Bernalillo seeks police chief
Bernalillo town councilors voted to move ahead with hiring a new police chief despite concerns about an upcoming election.
Mayor Charles Aguilar recommended hiring an interim chief to serve until after the council election in March. Aguilar said he was concerned changes in the political makeup of the council could undercut a newly hired chief.
However councilors rejected the idea in a three-to-one vote and decided to immediately rewrite the chief’s job description so advertising could begin. “I think we should have started interviewing already,” councilor Mary Helen Sandoval said.
“Let’s hire the person and get it over with,” added councilor Serafín Dominguez. “If the new council wants to do something about it, let them fire him.”
Sandoval and councilor Ronnie Sisneros are up for reelection in March.
Bernalillo has been without a police chief since August, when town administrator Lester Swindle suspended chief Ramon Montijo. In October the council fired Montijo, with Swindle assuming administrative control of the police department since then.
Swindle said he checked the two options for hiring an interim chief and discovered problems with both. A temporary employee would not be eligible for benefits, while a contract employee would not be covered by the town’s liability insurance, he said.
At its December 8 meeting, the council also rejected Swindle and Aguilar’s recommendation to rehire an officer who left the department shortly after Montijo arrived in April. Councilors rejected the rehire three to one without discussion, and the police department remains four officers short of its authorized strength of fifteen.
Meanwhile, the criminal investigation of the department prompted by Montijo remains in the hands of district attorney Kari Brandenburg in Albuquerque after 13th District attorney Lemuel Martinez withdrew from the case to avoid any conflict of interest. That investigation by the Rio Rancho police department uncovered missing weapons from the department and the evidence vault as well as a burglary at Bernalillo High School in which a Bernalillo officer was a suspect.
“It’s still in the pending stage, and I think additional investigation is going on,” Brandenburg told the Signpost.
Sheriff’s office cracking down on DWI
The Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office is committed to reduce drunk driving within our county. DWI arrests for November were twenty-six, more than double those in October. Ten individuals were arrested for aggravated DWI, meaning the person refused to submit to a breath test, was involved in a traffic accident, or registered above .16 on a breath or blood test. Two individuals were arrested for a second offense, one on a third offense, and one on a fifth offense. Over half were arrested before midnight. The majority of the arrests were made by deputy S. Quintana, temporarily assigned to the DWI enforcement vehicle. The Sheriff’s office reminds the public that DWI is totally avoidable. “If you choose to drink, don’t drive.”
Former Sandoval County deputy charged with fraud
On December 12, deputies with the Sandoval County Sheriff’s office arrested former SC Sgt. Doug Wood on charges of fraud, tampering with evidence, tampering with public records, and evidence of false registration. Wood is now employed by the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department (Motor Vehicle Division) as an inspector.
The extensive investigation conducted by SCSO and the New Mexico Insurance Fraud Bureau led to allegations that Wood had purchased a 1997 Mustang that had been burned, written off as a total loss, and issued a salvage only title in Texas. The arrest affidavit states that investigators secured documentation to support these charges. Furthermore, it states that SCSO initially became aware of the vehicle when Lt. Dean Alexander agreed to pay Wood $8,500 for the vehicle. Before Alexander could get the money together, Wood sold the Mustang to another couple for $11,000. According to the investigation, Wood made no mention at the time of the transaction of the salvage status, and provided the buyers with a clean New Mexico title. The Mustang was not considered by insurance officials to be road-worthy and was valued only for parts.
After his arrest, Wood told the Albuquerque Journal that he was targeted by Sheriff Trujillo because he plans to run against Trujillo for the office of sheriff in three years. Wood said the charges were untrue. Former Sheriff Ray Riverra agreed that the charges were “politically motivated” and that he didn’t think “the case has merit to reach a court of law.”
Trujillo said that the facts speak for themselves and it is not a personal issue.