Letter To The Editor: Response To ‘LWV Forum Incident’

By GEORGE CHANDLER
Los Alamos

I have no knowledge other than press reports and John Horne’s letter regarding the “LWV Forum Incident,” reported by him in the Daily Post.

But Mr. Horne escalates the incident into “an attempt to suppress political speech” and “an instance of corruption” in the Los Alamos Police Department that supposedly illustrates the need for a Sheriff in Los Alamos. He could not be further from the truth. Quite the contrary, the incident exemplifies the confusion surrounding the Sheriff’s Office and the status of so-called deputies complicating the enforcement of law in Los Alamos County.

Let’s look closely: It is illegal to carry a firearm on a university campus in New Mexico unless you are a peace officer, which Mr. Horne claims to be by virtue of his appointment as under-sheriff.  But his claim to be a peace officer is questionable for three reasons:

(1) The Sheriff has stated that Mr. Horne’s certification is as a Mounted Patrol member, i.e., under the direction of  law enforcement agencies in specific instances by request; it is not the general 24-7 authority held by regular police officers;

(2) in addition to certification, a police officer or deputy sheriff must be a “commissioned employee” of a law enforcement agency, and Mr. Horne’s employment was reported to have been terminated last August; and

(3) to be commissioned the appointing authority must authorize the employee to “apprehend, arrest, and bring before the court all violators.” The Sheriff’s authority to arrest and apprehend has been removed by the council and he cannot confer on a deputy authority he does not hold himself.

Mr. Horne reports that the Chief of Police sent LAPD officers to escort him off the property, but they stood down after a conference with the sheriff. If that is true, then I believe the Chief acted properly to minimize disruption of the event. We might question the judgment displayed by Mr. Horne and the Sheriff. There was no need for him to carry a firearm to the event, which could easily be viewed as a form of intimidation or at the very least confrontational behavior.

Considering the three questions cited above regarding Mr. Horne’s status as a peace officer above, it is easy to see why someone might believe that a gun was being carried illegally on the university campus, and why the Chief would respond to the complaint as he did. While he apparently determined that it was wiser to accept for the time being the Sheriff’s version of the law, it was also wise to leave uniformed officers on site while Mr. Horne was there to set at ease the minds of those who may have noticed the possible violation. Meantime the forum went on as scheduled, Mr. Horne made his presentation and few present were aware of the earlier confrontation.

As Mr. Horne pointed out, the Police Department was put in the position of having to station several officers on the campus during a political event to alleviate concern and confusion raised by unresolved questions about the office of Sheriff and the legal status of the Sheriff’s appointees. That’s the confusion and waste of resources that will persist as long as we have a redundant Sheriff’s office. Please vote FOR the abolishment of the office.

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