a timeline. “Where had I been the day before. Had I spoken to my ex-wife. Did I have affairs or girl friends. How many weapons did I own. They thought something on my phone was vital to the case,” he recalled, adding, “They wouldn’t let me wash my hands, because they were going to test for gunshot residue.”
“I was never advised I didn’t have to answer any questions,” Tanya recalled. “Rene fully cooperated. He answered every question. He had called his watch commander. He had consented to a phone dump. He did everything he knew was the right thing to do,” she noted.
“The first question I was asked was, did I ‘know any girl with really crooked teeth?’ I didn’t understand the question. It was bizarre to me. They wanted to know why Rene had not called in the discovery of the woman’s body. He never saw the body; he never got close enough to see a body. They were persistent that Rene was having an affair. That was their line of questioning,” Tanya Arce said.
“Even though they eventually knew they had the wrong person in their sights, they kept us for almost five hours. Those hours and the ones they spent preparing to come to our house could have been used to find the real killer. That might have saved the next three murder victims,” she said.
Unable to make the nexus between the murdered woman and Arce, the interrogation ended abruptly, and the Arces were driven home.
“While we were being interrogated, police units and four officers remained outside our house, and two police officers were inside guarding the door to our bedroom,” she said, adding, “Once we were home, they went ahead and picked up Rene’s guns, and told him he would be placed on administrative duty.”
Tanya Arce said that La Gordiloca, the rogue social media phenom on four wheels, took the story and ran with conjecture, posting on September 3: “It is being said, BUT NOT CONFIRMED, that a Laredo Police Department officer has been or will be detained at any moment. Authorities are at a home located inside La Cuesta Subdivision this is in the North side of Laredo.”
On September 4, she posted: “Authorities surrounded a home yesterday that is said to be of a Laredo Police Officer by the name of ARCE in North Laredo at La Cuesta subdivision. It is being said the officer was taken in for questioning a (sic) released hours later.”
La GL, apparently connected to a pipeline of information, did not cite sources apprising her moment to moment. “It is being said,” she wrote, but by whom?
Arce said she became aware through a relative that pictures of their home and vehicles were part of a Border Patrol text chat that advised that the Arce home, highlighted with arrows, was the site of an impending take-down.
“An irony, right, since the alleged murderer was a Border Patrol intel supervisor? Even the murderer knew where we lived,” Arce said.
An even greater irony, Rene Arce said, was that the murderer, it would later be revealed, lived a scant three blocks from the Arces.
Tanya Arce said Texas Ranger E.J. Salinas asked for consent to interview and videotape her daughter. “He wanted to know about the stop at the Chamberlain fence line to see the horses. It seemed to me that at this point they understood they had been overzealous in considering Rene a suspect,” Tanya Arce said.
“Back at our house, Ranger Salinas and a Sheriff’s deputy apologized to my mother and father and me for the ‘inconvenience,’ though not to Rene. The Ranger said something like, ‘I hope we don’t see each other again.’ I asked if they would apologize publicly to us, but they said, ‘We don’t do that.’”
The 13-year-old child who had accompanied her father on the drive to Los Botines, said, “This was hard to look at. I thought I might never see Rene again. It happened so fast, the shouting and the rifles pointed at all of us. Things were more calm when the Ranger talked to me about stopping to see the horses.”
Tanya Arce said, “No one in our family escaped this circus, this parade of force. My children are still upset at the implied violence of guns pointed at all of us.”
“It was the worst day of my life to have my family present when I was taken that way in front of my home,” Rene Arce reflected.
“Later, it was a shock to understand the scope of the case. I’m glad they picked up the right guy. My name is still tarnished, though,” Arce said.
Any warrant having to do with a law enforcement officer, is reviewed by District Attorney Isidro Alaniz, me, or Pete Garza,” said ADA Marisela S. Jacaman. If there was a warrant, we did not review it.”
A four-decade veteran of law enforcement and law enforcement instruction made these observations about the raid on Rene Arce’s home and his interrogation:
The circumstances for getting a cooperative law enforcement officer to talk to you is different from that of a criminal. You get him to come to the station. You don’t do it in a neighborhood where there could be grave consequences if something went south. That’s not tactically sound.
There were no exigent circumstances to subject him, his wife, children, in-laws and neighborhood residents to harm.
Containing a situation is paramount over a takedown. In this case you had a cooperative individual saying, “I will talk to you.” It may have been patrol officers making decisions to cowboy their way through this. Testosterone tactics make bad law; people can get hurt.
Somewhere in that cowboy mentality, there’s the belief that the takedown of a law enforcement officer is a trophy.
Why would you go through the exercise of asking Rene Arce questions that you know will be thrown out because you have no warrant and you did not Mirandize him?
Under color of law, Rene Arce’s Constitutional rights were violated. He was the subject of false imprisonment and the use of excessive force, and he was not Mirandized.
Tanya Arce doesn’t mince words.
“The real hero in solving this serial rampage of murders is Erica Peña, the woman who escaped from the killer’s truck, and handed the Sheriff’s office the roadmap for finding the murderer,” she said.
“Yes, the Sheriff’s office and the Rangers nailed him and stopped him, but having gone through five or six hours as a firsthand witness to their investigative strategies and the full day they wasted letting the trail go cold while the murderer took three more lives, I want to say luck was on the Sheriff Department’s and the Rangers’ side. Erica Peña is the hero here. God was on her side.”