UPDATE: The State Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue charges against former officer Fernando Herrera.
Former Clewiston police officer Fernando Herrera was asked to turn in his badge last month after an internal investigation found him to be in violation of at least four different police department policies.
The internal investigation was conducted by the Clewiston Police Department (CPD) after Herrera was arrested by the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) on charges of aggravated stalking and battery on a law enforcement officer on Dec. 2. Herrera was accused of attacking an off-duty HCSO sergeant at the Pioneer Shell Gas Station on Nov. 29.
The internal investigation is a compilation of interviews, hand-written letters, memos and text messages, among other things, that piece together events that took place leading up to the alleged attack.
Herrera, who worked as a deputy for HCSO for several years before signing on with CPD a little more than a year ago, had recently raised concerns with HCSO administrators about a possible affair between two deputies, according to the investigation.
In a letter written on Nov. 7 to Sheriff Steve Whidden and other top administrators, Herrera wrote that two deputies were supposedly involved in a romantic relationship and that a verbal complaint made in August regarding the matter had been ignored. The two deputies accused by Herrera were Sergeant Robert Archer and Deputy Kristy Herrera, Herrera’s ex-wife.
According to information provided in the internal investigation, Herrera had allegedly texted Deputy Herrera on numerous occasions before the alleged attack on Nov. 29 expressing his anger towards Sgt. Archer and the supposed affair.
Those texts reportedly began in July 2014, around the time Deputy Herrera separated from her husband, according to the investigation.
The situation apparently culminated on Nov. 29 when Herrera reportedly saw Sgt. Archer’s unmarked patrol car sitting in the parking lot of the Shell Gas Station in Pioneer. Herrera reportedly made a u-turn on State Road 80, nearly causing an accident, and hid on the side of the building to wait for Sgt. Archer to exit the store. Herrera allegedly knocked Archer to the ground after he came out of the store, and continued to punch him in the head and face before Archer could grab a hold of Herrera’s wrists, according to Archer’s account of events in a sworn, taped statement.
Herrera was reportedly wearing his uniform pants, boots and a black t-shirt at the time of the incident. Herrera turned himself in to HCSO on Dec. 2 after he learned charges were pending, according to the internal investigation. He was placed on paid, administrative leave following his arrest, before being terminated by Police Chief Don Gutshall after the internal investigation was completed last month. Herrera was found to have violated several department policies, including improper conduct offenses and unlawful conduct offenses.
Chief Gutshall said he found it necessary to terminate Herrera’s employment because Herrera acted in a manner that was inconsistent with the values of the Clewiston Police Department and damaged the department’s ability to work with the Sheriff’s Office. Despite the chief’s decision to terminate, he said he sympathized with Herrera based on the circumstances.
“I sympathize with him greatly. I understand why he did what he did. But understanding why he did it doesn’t justify [what he did],” said Chief Gutshall, who said Herrera should have shown more restraint in the situation being a law enforcement officer.