Letter to the Editor: We Need Strong Sheriff Who Understands The Law

By JOHN N. HORNE
Los Alamos

Jarrett McDonald (Republican candidate for sheriff) recently wrote a letter to the editor explaining what his vision of the office of the sheriff should entail. In my opinion, his letter displays a significant lack of understanding as to what the office of the sheriff in New Mexico is and what the sheriff is required to do under New Mexico state law.

Mr. McDonald comments often on the County Charter, the H class County, and home rule status of Los Alamos. He uses this as the basis for the following statement: “The duties of the sheriff in Los Alamos County are different than the duties of any other sheriff in New Mexico.” However, state law stands in stark contrast to Mr. McDonald’s assertion. The following is the text of Chapter 29, Article 1, Section 1 of the New Mexico State Statutes:

NMSA 29-1-1. Investigation of criminal violations; commencement of prosecution; cooperation; removal.  It is hereby declared to be the duty of every sheriff, deputy sheriff, constable and every other peace officer to investigate all violations of the criminal laws of the state, which are called to the attention of any such officer or of which he is aware, and it is also declared the duty of every such officer to diligently file a complaint or information, if the circumstances are such as to indicate to a reasonably prudent person that such action should be taken, and it is also declared his duty to cooperate with and assist the attorney general, district attorney or other prosecutor, if any, in all reasonable ways … Failure to perform his duty in any material way shall subject such officer to removal from office and payment of all costs of prosecution.  

Notice that the statute clearly states “every sheriff”, not “every sheriff except Los Alamos”, is required to perform these duties. Furthermore, the statute provides stiff penalties for failure to exercise said duties. Finally, it needs to be understood that the County Charter can never supersede state law.  It is true that a Home Rule county may “perform any function not expressly denied by statute”, but a Home Rule county may not override specific requirements in the New Mexico State Statutes.

Unfortunately, Mr. McDonald’s errors do not end with the prior point. In his submission he said: “While the current sheriff has been tracking sex offenders, there isn’t a clear definition of who should be in charge of tracking sex offenders:” This is somewhat astonishing. As someone with a “strong law enforcement background” as he has claimed, Mr. McDonald should be aware of Chapter 29, Article 11A, Section 5 of the New Mexico State Statutes:

NMSA 29-11A-5. Local registry; central registry; administration by department of public safety; participation in the national sex offender registry; rules.  

A. A county sheriff shall maintain a local registry of offenders in the sheriff’s jurisdiction required to register pursuant to the provisions of the sex offender Registration and Notification Act.  

I would say that removes any lack of clarity in the definition for the County and for Mr. McDonald. And, just to remove any rebuttal based on semantics, the text of Chapter 1, Article 1, Section 3 (NMSA 1-1-3. “Shall” and “may”) clarifies that “shall” is mandatory and “may” is permissive. State law clearly places this duty in the hands of the Sheriff. Again, it is not within the purview of the County, Home Rule or otherwise, to override this requirement.

Finally, Mr. McDonald stated that if elected, he would run a blog that would include information on hunting. He said, “I would detail the type of weapon, dates of hunt, and type of animal.” Since Mr. McDonald owns an outfitter business, it seems that he should be well aware that this type of information is already available from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in proclamations and publications statewide.

As a sheriff he would be willing to duplicate current state handled activities but is claiming erroneously that the current office of sheriff in Los Alamos duplicates County Police Department activities. It seems clear that Mr. McDonald is unaware of state statutes and is more focused on issues related to his own business interests. The office of sheriff is too important to allow it to be headed by someone with so little expertise and interest in its execution.

The office of sheriff exists to act as a check and balance on unbridled power. This is because the sheriff works directly for the citizens who elect him. He is sheriff over the entire county and is duty-bound to carry out his oath of office. Any citizen may come to the sheriff without interference from outside political forces. Sheriff Marco Lucero has published his own view of how the office of sheriff is apolitical on his website (click here).

As an elected official, receiving votes from members of both parties, the sheriff works directly for you and not the County Council. So, would you prefer to have a strong sheriff who understands the law and his duty to the citizenry, or one who lacks the expertise, experience, and interest in the office and, who is apparently not willing to do the homework necessary to understand state statute requirements before stating his vision for the office?

Right now we have a strong, experienced, and respected sheriff. As a lifelong Republican my vote is going to Sheriff Marco Lucero.

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