On April 7, 2012, Mora County Deputy Lee Allingham arrested Patrick Trujillo, the ex-husband of one of the agency’s dispatchers, for DUI after failing a field sobriety test. He was in the office with the suspect, who had a previous DUI arrest, completing the paperwork for the arrest. Someone had contacted Trujillo’s family and Sheriff Garza, then off duty, arrived ostensibly to make sure the deputy was following procedure.
Deputy Allingham, concerned over the Sheriff’s policy of releasing those the Sheriff knew instead of charging them with DUI, contacted Deputy Stephen Mora as a witness. Deputy Mora began recording the events, which ended up in a heated exchange and a physical confrontation. Sheriff Garza told Deputy Allingham to release the suspect because he was the boss and “no one tells him what to do”. When Deputy Allingham refused, he was fired on the spot. Deputy Mora continued recording and tried to calm the situation.
At the end of the fallout over this incident, Deputy Allingham contacted the NM State Police, Patrick Trujillo was charged with DUI, and the recording was turned over to the State Police to investigate. Deputy Stephen Mora was fired, as was one of the dispatchers, the last dispatcher resigned in May, and the entire case was turned over to the State Attorney’s office for further investigation. Currently, Mora County has been relying on the NM State Police to handle calls for the county, as all that remains of the Sheriff’s office is Sheriff Garza and one Sheriff’s Deputy.
The only thing more shocking than reading about this incident, is listening to the recording of the incident itself. At the surface of it, it is an abject failure of professionalism and a break down in the proper function of a sheriff’s office. However this incident offers a further reflection of what individual officers need to think about throughout their careers. We are continually faced with legal and ethical problems to solve on the fly that often start out small, especially when weighed against the potential fallout of losing a career, reputation or recrimination for disrupting the status quo.
One of the cornerstone principles this country was founded upon is the Rule of Law, rather than the rule of the whims of man. The ideal principle that no one, regardless of position, race, gender or creed, is outside of following the laws set forth by our lawfully elected representatives, within the confines set out by our Constitution, is one that is constantly strived for. Our profession is the sharp point of that spear and when it is dulled by political favoritism, personal greed or vendettas or perhaps worse yet, an unwillingness to “challenge the status quo”, our profession and our society loses.
Interestingly enough, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have public service announcements trying to combat the “anti-snitch” culture arising in some communities. Within the message, the announcers mentions that some people think that “snitching” is bad and a betrayal or that some may be afraid of reprisals, while going on to encourage citizens to “do the right thing” and reports may be made safely and anonymously through Crime Stoppers.
It is an easy thing to say when not in the situation of some of these citizens surrounded by gangs, drug cartel members and other criminal enterprises, including political ones. Yet our heritage is full of individuals with the courage to stand against that which they knew through their own conscience was wrong. Some are iconic and revered, such as our Founders, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony and many more than can be listed. Others, only the passage of time and revisiting evidence vindicates, such as Joseph McCarthy, whose name is still used as an epithet. In each of these cases, courage and a strong sense of justice, as well as a willingness to bear the consequences unite these people. Deputy Allingham and Deputy Mora can be added to this list of bearing the consequences of standing for justice and the Rule of Law, for the benefit of their community.
The principles of the Rule of Law cut across political, religious and secular affiliation and have been well defined by both biblical and secular sources. Justice is defined in Webster’s Contemporary dictionary as “that which is fair, impartial, even handed, adherence to truth or fact.” Frederic Bastiat, a renowned economist and journalist wrote an essay published in 1850 titled “The Law” expressing his concern over the perversion of law into an instrument of legal plunder. His fundamental point was that “Law is Justice” and its sole function was to protect the natural God given rights of individuality, liberty and property. Proverbs 29:2 says “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.”
When we, being the tip of the spear, commit, ignore or overlook injustice within our midst, instead of being sharp, like the scalpel of the surgeon separating broken flesh from healthy, become a blunt instrument only capable of destroying the health of our communities. It is insufficient to prepare for the possibility of having to use lethal force or keeping up with changes in laws or policies. We must be vigilant for the fallibility of individuals holding the authority to make and enforce laws and step up with courage to stand with and for justice. The sacred and meaningful oaths we swore did not include the words “except when” or “except for”.
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Juli Adcock began her career in law enforcement with the Escambia County Florida Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy until she was injured in a riot situation. She transferred to Judicial Security and retired in 1998. Juli pursued career advancement training with an emphasis on officer survival, interviews and interrogation. She worked with a local Rape Crisis Center and in victim’s advocacy, complementing her college course work in psychology. She currently resides in New Mexico and is an instructor with The Appleseed Project (www.appleseedinfo.org). The Appleseed Project is a rifle marksmanship clinic teaching the fundamentals of firing an accurate round downrange every 3 to 4 seconds, out to 500 yards, as well as American history. She has trained military personnel at White Sands Missile Range who are certifying as Squad Designated Marksmen. Juli instructs basic handgun skills to new gun owners in preparation for responsible personal gun ownership and the Concealed Carry class for the State of New Mexico. She can be reached at [email protected] or through Law Enforcement Today.