Goodman: More Questions After Study Of Sheriff's Department

Feb 12, 2017

 Commentary: My intense study of DASO, including interviews with most everyone I could talk to, leaves me with further questions. 

One is whether Sheriff Enrique Vigil is violating NMSA Section 29-7-6.1 requiring new sheriffs without “a certificate attesting to completion of a basic law enforcement training program” to “complete an administrative law enforcement training program” within twelve months. Vigil apparently looked into taking a course, but there's no record he completed an appropriate law-enforcement course. He may now be contending that his training as a U.S. Marshal many years ago exempts him. Is he right? Or breaking the law? I've asked the appropriate state agency for its interpretation of the statute. No answer yet.

Are the people unhappy with Vigil and Undersheriff Ken Roberts a small group of malcontents, as management suggests, or a departmental majority, as the “malcontents” assert? I can't say, but I've had exactly one person contact me to speak up for management, and quite a few on the other side. There are a lot of complaints by a lot of good current or former employees. Still, being numerous doesn't make them right.

In any case, the existence of large numbers of angry people, inside DASO, ex-DASO, or dealing with DASO, isn't a good sign. Vigil and Roberts have rightly fought for higher pay for deputies. (I applaud them for this.) It seems significant that, despite that advocacy, they are not nearly so popular as Vigil appeared to be less than a year ago seems significant.

Should Vigil (as some friends have advised him) jettison Roberts as undersheriff? Could he then turn his remaining two years as sheriff into a success? We'll see. One knowledgeable source told me recently, “the complaints I'm hearing now are mostly concerning the Undersheriff.”

Most all the top law-enforcement people are gone and/or unhappy. Vigil-Roberts has stripped DASO of experienced command staff, exposing the county to potential lawsuits and citizens to less certain protection. (See my columns January 29 and February 5 (SWAT incident)Sheriff Vigil's on February 5, and my comment on his column.)

Meanwhile, Sheriff Vigil is said to have aspirations to run more than DASO.

Vigil said that in January 2017, with a new county commission, County Manager Julia Brown would be gone quickly. (Brown says that shortly after a conversation with Vigil, she received an unsigned note warning her she'd be gone soon.)

Vigil then did a lot of politicking. He contributed to the defeats of former commissioners Wayne Hancock and Dr. David Garcia. People tell me he was of major assistance in new Commissioner Ramon Gonzalez's victory over Garcia. Vigil clearly campaigned against Hancock, whom Isabella Solis beat in the Democratic Primary. John Vasquez ran successfully for the seat vacated by Commissioner Letitia Benavidez. I don't know Solis, but she doesn't strike me as a pawn of Sheriff Vigil. Vasquez certainly strikes me as an independent person, a war veteran and a political progressive who has a strict sense of right-and-wrong and is likely to act on it. 

The holdovers are Billy Garrett (another bete noir of Vigil's) and Ben Rawson. They don't agree with each other much; but I believe they both know that the County ought to be run by the commissioners.

I've criticized Ms. Brown sometimes. More often, I've been quite impressed with her. She should stand or fall on her merits, not because Sheriff Vigil finds her presence inconvenient. (Note Vigil's winless record in lawsuits against the County.) The Commissioners should take the necessary time to figure this out themselves.

As for Sheriff Vigil, he'd do well to concentrate on the job to which we elected him.


[After writing the column, I learned something further that had me shaking my head again.  I'd omitted statements that Vigil and Roberts planned to fill the higher positions within DASO with cronies from elsewhere.  It was a prediction that could prove inaccurate.  

Then a couple of days ago, someone from DASO called me.  A memo had been circulated saying that, by the way, openings for promotion to captain and major had been posted -- about ten days earlier, the previous Monday -- and would close in about ten days -- the following Friday.  They were also advertised externally.  It'll be interesting to see how that goes.]

[Undersheriff Roberts responded in today's (Sunday's) newspaper to my column last week on the SWAT incident.  (I haven't found his column on-line yet, or I'd include a link to it.)  It's well-written, and sounds good, and I wish he'd deigned to respond to me in person.  However, there are points in it I don't understand.  Several sources said eight people were on the scene.  Roberts says there were "23 available DASO staff members on the shift."  That's different.  He proclaims: "It is always easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but those who are at the scene aren't afforded the same clarity when making critical decisions that are matters of life and death."  

I agree; but it's precisely the folks on-scene, in their written reports, who criticized Roberts (who was not on the scene).  Other current or former DASO personnel and a national expert seconded those criticisms.  I'm just sharing them with the community, after checking everything out as best I could.


Interestingly, too, the official story seemed to change a little after my first of these three DASO-related columns appeared. 

I remain, as Mr. Roberts suggests, "an ardent advocate for civil rights protections, [and] against excessive use of force or a militarized police force."  However, I am also for reasonable protection of the public and the police themselves.  A lot of people who know more than I about this subject felt that DASO didn't provide that as well as it should have on this occasion.]

[On  purely trivial note: In their responses, both Kiki and Ken start with my full name, "Peter Powers Goodman," as if they find it significant in some way, or amusing.  Which is fine.  It does sound a little funny.  My mother chose my middle name to honor one of her twin brothers, Perrin and Powers.  Powie was the more mischievous and adventurous of the two.  Soon after their service in Europe during World War II, Powie died in a car accident.  I arrived a year or two later, or maybe just a few months.  Powers himself was so named because a dozen generations earlier, 14-year-old Walter Powers had come to this country from Scotland.  In 1648, I think.  Generations with the last name Powers followed, mostly farming but also teaching, and serving in wars, down to my great-grandfather Clarence Powers, in Fort Fairfield, Maine.  Powers was my maternal grandmother's maiden name.  If any of that amuses the Sheriff and the Undersheriff, or seems relevant in rebutting my columns, they're welcome to use it as they like.  It's public information.  As to me, I don't often think about that stuff, but if I do think about it, I wear that name proudly.]