Sunday, February 26, 2017

Animal Village NM Wins IPRA Case

Reports of a $90,000 judgment against the County prompt reflections on New Mexico's Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). 

Animal Village NM (AVNM) Executive Director Sunny Aris showed a quiet heroism in persevering when she felt IPRA required the County to let AVNM see certain records. 

AVNM is a small dog-rescue outfit from Alamagordo that had rescued dogs from two horrendous sites in Doña Ana County in 2015. AVNM fed and cared for the dogs, took them to veterinarians, and found folks to adopt many of the dogs. But AVNM lacked important information on the dogs. In addition, AVNM questioned how well Animal Control was doing its job, when such sites continued to exist. County personnel alleged that AVNM had jumped the gun, was interfering with an investigation, and/or was making a big profit. (Some of those dogs are still in recovery at Animal Village.) The charges went national, and AVNM got a lot of hate mail. 

Ms. Aris served an IPRA request on the County. When she came to Las Cruces to inspect documents in November, 2015, many documents she suspected (or knew) existed were not included. Unsuccessful in obtaining those documents, she filed a court petition in December, 2015. After the County hired a lawyer to fight the petition, she found one too. [Full disclosure: Law Office of Peter Goodman represented AVNM.]

In January 2017, District Judge Mary Rosner issued an opinion – after four court hearings, much legal paperwork, and hundreds of lawyer hours. Judge Rosner's Final Order called the County's delivery of public records “tortured, untimely, and inadequate by any definition.” She rejected the County's many legal arguments, and stated that it shouldn't have taken such an arduous battle to get public records to a no-kill animal shelter. (Because of the long fight, most of the judgment goes to attorney fees and reimbursement of costs.)

I hasten to add that while admitting no guilt, the County has tightened up its procedures for IPRA responses, particularly those involving documents from multiple departments. While “not in full agreement with Judge Rosner's Order,” the County has not appealed. 

New Mexico's Supreme Court has rightly called IPRA essential to a democracy. It is our government. We vote. To vote wisely, we must be informed. We are entitled to the fullest possible knowledge of officials' conduct, including access to public documents. Under IPRA, when citizens request public documents, government offices must provide them. There are sensible, narrow exceptions: for example, you can't get attorney-client communications, certain documents in personnel files, or law-enforcement records that would reveal confidential sources or methods. 

The government must respond within three days. Inspection can be delayed if the documents are voluminous or hard to find; but if the government denies inspection of any documents, it must specify in writing the reasons (and identify the officials who decided to deny documents) and describe the documents generally. This gives the requester notice and helps her decide what to do. IPRA provides special damages if documents are withheld and no such writing is provided.

Importantly, IPRA allows not only actual damages (usually small) but attorney fees. That means that in a clear case even someone with limited funds like AVNM can fight injustice. 

I applaud Ms. Aris's dogged persistence. And while IPRA requests cause extra work and shouldn't be made frivolously, aggrieved citizens should know that there can be justice at the end of the day. Even a very long day.

And to remind public entities which may need reminding that New Mexico's Inspection of Public Records Act means what it says – and our capable judges will enforce it.
[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 26 February, 2017, and also appears on the newspaper's website and KRWG-TV's website.  Here's Diana Alba Soular's Sun-News story on the judgment -- which even got picked up by some Yale Law School blog and the National Freedom of Information Coalition.] 

[This column was  harder to write than some.  I wanted to write it because of its message concerning IPRA, but did not want to write it because of my personal involvement in it.  Didn't want to brag.  (And, after all, when the law and the facts favor your client's case, a lawyer ought to be able to prevail; and I regret not being sufficiently imaginative or eloquent to convince the opposition to settle this case a year ago.)  Definitely didn't want to stick it to the County, which has now dealt with the situation in a positive way by improving procedures to prevent a recurrence and by foregoing an appeal, which would have been a silly waste of public money.  (Credit County Attorney Nelson Goodin for the improvements.  Don't know whom to credit for the wise decision not to appeal.)   Above all, did not want to seek further cases and clients.  
I wrote and sent to the Sun-News an earlier version of this column.  Although I was trying to go easy on the County, I still got too much into the weeds of the case.  Things happen in litigation that aren't pleasant; other things happen that are perfectly normal but feel unpleasant to some participants; and the whole thing is not a process I'd wish on anyone.  Avoid litigation if you reasonably and honorably can!  At any rate, I woke up one morning determined to rewrite the column to get the focus back where it belonged, on IPRA and the fact that little guys can win IPRA cases when they're in the right, even if public entities have plenty of lawyers and resources.]

[Also wanted to make clear that Animal Village NM didn't make a killing on this.  People read $90K and think that's something, but the bulk of this award went to attorney fees and to reimbursing costs paid out by Animal Village NM or by me.  I'm sure there's still a strong need for donations to help with dog-rescuing and keeping dogs in food and vet services.]

[You work on something like this because it seems the right thing to do, and you expect maybe it'll help locally; but you sure don't expect folks anywhere else to pay much attention; but someone just sent me a partial list of freedom-of-information websites mentioning the case and/or posting a link to Diana's story (although I haven't gone to all these to confirm that, and assume they didn't add any new information): National Freedom of Information Coalition  Connecticut Freedom of Information Coalition Freedom of Inf Foundation Texas Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government New Jersey Foundation for Open Government

Freedom of Information Oklahoma  Wyoming Coalition for Open Government  New Jersey Foundation Open Government

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.]