Santa Fe Sheriff Robert Garcia on Friday revoked commissions deputizing Pojoaque Pueblo tribal police officers, citing liability issues that could result from arrests made by the pueblo police.
For now, Pojoaque tribal police will not have the authority to enforce laws against non-Indians outside the pueblo's boundaries, but Garcia said he hoped to have the commissions reinstated soon.
"I've been trying to work with Pojoaque for a while on the liability with regard to commissioning other officers, but we have not been able to come to an agreement," he said.
Garcia took the action after a public meeting at Nambé on Tuesday at which non-Indian residents complained about tribal officers making traffic arrests and other issues.
"I'm hoping we can come to some agreement that will address the concerns of people in the northern communities and ensure public safety," the sheriff said. "I have to say that the officers in Pojoaque are very important to assisting us."
Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. George Rivera said in a phone interview that the liability discussions between the county and the pueblo were ongoing. "The attorneys are still trying to figure out the language," he said.
He said it was "interesting" that Garcia announced the decommissioning of pueblo officers by a news release. "I didn't get a communication from him," Rivera added.
Rivera said he realized that Garcia was "bombarded by complaints" at the Tuesday community meeting. He characterized those who complained about Pojoaque officers as people "who don't want police around."
"They want it to be lawless so they can drink and drive," Rivera said.
Rivera mentioned that one of those who spoke against tribal police Tuesday - Luciano Trujillo, the father of Carl Trujillo of Nambé, the unopposed Democratic nominee for the House District 46 legislative seat - has been charged with DWI and other counts by Pojoaque police.
Carl Trujillo said later that his father didn't break any laws and that he has heard complaints about Pojoaque officers "over and over again" during his two campaigns for the House in recent years.
Rivera also said decommissioning Pojoaque officers would reduce the police presence in northern Santa Fe County by 20 officers and that not patrolling non-pueblo land "will reduce our budget tremendously."
"If we don't have to hire as many police officers, that would be great," Rivera said. "All these years they (the sheriff's office) have been saying they don't have the manpower or the money. They must have found the money today."
Commissioning officers from other law enforcement agencies is common practice. Garcia said the sheriff's department has commissions with Tesuque, the Santa Fe Police Department and other communities in Sante Fe County.
Garcia acknowledged the concerns he heard at the Tuesday meeting.
"They feel (Pojoaque police) have no jurisdiction over non-Indians. They made that really clear," he said. "They feel that for traffic stops they are not being able to choose between magistrate or tribal court. They feel very strongly that there's no due process in that choice.
"That's something I want to look at," he continued. "I want to visit with pueblos to make sure non-Indians have a choice to go into magistrate court."
Trujillo alerts sheriff
Garcia said he first became aware that there was discontent among the public when he was told a few weeks ago by Carl Trujillo, who defeated Santa Fe Mayor David Coss for the District 46 nomination in the June Democratic primary.
Garcia heard about it again when he was approached by some area residents after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Nambé community center. That led to scheduling the public meeting.
Rivera, noting that Luciano Trujillo, Carl's father, was among those who complained about tribal officers at the meeting, said the elder Trujillo had tried to evade Pojoaque officers by trying to flee to private land before he was charged by tribal officers.
On-line court records show that a Luciano Trujillo was charged in July in magistrate court with a DWI count, which has been dropped, but still faces charges of assault on a peace officer and resisting, evading or obstructing an officer, with a status hearing set for Nov. 4.
Rivera said Garcia should know the "full story" about those who've complained about pueblo officers and that another person who spoke out at the Tuesday meeting lives in Santa Fe, not near the pueblo.
But Carl Trujillo said his father didn't try to flee officers and also didn't have a blood alcohol content "even near" the legal driving limit before he was charged with DWI. "It was an unwarranted stop," Trujillo said.
He said the incident took place in March 2011, and tribal officers didn't charge his father in magistrate court for more than year, which he said was beyond the statute of limitations.
Trujillo said issues with the Pojoaque police were "one of the most overwhelming complaints" he heard while running for the House, where he will succeed longtime House Speaker Ben Lujan. Trujillo ran against Lujan and narrowly lost two years ago before beating Coss in June.
Trujillo said his concerns with Pojoaque police have "absolutely" nothing to do with the pueblos' support for his opponents, Lujan and Coss, during his two House campaigns.
Rivera said many people in the area appreciate the pueblo officers' work and that Pojoaque officers were the first responders for a series of recent bomb threats at Pojoaque Valley High School.
Garcia said he felt once things were worked out between his department and Pojoaque Pueblo, it would be a "win-win" for both agencies.
In the meantime, Garcia said he has adjusted assignments to ensure that there are at least two deputies available to handle calls in the northern part of the county.
Journal North/Santa Fe editor Mark Oswald contributed
Copyright 2012 Albuquerque Journal