Hallway Encounter Raises Questions

At the Oct. 6 LWV Candidates Forum, LAPD Sgt. Monica Salazar and Ofc. Gabriel Nieto question Sheriff Marco Lucero, center, about the gun his undersheriff, John Horne, is wearing on the UNM-LA campus. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Sgt. Monica Salazar gets her boss on the line and Ofc. Gabriel Nieto listens as Sheriff Marco Lucero, center, directs his undersheriff, John Horne, back into the forum. Lucero advised the officers that he would speak with their boss after the forum and joined Horne back inside the room. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com


Los Alamos Daily Post

An encounter between local police officers and sheriffs in the hallway outside the Oct. 6 League of Women Voters Forum has raised a number of questions. One of the more significant being whether John Horne remains the Los Alamos County undersheriff. The County sent Horne and several other deputy sheriffs a letter last summer terminating their employment and requesting they turn in all county property. That would include badges, uniforms and other items belonging to the county.

County Assistant HR Manager Ed McDaris confirmed that the County paid for the badges and uniforms and had requested in the letter last June that the deputies return them to the County.

At the Forum, Horne was wearing his County issued uniform and badge. He was scheduled to speak against abolishing the Office of Sheriff. He also wore a gun on his belt. A few minutes before he was to take his place at the podium, two Los Alamos police officers entered the packed room in the Student Center at UNM-LA and motioned Horne to follow them into the hallway.

Sgt. Monica Salazar and Ofc. Gabriel Nieto explained that a citizen had raised a concern that Horne was wearing a gun on school property. Horne said yes because he was a peace officer.

It turns out that Police Chief Dino Sgambellone had received a text from Jaret McDonald, former candidate for sheriff and current county council candidate. In the text obtained by the Los Alamos Daily Post, McDonald informed the chief that someone had contacted him from the forum and expressed concern that Horne was wearing a firearm.

McDonald spoke about the situation saying, “When I receive a call from a concerned citizen or when anybody brings me a concern I feel a responsibility to inform the authorities. I think anybody would do the same.”

Sheriff Marco Lucero attended the forum and stepped into the hallway after he saw Horne follow the officers from the room. When Sgt. Salazar informed him that the chief had received a call, the sheriff informed her that Horne was his deputy on official duty. He directed Horne to go back inside and told Salazar he would speak with the chief after the forum was over. He turned and went back inside as well.

Salazar and Nieto received direction to remain outside the forum and were joined a while later by Sgt. Sheldon. The three officers remained outside the forum until the sheriff, Horne and others left the scene.

During a recent interview, Sheriff Lucero described the incident as politically motivated.

“Article 4-41-5 of the State Statute states that a deputy sheriff is allowed to carry a firearm when on duty for the sheriff and Undersheriff Horne was on duty for me,” Lucero said. “This whole episode stemmed from a political action to try to prevent or disrupt Undersheriff Horne from participating in the forum.”

Chief Sgambellone addressed the situation and why he directed his officers to respond to the forum.

“When we get a call we have a duty to respond,” Sgambellone said.

He explained that the Los Alamos Police Department has handled more than 15,000 calls for service each year for the past several years. Common sense dictates that the reasons and motivations for calling the police can vary significantly, he said, and it is not the role of the police department to weed out calls based on perceived intent. 

Sgambellone also explained that it would be a slippery slope to have the police determine through some arbitrary measure, which calls should be responded to and which shouldn’t. If nothing else, it would invite criticism regarding police bias, and the perception would always be that the police favored one person or group over another, he said.

“So, we respond to all calls for service as was done on the night in question,” he said. “I spoke with the Sheriff about this a few days after the event and I walked away from that meeting feeling as though there was a clear understanding of our response.”

Lucero said he showed the State Statute to the chief and his command staff but they were not convinced.

“They mention they contacted State Police to investigate whether Horne was impersonating an officer,” Lucero said. “I left the meeting saying don’t let politics get in the way of our relationship and what we are trying to accomplish … we are on the same team.”

Lucero received a call last Thursday evening from a sergeant with the State Police asking to meet with him regarding the investigation underway on Horne. The arranged to meet last Monday but Lucero said he received a call Friday from her supervisor saying there was no basis for an investigation on Horne and to disregard the meeting set for Monday.

“Undersheriff Horne was at the forum under my direction and I told him to wear his uniform, so if you’re going to blame anyone, blame me, but it certainly wasn’t against the law to wear his uniform because he was on official duty for me,” Lucero said.

The major question that remains unresolved is whether in Los Alamos County Horne is the undersheriff or a civilian.

Sheriff Lucero filed a law suit Oct. 5 in Santa Fe District Court against Los Alamos County and the Los Alamos County Council.

Sgt. Monica Salazar and Ofc. Gabriel Nieto lead John Horne out of the Oct. 6 LWV Forum and into the hallway to discuss why he is wearing a gun on the UNM-LA campus. Horne told them he is a peace officer authorized to wear a gun. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Scene from the Oct. 6 LWV Forum in which John Horne spoke in favor of keeping the Office of the Sheriff and Robert Gibson spoke of abolishing it. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Scene from the Oct. 6 LWV Forum in which John Horne spoke in favor of keeping the Office of the Sheriff and Robert Gibson spoke of abolishing it. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

John Horne, wearing is deputy uniform shows his peace officer badge. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Screenshot of the text Jaret McDonald sent to Chief Sgambellone after receiving a call from a citizen at the Oct. 6 LWV Forum expressing concern that John Horne was wearing a gun. Courtesy image 

Copy of the letter from County HR Manager Denise Cassel sent to John Horne and the other deputies in the Sheriff’s Office advising that their employment was terminated and to return any County-issued equipment, keys, uniforms, etc. Courtesy image

Business owner Lisa Brennner speaks in support of keeping the Office of the Sheriff. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Local attorney George Chandler speaks in favor of abolishing the Office of the Sheriff. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com