Letter details what led up to firing of Rick Noriega, head of Harris County Universal Services

HOUSTON – New details have emerged surrounding the firing of retired Major General Rick Noriega, who led Harris County’s Universal Services.

Noriega was fired after refusing to participate in sexual harassment trainings when allegations were made against him.

A redacted letter obtained by KPRC 2 shows what was sent to the county’s Human Resources and Risk Management Director, Erika Owens, last year the day of an apparent sexual harassment.

The person in the letter details working near the elevators, “when out of nowhere, I felt an arm come around my back and felt a hand on my right shoulder and then I felt a kiss on my forehead. I realized that it was MG Rick Noriega saying ‘hello.’”

The letter continues, “I felt paralyzed in the moment, not knowing how to react or what to do and as I am typing this, I almost feel embarrassed that this occurred in my workplace. He invaded my space, privacy, and I felt very uncomfortable with his actions.”

The letter ends with the person saying they hope, “this type of behavior is not overlooked and that some sort of reprimand or action be taken against him.”

County officials said an investigation was done by the county attorney and Human Resources and Risk Management.

The retired major general was fired after officials said he didn’t take two training courses on April 10 and again on April 26.

The retired major general hired famed Houston attorney Rusty Hardin.

In a phone interview with KPRC 2, Hardin said the allegations are an “incredibly over-the-top exaggeration and misstatement.”

Hardin doesn’t deny what happened but says it is being mischaracterized.

“Did Rick Noriega reach down and hug, peck a woman on the cheek or the top of the head a person that he knows? Yes. Is that any form of harassment or inappropriate conduct or anything? No,” Hardin said.

Next week, Hardin plans to send a letter to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo demanding she retracts the comments she made after Noriega’s firing.

During the May 16 County Commissioners Court, Hidalgo did interviews with local media where she said she believed Noriega’s termination sent a message throughout the county that harassment will no longer be tolerated.

She said at the time, “the kinds of behaviors alleged are behaviors I have myself experienced, even once I was groped standing right here.”

Those are the comments Hardin wants Hidalgo to take back.

“If you look at the county judge’s way she described this conduct, I cannot imagine how anybody can reconcile the two,” Hardin said. “We intend, in a letter to the county judge a retraction and if she doesn’t then we’ll figure out what to do.”

Rusty Hardin statement regarding complaint, Harris Co. Judge Lina Hidalgo:

“The complaint is an incredible exaggeration and an inappropriate reaction to what happened. Rick is owed an apology from everyone who participated in slandering one of the finest public servants I know. One only has to look at the wildly inaccurate reaction of the County Judge to see how absurdly far we have come in mischaracterizing a normal friendly greeting in a public venue. It was in the entry hallway to a public Commissioners Court meeting with numerous people around!!! This is simply political correctness run amok. And it came one month after Rick had disciplined the husband of the person making the complaint.”

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