The Española Police Department’s two sergeants are out of commission pending the outcomes of two separate internal affairs investigations.
City Manager Kelly Duran said, in a Monday telephone interview, that a “third-party agency” will conduct the investigations into the conduct of Greg Esparza and Eric Gallant.
“We take all complaints, internally and externally, very seriously” he said.
He said he could not comment on the underlying complaints that caused the investigations into Esparza or Gallant.
“Eric Gallant is on leave with pay and Greg has been placed on restrictive duty, which may encompass administrative leave with pay,” he said.
Duran said “restrictive duty” is also referred to as “desk duty.”
Police Chief Louis Carlos said Gallant was put on “restrictive duty” and notified of the pending investigation on May 4. Carlos’s first day as police chief was May 7.
Esparza was put on leave May 15.
He said everyone in the Department is going to have to work a little harder and senior officers have been assigned some administrative tasks. Interim deputy chief Abraham Baca and Carlos are the two shift commanders.
“That’s how we’re plugging the holes right now, keeping the boat afloat,” Carlos said.
All supervisory decisions are being made by Carlos or Baca.
“Otherwise, we’re tapping into the officers to help out,” Carlos said. “It’s taxing. It can be done, but it’s taxing.”
Gallant’s attorney, Thomas Grover, said the allegations of misconduct against Gallant surround claims made by one of the police officers who briefly came under investigation for his conduct captured in an Aug. 17, 2017 video from the Department’s training room.
In that video, Officers Anthony Armijo and Cory Atencio make lewd comments while former officer Jason Gallegos, a sergeant at the time, rides his bicycle around the room, ignores dispatchers and mischaracterizes demands to an officer to work unpaid overtime.
Gallegos resigned on May 2.
“There’s little, if anything, that supports any allegations,” Grover said. “I think the new chief, out of an abundance of caution, put him on short-term admin leave. Eric’s expected to go to work very soon.”
A records request for grievances naming Gallant has been pending with the city since May 18 and a request for Gallant’s target letter, which should list the allegations to be investigated, has been pending since May 16.
City Clerk Anna Squires said there is some conflict about providing the records because Duran said they do not have to be disclosed.
According to a tort claim filed April 25 by Atencio, through attorney Sheri Raphaelson, he was applying for a job with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office when Gallant allegedly told deputies that Atencio was facing possible termination and an internal affairs investigation, which weren’t true.
“As a result of the slander and defamation of character by Sgt. Gallant against Officer Atencio, Officer Atencio suffered personal injury, a violation of property rights, and other injuries," Raphaelson wrote.
Grover filed a lawsuit against the city, representing Albuquerque independent journalist Charles Arasim, after the city failed to provide target letters following a records request.
He said he thinks target letters must be disclosed.
That case is ongoing and Grover said it has been delayed by the change in the Tierra Amarilla District Court judges.
He said putting Gallant on administrative leave was a way to “immunize” him from other claims by the unnamed officer and he thought putting Gallant on leave was “the right call.”
“If, for some reason, the (investigation comes back) adverse, we’ll do what we have to do,” Grover said.
He said he was not worried about the investigation, or Gallant being put on leave.
“It’s unlike (the investigation) before, which was totally retaliatory,” he said.
Former police chief Raymond Romero previously demoted Gallant after the latter reported officer misconduct. Gallant, through Grover, then filed a restraining order and lawsuit asking for $2 million in damages from the city, March 7. That case is ongoing.
Mayor Javier Sanchez reinstated Gallant on March 15 and fired Romero on March 15. He was sworn in March 9.
Gallant did not respond to multiple phone calls requesting comment.
In a Monday telephone interview, Carlos said he wanted to have the documents in front of him to say, specifically, why Esparza and Gallant were put on leave.
“You caught me at the academy,” he said. “I’ll provide that for you.”
In a Tuesday telephone interview, he said the investigation into Gallant was initiated “due to his conduct” and that Esparza was put on leave for “allegations of misconduct stemming from community concerns,” but that he could not elaborate.
“The intention is, that we’re keeping that sterile, as well,” he said, referring to his reasons for not listing the reasons either sergeant is being investigated.
The city has also not provided the contracts with the private investigation firm, which should list the allegations to be investigated or how much the city will spend. Those were requested on May 18.
Briefly back on duty
Carlos said Grover, asked Carlos to allow Gallant an exception to his “restrictive duty” to help staff the city’s escort of the Run for the Wall motorcycle riders through Española.
City police officers stopped all traffic from entering Riverside Drive, May 18, as thousands of motorcyclists rode through town, a line that stretched for a few miles.
“I met with him and his attorney on the first stage of this IA, which is, his contractual right to speak with me informally,” Carlos said.
At that meeting, Gallant and Grover asked Carlos to consider allowing Gallant to work the event.
“I granted it,” Carlos said.
If Gallant had not participated, Carlos would have needed to find another officer to take his place.
“I don’t have anybody (extra) right now,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s all I had, but, we made a commitment and we had to follow through with it.”