Sunday, February 19, 2017

Valentines Day at the County Commission

Tuesday's county commission meeting felt like a scene in a reality TV series: tangled plot and subplots, threats and harsh words, naked human emotions on public display.

The obvious tensions between Chairwoman Isabella Solis and County Manager Julia Brown,
and between County Sheriff Kiki Vigil and Commissioner Billy Garrett, reminded me of family quarrels. I recalled my father saying sternly to us, “I don't care who started it, but I'm finishing it.”
Citizens and a few county employees spoke up to defend Ms. Brown from what seemed an effort to fire her, for reasons that seemed vague. Many were angry. Some threatened lawsuits or organized electoral opposition. 

Perhaps it's my advancing age, but I suspect most folks, though influenced by some large or small amount of selfishness and greed, would like to be good and tend to believe they are. When they behave badly, or in a fashion that you or I might abhor, they are usually not trying to be evil. Rather, we all have constructed quite complex and varied prisms through which we view the world. Through these, each of us sees our own conduct as perfectly rational and right.

Watching Tuesday's meeting reminded me of what seems a universal difficulty: being so much ourselves, seeing through our own eyes and emotional filters, we can never quite get a fix on how others perceive us.

I learned that lesson as a young lawyer. A poet, former civil rights worker, and underdog-lover, I couldn't figure out why my secretary was crying after I pointed out a mistake, until I realized (or someone explained) that she saw not the nice kid I felt like but her new, powerful boss. Potential tyrant. My words had caused fear or pain I hadn't intended or imagined.

I should have learned it earlier, when the headmaster, as he expelled me from school, said I lacked compassion. How could that be, I wondered? I was kind and friendly to the workers, though I rebelled against the autocratic masters [teachers] who seemed to misuse their power. I hadn't conceived that, as a mere student, my mischievous words might actually wound adults, who seemed all-powerful. 

Julia Brown seems (and sees herself as) a good person. She believes in justice and fairness, and has worked against discrimination. But she is also the Boss. When she wonders how employees can be afraid to bring some complaint to her, the “her” she's thinking of is the inner Julia, generally trying to do right, while the “her” the employee perceives may seem powerful, sharp-tongued, and closer to supervisors than to the supervised. The employee has heard tales – true, false, or exaggerated – of her treatment of others. The employee may also see her as part of the elite: the folks with advanced degrees, flowing English, and a certain self-assurance that can come across as a sense of entitlement.

Isabella Solis likely feels nervous, being suddenly in a position with unfamiliar rules and procedures but having to act quickly and confidently under a bright spotlight. But most citizens and employees see none of that, only the chairwoman's power. She too wants to do right, I believe.

Billy and Kiki not only can't agree, but can't even conceive of each other as sincere.

During the closed session, my wife and I take refuge in Nessa's. Sitting together in the small café (at Picacho and 2nd), talking in between bites of Nessa's imaginative and tasty food, and gabbing with James about Valentine's Day and his delight that he and Nessa are to be parents . . . heals us.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 19 February 2017, and also on the newspaper's website (under the perhaps unfortunate title, Empathy for Others Lacking in County Drama) and KRWG-TV's website.

[The Sun-News headline should not be read to say I'm singling out the County.  Lack of understanding or empathy marks most of us in too many situations, personal, and professional; I called it a "universal difficulty"; and it's one of those problems like alcoholism, which we would do well never to claim we've eradicated in ourselves.  In fact, if we all looked in the mirror each morning and said, "I'm a biased person who doesn't try hard enough to understand others and see how they formed their points of view," the world would be a better place -- although as phrased it's too unwieldy a sentence to bother with each morning.  Also sounds too damned preachy for my taste.]

[But while I don't mean at all to single out the County, plenty of people came up to me afterward and said some version of, "Wasn't that disgraceful?"  To some degree they blamed different figures, depending on their own views and allegiances; but I met no one who was pleased by the tone or content of the meeting.  The Sun-News's editorial stance is at "County board should be more deliberate."]      

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Our Sheriff Should Concentrate on the Sheriff's Office

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.
[The above column appeared this morning in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 12 February, as well as on the newspaper's website and the KRWG-TV website.  I've since learned that at Tuesday' County Commission meeting Ms. Brown's contract will be reviewed.]

[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.]

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

More on the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office

I had written two recent Sunday columns (and blog posts) on the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office, Problems Again at Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office and Doña Ana County SWAT Team Hampered by Unusual Ground Rules.  Sheriff Vigil had declined to return my phone calls but did publish this response Sunday in the Las Cruces Sun-News. 

I have long agreed with Sheriff Vigil that DASO law-enforcement personnel should be better paid. I also advocated fairer treatment for them under the previous sheriff. I voted for Mr. Vigil.
Sheriff Vigil also misread my initial column if he thought it was about sacking Undersheriff Lerma. That's Vigil's prerogative; but eliminating Lerma and installing Roberts has proven unwise.   I'm no expert on running a law-enforcement agency. Maybe Vigil could have appointed someone who was a vast improvement over Lerma (although Lerma had extensive pertinent experience). But unfortunately that isn't what Sheriff Vigil did, according to all but one of the folks I've talked to.

Below, I've taken excerpts from Sheriff Vigil's column, mostly italicized, and added my response to his comments:

As I've noted, I repeatedly sought to discuss these matters with Mr. Vigil. He states now that he “decided not to interview with Mr. Goodman because I feel he has not been objective in previous columns he has written concerning the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office. I cannot discuss pending litigation or personnel matters. Finally, we cannot compromise officer safety by revealing tactical strategies with respect to SWAT operations.”
Objectivity: I have striven to be objective. I hope and believe I've succeeded. I have no political or personal animus toward Mr. Vigil, for whom I voted. Further, he knows of things that I did not publicize, or delayed publicizing, during his battles with county administration; and others have criticized me for writing too sympathetically to Sheriff Vigil. (I recall criticizing certain positions he took in lawsuits; but I said essentially what judges later wrote in their decisions – so unless he also considers all those judges biased, then this can't be the basis for his allegation.) In any case, I invite Sheriff Vigil to point to some specific evidence, such as something I've written that's false and negative concerning him. He offers none.
I agree that Sheriff Vigil is severely limited in what he can say about pending litigation or personnel matters. That can be unfair: an aggrieved employee can speak privately, but a supervisor risks legal problems if s/he does so.  Thus to some degree we must wait and see; but the sheer numbers of people who are gone or unhappy should be of concern to anyone who cares about good law-enforcement.
However, it's pure nonsense to say he “cannot compromise officer safety by revealing tactical strategies with respect to SWAT operations.” First of all, the basic “tactical strategies” are outlined on the website of the National Tactical Officers Association, taught in classes, and studied extensively.   Second, my IPRA request yielded documents, with only the names of certain parties redacted for reasons I agree thoroughly with. IPRA has an exception for investigatory documents that reveal confidential sources or methods.  If there were confidential SWAT team methods revealed by those documents, they should have been redacted; but there were none.

I agree with much of what Sheriff Vigil says:
“I promised changes in DASO. These changes were transforming DASO from a traffic citation quota system into a department that is engaged in community-oriented policing.”  I agree with his de-emphasis of traffic tickets. (In my youth I got too many of them.)

I agree thoroughly that DASO law-enforcement personnel should be better paid. I've said so often. I was troubled by the County's appeal of If there's a way I can help, let me know.

I agree that Ken Roberts makes a good first impression. We first met him as we emerged from voting for someone else in the Democratic Primary for Sheriff, He was standing by a truck advertising his own candidacy. During our brief conversation, he thoroughly looked and sounded the part. I immediately wondered whether maybe we should have voted for him. I just wish Roberts's positive qualities were turned toward more often toward improvement of the department.

Unfortunately, he apparently hasn't panned out so well. In discussing him with others recently, “ambitious” and “vindictive” are the most common words in the conversation. “There's just something really wrong with that guy,” a non-DASO person who has dealt with Roberts complained to me this week.

Obviously I disagree that Roberts has demonstrated “leadership.” I did have one person contact me to defend Roberts, and passionately argue that he was doing a great job; but most accounts have been sadly different from that. Real-life “leadership” is a more complex skill than Mr. Vigil suggests, and while it can occasionally create widespread resentment, as it does in the movies when a tough but fair military commander forces pilots to their limits because he must, that kind of resentment more often develops from bad management or the kind of “cronyism” some accuse Vigil and Roberts of.

Nor was his background auspicious. Here, folks who've worked with him generally didn't rate him highly as a detective. Undersheriff Roberts was also a policeman for several years in Shawnee, Oklahoma, many years ago. That ended badly. Demoted, he sued the department; and his lawsuit did so badly that he ended up getting ordered to pay money rather than collect it. He also went to the Border Patrol School several years ago, but apparently never got hired and never returned to try again. And he was apparently in the military police, with the Air Force.

Sheriff Vigil's “defense” on the SWAT Team debacle was no defense at all. A better defense would have been to admit the facts, call this a glitch or an exception, and state that Roberts will trust what the men on the ground are telling him a little more next time.

I applaud Sheriff Vigil's desire “to develop and oversee programs that promote positive community outreach and race relations.” However, he adds, “Unfortunately, the current county management has interfered and thus far prevented us from achieving these much needed goals.” If he ever talks with me again, I hope to hear more about that.

I'm also puzzled by some of his comments.

He says he “received numerous complaints from the public” when he appointed Eddie Lerma as his undersheriff; but my IPRA request to DASO for complaints from the public about Lerma yielded none.  

He says Ken Roberts “was the favorite candidate among the progressives. Ironically, Mr. Goodman is now questioning his qualifications and professionalism.” I had never heard that Roberts was the favorite among progressives. I saw candidates J.R. Stewart and Curtis Childress most often at the P.V.A.

He writes, “The state Department of Public Safety has my credentials and certifications. I completed the required courses provided by the New Mexico Association of Counties and the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association in January of 2015.” However, (a) oral and written IPRA requests to the Attorney-General, the state police academy, DASO, and the County yielded no hint that he'd taken the Sheriff's Association course in January of 2015. In fact, I thought the NMAC course and the NMSA courses both occurred in the second week of December 2014, making it tough to attend both.

I wish Sheriff Vigil well.  He holds an important position in our community, and can improve or weaken law enforcement and the relationships between law-enforcement and citizens.  I believe he has some good intentions.  I also believe he's made some mistakes.  He has nearly two full years left in his term, and I hope those will be so successful that if he seeks re-election we all avidly support his campaign.  

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Dona Ana County SWAT Team Undermined by Unusual Ground Rules

Internal reports and other sources charge that Undersheriff Ken Roberts endangered lives by limiting a SWAT team's tactics January 18th. “That undersheriff is going to get someone killed,” one said.” Several said SWAT team members were “furious.”
A dangerous armed fugitive, Sergio Ayala, wanted for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, was inside a house in Vado. A judge issued a search warrant. Deputies suggested calling out the SWAT Team.
Roberts limited the team to eight deputies and limited tactics. Internal reports criticize these decisions. “We as a team failed to serve the public and place their safety above that of a wanted violent felon,” concludes one.
An “After Action Report” by the SWAT Team commander, dated after criticism surfaced, alleges deputies were uncertain Ayala was in the house; but according to supplemental reports and a sworn statement to a Judge, who “COMMANDED” them to search the place and seize Ayala if they could, they were certain.
The commander's initial “Incident Supplement” had noted that a female witness who'd confirmed Ayala was inside “changed her story” and said that “Mr. Ayala ran outside through the front door” at a time when deputies “had containment on the residence and nobody ran out of the front door.”
I'm no expert. Because local officers can't talk on the record, or might be biased, I consulted a top national expert, NM court-recognized Don Whitson. Normally, DASO follows National Tactical Officers Association guidelines. [See the NTOA website]

Whitson said that generally, sending just eight people when more are available is “outrageous and patently unsafe,” as is ignoring “life-saving tools they are trained on.” Except in very limited circumstances, twenty is standard. SWAT situations involve too many different roles, tasks, and contingencies.
Roberts let the team toss in a “throw-phone” to facilitate negotiations. Ayala didn't pick it up and ignored orders to come out. The team spent seven hours there. “The community was held in virtual lockdown.” Roberts stuck by his limitations. He reportedly gave “specific orders not to cause any property damage and restricted the team of what tools could or could not be used.” Eventually the team left, unhappy to leave Ayala at large.
Using progressive tactics saves lives – of officers, neighbors, and even suspects. If the suspect ignores throw-phones and verbal commands, robots can be sent in, locating the suspect without endangering officers. Police can explode a “flash-bang diversionary device,” creating a humongous noise and a blinding light. They can create a “tactical dilemma” by exploding the FBDD out front while breaching a door in the back. That confuses the suspect and says, “we have what we need to bring you out, preferably without injuring you.” Tear-gas can be tossed in. Windows can be broken, helping locate the suspect without unnecessary risk. Eventually, a force can enter the house and find the suspect.
Whitson said that in all his years of litigation consulting, he's “never heard a reasonable explanation” for ignoring standard steps. He added that had someone been injured under these circumstances, he'd have no hesitation saying that the commander would be fully liable.
I tried to ask Roberts why. So far, no response.
A State Police SWAT team captured Ayala in Anthony a week later. A team member said, “Just as we were making our approach he went mobile in a vehicle. There was a short pursuit, and then a very short foot pursuit, and he was taken into custody without incident.”
I asked how many men they'd taken. He answered 22. I noted that the DASO Undersheriff had authorized only eight. “It's hard to do the job with only eight people,” he replied.
In that week, Ayala allegedly committed additional crimes, including forcible imprisonment. He didn't shoot or kill anyone, so far as we know; but he could have.

[This column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 5 February 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG-TV's.  I invite comments and criticism -- and contacts from others at DASO who agree or disagree with anything I've written in this column or the initial column in the series, Problems Again at Dona Ana County's Sheriff's Department.  I'm interested in hearing from everyone with knowledge and from folks with a wide variety of opinions.
[Sadly, Sheriff Enrique Vigil and Undersheriff Ken Roberts have declined to answer any of my questions on these matters.  Vigil has, however, penned a rebuttal to last week's column, and it appears near my column in today's Sun-News.  I urge interested citizens to read it.  I'll respond in a blog post within the next couple of days, but not in a Sun-News column. For now, I'll just note that it isn't Sheriff Vigil against me:  I agree with the Sheriff on many things, including better pay for DASO law-enforcement folks, some de-emphasis of traffic citations, and certainly getting rid of quotas; but if what I'm hearing about his cronyism and favoritism has any merit, as it appears to, we differ on that.  
Really, it's Sheriff Vigil and Undersheriff Vigil against some number of present and former DASO law-enforcement personnel.  It seems to be fairly widespread, but Vigil and Roberts would say it's a few malcontents or people who weren't performing well. Many of those complain mostly of Roberts, and believe that if they could talk to the Sheriff he'd do the right thing; "I'm hearing complaints mostly about the Undersheriff now, not the Sheriff," said one source; and there's a believe that Vigil could still save his tenure by jettisoning Roberts; but some things preceded Roberts and/or could not have been ordered by him.]

[Apparently Roberts was briefly on the SWAT Team a while back. He reportedly couldn't meet physical standards. Leader Armando Gonzales warned then removed Roberts. That's common sense. If the physical standards require someone to get over four six-foot fences in 20 seconds, Roberts could endanger his partner. If the partner gets there on time, s/he arrives alone. 

Interestingly, when Roberts became Undersheriff, Gonzales, who'd been running the training department well, was banished to patrol, for reasons unclear. Gonzales retired.]

[For those particularly interested in the SWAT standards and policies, the National Tactical Officers' Association standards and a study on them are available at
One of the more interesting results of a study done by or for the NTOA is that agencies with SWAT teams indicate that they are eight times more likely to use less-lethal solutions than lethal force when they call out the SWAT Team.  That is, without the SWAT Team callout, police are eight times more likely to use lethal force.  Presumably a large and well-trained SWAT Team, using the kinds of progressive tactics recommended by the experts, intimidates a suspect into surrendering or has the capacity to locate then disable and/or capture the suspect without using lethal force.
Also of interest is Mr. Whitson's website.]

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Problems Again at Dona Ana County's Sheriff's Office

Is Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office a disaster waiting to be exposed as such? [Three columns will explore that question.] 

Sheriff Enrique Vigil lacks relevant experience. He was a long-time U.S. Marshal; but he hasn't dealt with state laws or the variety of situations a cop faces. He's not a state-certified law-enforcement officer. 

Vigil wisely compensated for that inexperience by naming Eddie Lerma as Undersheriff. Lerma had served two other sheriffs as undersheriff, had many years of experience with DASO, and seems generally respected. 

But Vigil soon replaced Lerma with Ken Roberts, a far less experienced DASO officer who reportedly told five deputies he had “axes to grind” with formerly superior officers, though Roberts has denied that. (Vigil, who's free to choose his undersheriff, announced he had accepted Lerma's resignation; when others called to congratulate Lerma, he was startled to hear he'd resigned.)
Roberts makes a great first impression but has limited qualifications. Before getting demoted, he was  a police sergeant in Shawnee, Oklahoma, many years ago. He served in the military police. He failed to complete the Border Patrol training program.  In 2008, he applied to DASO as an uncertified cadet. Folks in and outside DASO don't give him high marks as a detective.

Good officers are fleeing DASO. “Hundreds of years of experience have been lost,” a current DASO officer said recently. 

“They'll say they're cleaning house,” said a former officer. “That we don't fit in with their philosophy. We don't. We don't fit in with a philosophy of favoritism, cronyism, head-hunting, and lying.” LCPD Chief Jaime Montoya confirms that in asking DASO refugees why they wanted to make a change, he's hearing complaints of “targeting of officers.” I've heard the same from several, have read it in formal complaints, and wouldn't be surprised by a new flurry of lawsuits.

Current and former officers paint a consistent picture: senior officers who speak up or ask questions get punished; officers are threatened, or receive written reprimands for minor offenses that go unpunished in others. 

There are allegations of Whistleblower Act violations, bullying, and harassment. There are allegations that people who should be terminated are not, and that hirings and promotions are made easier for friends and allies. That sort of office politics is annoying anywhere; but with people who take guns into difficult situations, it could prove dangerous. (Some also say Roberts's relative inexperience with SWAT teams negatively affected a SWAT call-out earlier this month.)

Many officers believe (or hope!) that Vigil often doesn't know of questionable decisions by Roberts. They say they can't talk to Vigil, that Roberts always says “I've spoken to the Sheriff, and he agrees with my view on this,” but that in a couple of cases where an officer who heard that ran into Vigil later, Vigil said he knew nothing about it and would fix it. I hope they're right. I believe people close to Vigil have warned him that Roberts could bring him down.

Deputies who talk with me fear retribution. County officials say that Vigil and Roberts seem a lot more interested in identifying the complainant than in the merits of the complaints. Vigil asked Montoya which DASO officers had applied to LCPD. Montoya declined to answer. DASO set an event for the day LCPD had scheduled tests for applicants. 

Vindictiveness may play a role in what's happening. (One senior officer's complaint claims Roberts said he'd retaliate against the officer.) But I'd note that neither Vigil nor Roberts knows much about running DASO. When you're out of your depth, it's tempting to eliminate anyone who might recognize your mistakes or speak up about them. 

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 29 January 2016, went up on the newspaper's website the newspaper's website Saturday evening, and on KRWG-TV's website KRWG-TV's website this morning.  I invite comments, here or on those sites, positive or negative or adding information.]

[The whole DASO situation is unfortunate.  A couple of years ago, when an earlier sheriff made a bad hire and couldn't be convinced it was bad, I saw some folks who seemed like good people and good officers suffering in the workplace.  That sheriff never did see the light.  His friend sued me and many others, but lost badly.  Some at DASO have said this situation is worse.  I hope it will resolve itself in a positive way somehow.  As in the earlier situation, the views I'm hearing are widely shared.]
[I've made repeated efforts to obtain comment from the Sheriff and Undersheriff.  I still hope they'll articulate their views -- and, if they feel I have any facts wrong, point those oout.  I have, as an expert I consulted recently on one aspect of this said recently, no dog in this fight. I voted for Mr. Vigil.  I liked Mr. Roberts when I first met him; and, personally, I've had only pleasant encounters with him.  However, I'm troubled by what I see, and am just trying to see and share the truth.]
[I've asked the County and DASO for documents, pursuant to IPRA.  I've received some, and expect others soonI prefer not to rely solely on what I'm told.]
[Readers will notice I haven't quoted present and former DASO officers and deputies by name.  For obvious reasons, that's the way it is.  Some have talked to me, others have not.  I can only say that in such a situation I'm particularly careful.  Thus I've spent a lot of hours researching this situation and will continue to do so.]

[Note: I realized I shortchanged former Undersheriff Edward Lerma in describing his experience.  He actually had served three previous sheriffs, not two: Jan Cary, Jim Robles, and Todd Garrison.  I know Garrison was a Republican and Vigil is a Democrat, too.]

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Donald Trump Helps Sales of an Old Book -- and it Ain't the Bible!

The best-selling book on Amazon, as of mid-week, was published in 1949.

Big Brother is Watching You
Before I discuss it, please take a just moment. Contemplate our times for a second, read over in your mind a few dominant headlines from recent days and months, and identify the 68-year-old book.  (Gee, it's nearly as old as I am!)  It's a mental task you ought to be able to perform without further assistance, if you just blank your mind and try.

It would be fair to offer a few clues.  First of all, it has long stood for a certain concept of an autocratic government keeping people in check partly by the abuse of language.  It has long been invoked in conversation (or newspaper columns) to comment unfavorably when governments are totalitarian (as Nazi Germany had been, vividly, just before the book was written, and as Stalin's USSR still was) and particularly when they tell particularly big and obvious lies, or use technology and complex concepts to mislead their populations.  In the novel's futuristic setting, "perpetual war" and omnipresent surveillance of the populace are facts of life.  In fact, the novel gave us such familiar terms as "Big Brother" [not the reality TV show, no], "thought police," "Newspeak," and (perhaps most notably this week) "doublethink."

Who failed to think of "doublethink" when Donald Trump's press secretary described huge crowds not apparent in photographs of the inauguration and Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway then
called his comments "alternative facts"?

Winston Smith, out on a limb
It's only fair to note that sales of the novel, George Orwell's Ninteen Eighty-Four, spike a bit early each year, when spring semester is imminent, and spiked some in 2013, too, after Edward Snowden leaked zillions of details from U.S. mass surveillance.  But this spike is far beyond the normal annual surge.  Reportedly folks bought 47,000 since the election, compared with the 36,000 that's more usual for that time of year.

Certainly the book doesn't reach the top of Amazon's best-seller list most years.

But Trump's character, manner, and conduct have sparked or revived people's fears of just such a totalitarian state as Orwell described, in what was then science fiction.

Winston and Julia
Orwell's "doublethink" was a government ploy to present two contradictory facts as both true.  Sure sounds like alternative facts.  Sounds like Trump's frenetic assertions that massive and unprecedented voter fraud robbed him of a popular-vote victory, when there's no evidence of such an occurrence and plenty of evidence the party that supported him had been busy purging folks (notably poor folks and minorities) from the voter rolls and otherwise making it a little harder for such people to exercise their rights to vote.

Winston Smith, the novel's protagonist, would be hired instantly by Trump's Administration.  His job was to rewrite news articles to "correct" their mistakes.  He hated it, and dreamed of rebelling against Oceania,  He knew quite well that he's falsifying the historical record to support the current party line, not (as his instructions claimed) fixing "misquotations."

The Thought Police initiate their interrogation of Winston
With Smith's expertise, he could rewrite all the news articles (and, now, re-edit all the videotape) in which Trump attacked the Intelligence agencies (before he went to the CIA recently to tell them he loved them), mocked a physically handicapped reporter (before he "never did"), or insisted he had powerful evidence that Obama was born in Africa (before he said he no longer believed that and hadn't started (or fanned the flames of) the whole silly controversy.   Other minions could excise some of those facts from our memories, or delete from certain women's brains the cells holding memories of Trump's abuse or harassment of them.

Modern "doublethink," or use of "alternative facts," would not be nearly so troubling if  Trump were not initiating his Presidency by a sustained attack on the independent new media for reporting facts he doesn't like.  It would not be nearly so troubling if we hadn't just seen a great example of "blackwhite" in which he conned numerous voters, understandably angry at government, to believe he was their champion, when his intent was to install a cabinet uniquely full of mega-wealthy men who've opposed labor unions, workers' rights, minimum wage, social programs, and the like all their lives.  When Trump and Paul Ryan destroy social security, on which many elderly Trump voters live, they will call it "reform" and articulate why the changes are necessary, even beneficial, to the people whose food and medical care they are minimizing so as to maintain corporate profit levels.

Stripped of wrong thoughts, loved again by Big Brother, Winston joins the others celebrating Oceania's victory!

If Trump hoped to strip the media of all power to shine any objective light on his actions, or support any dissent, then his media attacks and bold assertions of flat falsehoods would be a great first step.

P.S. Everyone always describes Nineteen Eighty-four as "dystopian," one of those words I sort of understand but have to look up.   An on-line dictionary reminds me that it means "a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding."   It also points out something I don't think I knew: that the word, which dates back only to about 1865, was coined by taking the word for a perfect world, "utopia," and placing "dis" (or "dys") in front of it.  I wonder now whether slavery or our civil war contributed to the concept.  [Nope: coined by philosopher J.S. Mill in a parliamentary speech in 1868, opposing the Irish land policy.]

Monday, January 23, 2017

Inauguration Weekend

Donald Trump lost the first weekend of his presidency.  Big-time.  Or did he?

Headline items were his fixation (and misjudged response to) a smaller-than-hoped-for inauguration crowd on Friday; a tasteless stop at CIA Headquarters Saturday; and a huge national "women's march" against his misogyny, personal conduct, and public policies.

His crowd wasn't huge.  Some folks credited that to his remarkably low public approval, for a gentleman elected two months ago and just taking office.  Trump, upset, sent a minion out to deny reality.  His P.R. guy said the crowd was unusually large, despite clear photographic evidence to the contrary.

The incident was significant not because it was a lie, or even because it was a stupid lie, but because it was also such an unnecessary lie.  Obviously it was psychologically necessary to contest a perceived effort to de-legitimize Trump's victory; although to any perceptive person the fixation with legitimacy serves only to let us know that Trump is insecure on that score. (I'm surprised Trump didn't blame the low turnout on sabotage of public transportation by liberal residents of D.C.)  But in any practical sense, it was unnecessary.  First, there was no need to address the whole crowd issue.  Second, there were ready and reasonable explanations why Obama's 2009 crowd, and even Obama's 2013 crowd, dwarfed Trump's 2017 crowd.  Two such explanations stand out: Obama's 2008 win was historic, the first successful Presidential run by a person of color, and there were a whole lot of people who wanted to witness that piece of history, whether or not they liked Obama; and in particular people of color wanted to be there, and D.C. is conveniently full of those.  The second, and quite reasonable explanation, is that the bulk of Trump's voters were working-class folks who live in rural areas far from D.C.  For them, it wasn't a trivial matter to take a couple of days off to travel to D.C. and attend an inauguration.

Instead, Trump chose a fight with the media that he couldn't win.  Dumb.  Or maybe not?

He doubled-down on that by lying again at the CIA.  After tastelessly bragging instead of acknowledging with any real respect the names of CIA officials killed in the line of duty, instead of trying to bury the hatchet with the CIA (which was still investigating his and his cohorts' Russia connections), he ludicrously denied there was any hatchet.  The media made it all up.  Despite plenty of tapes of him saying what he said, he now claimed it was all media bullshit.

Seems a bad start to a Presidency, if you think a U.S. President should tell the truth or at least limit himself to vaguely plausible lies.  Trump loses, with anyone who studies evidence and reasons from it.  But there's a pattern here: what if sufficient attacks on the media convince his followers (who are already half way there) that everything they see on the media is liberal propaganda?

Peter and Nacho by Bernie

Saturday brought a very different event.  What started as a "women's march" to protest Trump's and the Republican Party's treatment of women, startled everyone by its size and passion, not only in major cities but all over the country, even the world.  My part of that world is a little city in New Mexico named Las Cruces.

 by Bernie Digman
We, frankly, had not really intended to participate, though we sympathized.  We did get down to the Farmers' Market, though.  It was technically closed because of cold temperatures, possible rain, and predicted strong winds, but three of our favorite vendors were there.  Since the march was to start from that area, we lingered to visit with friends.  There were speeches and signs in the new Plaza de Las Cruces, and we lingered longer, listening to speeches and gabbing with friends.
Ilana and Yosef by Bernie
The march route here was short: North on one street bounding the Downtown Mall, then a quick jog West to walk back along the south side of the Mall, then back east to where we'd started.  Quite to our surprise it turned out there were about 1,500 people marching.

A couple of things struck me, as a veteran of the 1960's.  First was that this was a march of people of all ages.  Some of the older ones I knew had experienced the 1960's and 1970's too.  The day bore similarities to those days, but was also quite different.  The energy was similar; some fellow old folks were concerned about security: one fellow old guy,
Earl and someone by Bernie D
protester then and later a lawyer and judge, said he'd used his old SDS training to advise his daughter, marching in D.C., to wear good boots, carry water, wear a bandanna in case it was needed as a bandage, etc.; and another friend, a Viet Nam vet I've known for 45 years, said he came over only because he wanted to make sure there was no problem with security.  I hadn't expected one; but I watched the cars that passed us.  Many honked; but I saw not a single middle-finger and heard not a single insult addressed to us.  People waved or put a thumb up, or just sat in their cars watching; but

Another by Bernie Digman
there wasn't a hint of hostility.   Having moved here in 1969, and witnessed the next few years of antiwar agitation in this conservative western town, I could testify to how different such a march would have been then.

I would have gone home earlier; but watching my wonderful wife, who's noticeably younger than I, made me recognize how different her day was from mine, in that she'd had few such moments.  For people under a certain age, Saturday had a special freshness to it, and they watched and listened with obvious wonder.

71? Yeah, this shit gets old.
In the 1960's, the government was way off base.  The rampant prejudice against blacks, not merely in the south, had lasted way too long; and the pointless and unwinnable war in Viet Nam was known even to those running it to be stupid and unwinnable, despite their public proclamations to the contrary; anyone could see it was not only dumb but way dumb; but it persisted.  We recognized that, initially with some surprise, and protested that, as a tiny minority, and got persecuted to some degree, and eventually saw our point of view spread among the populace and prevail.

Then we got spoiled.  Successive governments made plenty of mistakes over the years, but probably none was ever so
Same beyond 71.
completely out of tune with the majority (or with rationality) as this one promises to be.  Against such a government, there is tremendous power in average folks, standing shoulder to shoulder with each other, being there for each other.  Understanding that despite their personal concerns and preoccupations, something national needs their attention, their thoughts, their words, their feet.

I hope we will prevail.  This government is particularly out of step with its largest constituency: working-class white folks, not racist or "deplorable" but very tired of how both the wealthy Republicans and the managerial-class Democrats have given them
short shrift during recent years.  Trump instinctively channeled their very real and very reasonable anger into Republican votes, and in some ways Hillary helped him; but the dissonance between his Inauguration Day rhetoric (we stand for all Americans) and his actions (notably the appointment of universally wealthy cabinet-members sworn to fight most working-class interests) would seem to wide to hide.

But perhaps not.  That dissonance echoes the dissonance in Huxley's Brave New World or in 1984.  Lies don't usually work; but if they're big enough and consistent enough, maybe they do.  Since in the real world -- if people see what's going on with any clarity at all -- President Littlehands must lose over time, his tack must be to blind us to the real world by undermining what credibility the media has left and ignoring facts and evidence in saying whatever he chooses, loudly.  Will it work? I think not; I hope not; but no guarantees.

another by Bernie
We must also recognize that the buffoon-like president may be the head of the snake, but he ain't its brains.  We must recognize that the Republican Party, which has moved ever rightward over the years and wants to ignore such problems as healthcare, economic inequality, untrustworthy financial entities, climate change, and the need to strengthen public education, can and will easily slice Trump off it the moment he gives him an excuse.  They like Pence better.  They know Trump is dangerously unhinged and narcissistic.  They remember him insulting them or their friends all through 2015 and2016.  Some even feel they know he will commit an
Bernie Digman by Bob Diven
impeachable misstep, probably sooner rather than later, and are waiting to pounce.

Thus we must not, when that happens, let it lull us to sleep or sap our energy.

By the way, you should be able to access Bernie Digman's album of photos from the Las Cruces Women's March at: this Facebook site .

And here's the Las Cruces Sun-News's story.